Features September 2007 Issue

Practical Sailor Test Boat Gets Half a Refit With Powerlite PBO Rigging

As options for rigging materials continue to grow, Practical Sailor testers review what’s available—from the traditional stainless steel wire and rod, to the high-tech synthetic running rigging and high-modulus standing rigging—and what’s cost-effective.

Although stainless steel wire and rod rigging are still the traditional, most popular, and economical material of choice for mast rigging, metal is rapidly giving way to a new generation of synthetic rigging material. There are a handful of companies that manufacture standing rigging using ultra lightweight high-modulus synthetic fibers such as Kevlar, PBO (“polybenzoxazole”), and carbon. There are many advantages of synthetic rigging. Weight savings aloft is the primary benefit, and high-modulus fiber can be up to 50 percent stronger than similar diameter rod or wire rigging, and up to 90 percent lighter. Another touted benefit is greater fatigue resistance. For the average racer-cruiser, there are three big drawbacks to PBO: It is four times as expensive as stainless steel wire, although roughly on par with rod rigging; should it’s cover fail, it drastically loses strength in direct sunlight; visual inspection and DIY repair is currently impossible. Until recently, the technology for high-modulus, synthetic fiber rigging was only available to deep-pocketed mega-yacht owners. As development advances and competitive pricing is sparked, this type of rigging may one day be an option for average sailors. Under the current state of technology, we can only recommend this product for the serious racer with very deep pockets.

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