DIY: Replacing a Mainsheet Traveler

I love the fact that an old boat can give you as much sailing pleasure as an expensive new one. The only proviso for me is that the sail handling systems be absolutely top-notch. Replacing hardware like mainsheet travelers, genoa lead cars, boom vangs and lead blocks with new, low-friction gear will repay you many times over in ease of handling and improved efficiency.

A case in point was a friend’s elderly but sweet-sailing Lady Helmsman 39. With its narrow beam and tall fractional rig, this Swedish design sails like a witch and just loves going to windward. The corollary to the big rig is the fact that the mainsail needs frequent tending to get the old girl performing to her potential. The original traveler was, to put it kindly, past its best, and the owner just left it locked on the centerline. A new one would be the sort of upgrade that showed immediate results.

We decided to install a new Harken windward sheeting traveler, which has a mechanism that automatically opens and closes the leeward cleat during a tack. As you’re sailing upwind the leeward cleat stays open so you can pull the car up to or above the centerline, and when you tack the leeward cleat closes, the car stays put, and the new leeward cleat opens so you can pull the car above centerline.

We ordered a kit that came with a length of high-beam track with variable hole spacing, which promised to make installation a breeze. Here’s how it worked in practice.

The original traveler is obviously due for replacement. For starters, there is only a 2:1 purchase on the traveler tackle, which is hardly adequate for the loads imposed by the big mainsail.

The plain-bearing blocks were worn and friction was an issue.

Tufnol blocks give away the age of the traveler system – late 1970s.

As always, getting the old fixtures off is the worst part of any deck gear upgrade.

The components of the Harken windward sheeting traveler: high beam track, a ball-bearing car, low-friction blocks and end stops.

We had to drill holes so we could bolt on the end stops, but apart from that, installation is about as easy as it gets.

The new bolts were larger than the old ones, so we had to slightly enlarge the holes from the old traveler.

This is what makes the high-beam track so easy to install—the bolts slide in from the end, and can be positioned over the existing holes.

We slide on the new car, and then position the track over the holes.

A thorough application of sealant around the holes and along the length of the track should stop water from getting in.

Now we just have to wiggle the fasteners around a little so they pop into their holes, and then the track will be in place. All we have to do is tighten up the nuts under the bridgedeck.

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