PS Advisor: 07/06

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Stainless vs. Bronze
Whenever I buy new fittings (like cleats, blocks, fairleads, etc.), I never know whether to buy stainless or bronze. We have an old Bayfield 32 (built in Canada, where were from) and a powerboat my wife and I use for fishing. Now that were in Florida, the corrosion is just terrible. Do you have an opinion about stainless vs. bronze?

Phil Hanson
Miami, Fla.


You sent PS running to some metallurgists and to books like Metal Corrosion in Boats by British engineer Nigel Warren; Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual by a trusted old friend named Nigel Calder; and to our 25th edition of the engineers best friend, Machinerys Handbook.

First, stainless steel is misnamed. Its not stainless and its not corrosion-proof. (Many of the almost countless varieties suffer from crevice corrosion, which is insidious.) Some of the better grades of stainless come pretty close to lasting forever, but it is always amusing to see a manufacturer brag that a piece of hardware is made of 304 stainless, which is not nearly as good in seawater as 316.

Copper and nickel-based alloys have for centuries been preferred for underwater use. Bronze is copper based, though its composition can vary. Good bronze contains no zinc; brass does. Brass is far inferior to marine-grade bronze.

Bronze actually can be made stronger than stainless steel. In its hundreds of forms, bronze is made by alloying copper elements with-to name a few-aluminum, beryllium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, silicon, and lead. The latter is added to improve the workability of the bronze.

Good stainless is OK for deck fittings and gear not immersed in seawater. Stainless needs oxygen. Never paint it or cover it tightly.

For a workhorse metal thats affordable, any of the dozens of varieties of good bronze come the closest to forever. PS welcomes readers views on this subject.

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Wrapping Rigging
I have a Jeanneau 43 that came with the wound steel standing rigging tightly wrapped from the deck fitting up to about 8 feet with PVC tubing. Does this jeopardize the stainless steel? Should it be removed?

Bruce McClaire
Newport Beach, Calif.


To answer this question, PS turned to yacht builder, racer, and former Tartan project engineer Bill Seifert, who also authored Offshore Sailing: 200 Essential Passagemaking Tips. Heres what he had to say.

When stainless steel is deprived of oxygen, it is subject to crevice corrosion. This is the reason why the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) now requires that lifelines NOT be PVC coated.

Talk to your boat manufacturer and ask their intended purpose of coating the standing rigging. If for chafe protection for the genoa, loose-fitting shroud rollers would be our choice. If youre on a tight budget, make your own rollers by choosing a SS washer with an ID just over that of the shroud wire, and an OD just over that of the smallest ID plastic pipe through which the standing rigging swage fitting will pass. Make a cut in the washer from OD to ID.

Make the plastic pipe to be a few feet higher than the genoa clew (6 to 10 feet). Disconnect standing rigging, slide on plastic pipe, and use pliers to twist the washer to go around standing rigging wire above the swage, then re-twist to make it flat. The washer will keep the plastic pipe from sliding down.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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