In December 2018, members of the Etchells Class voted overwhelmingly in favour of changing some of the one-design class rules.
At the time of writing, the rules still require approval from World Sailing before they are officially changed. But, as the rule-change proposal drafts were approved by World Sailing prior to the class ballot, this approval is a formality.
So, what are the changes?
They could be broken into two parts, but they both apply to rigging. Each change is a nice, forward-moving refinement for this class, which enters it’s 51st year. I personally tested each of the proposed changes on my boat “Man’s Best Friend - GBR 1460”, during the 2018 summer season in Cowes.
Firstly, the backstay pennant is now allowed to be made from rope, as well as wire. The pennant is the short piece of rigging between the bottom of the backstay wire and the backstay purchase system inside the boat. The pennant passes through the deck at the transom and turns on a sheave in the aft buoyancy tank. This is covered in Class Rule F6.
I should stress, that this is the only part of the so-called “Standing Rigging” that is allowed to be rope. All the shrouds, the backstay and the forestay remain unchanged as wire (of 1x19 construction). Also, as per the wire, the minimum size of the rope is limited to 4mm diameter.
There are some great Dyneema lines that are readily available in chandleries or on-line all over the world. Most sailors can perform an eye splice in Dyneema core (or at least know someone who can). The previous wire system was not easy to install and required a professional rigger for at least a part of the supply and installation. Wire can break without warning, mostly at the swaged ends. Seeing as how one end is permanently in the aft tank and not regularly checked, this was a hazard that has tripped a few sailors up over the years.
Dyneema is certainly prone to chafe, but that wear is visible and you do get plenty of warning before it would break. Actually, last month a boat trialling the new Dyneema pennant system in Miami was involved in a collision, whereby the other boat’s bow hooked the pennant and dragged it violently to starboard. This force saw the Dyneema cut a long gash through the deck. Incredibly, there is no sign of chafe on the Dyneema and the boat used the same pennant for the remainder of the day’s racing AND in the following regatta without a concern., see the picture below. If the pennant in that boat was wire, I’d say for certain the pennant would be ruined and most likely the day would have been over as a result of the collision. So, a big tick for the rule-change, thus far.
Finally, a new minimal length for the backstay wire has been introduced. The reason for this
being that, as rope is lighter than wire, there is a restriction to stop people from having their nice new rope pennants terminating up near the tip of the mast. This measurement is 10400mm, which is roughly where the backstay would intersect the cuddy top, if it were un-pinned from the backstay. This makes it an easy check for a measurer and is also slightly shorter than all existing backstays.
Secondly, halyard diameter rules have been relaxed somewhat, in allowing the diameters to be thinner. This is covered in F7.
This is also a winner, as the masts were originally designed to house wire halyards. As ropes became more technically advanced, the rules were changed in the late 1980’s to allow ropes as halyards. But the class saw fit at the time to allow only lines of quite large diameter - I’m sure this was due to only those lines being suitable enough to handle the loads. However, the masts were never re-designed to allow for the larger rope sizes, and as such, there has since been friction where the lines exit the mast (as the exits and sheaves were still narrow).
As always, technology has marched on and it’s fair to say (for example) that a high-modulus 2mm line today would have a similar safe-working load to 5mm line of the 1980’s.
The newer, thinner halyards are still restricted, but they have come down at least a millimetre in diameter. Whilst some members have expressed concern that they will be harder to grip, the reality is that this will be offset by a reduction of friction. Apart from the friction, larger diameter lines are generally more expensive. So reducing the size is a cost-saving for members.
Finally, if you are still awake whilst reading this, you’ll notice the weird size of 4.8mm being the minimum for the jib and spinnaker halyards. This is due to the fact that in the USA, many rope sizes are in imperial (inch) sizings. So 3/16” is equal to 4.8mm. Whereas in the rest of the world, 5mm will be fine.
See the tables below for a summary of the changes.