Running rigging on a budget
Dear Boat Doctor, I am building a new boat and have the opportunity to specify my running rigging. I know a little about running rigging and line, but I want your input. The boat is a moderate displacement, 40-foot cruising cutter with semi-traditional lines. It has a tackle-adjusted mainsheet instead of a winch arrangement, and running backstays to oppose the staysail. I intend to cruise the boat internationally, with a little distance racing now and again. The boat is rigged as standard with Dacron braided line.
I have a moderate budget. I want good quality line but I don't want to go bleeding edge for the sake of fashion or pure technology. In other words, if spending a little extra money will get me significant performance I'll consider it.
Dear Cruiser, First off, congratulations on your new boat, that is very exciting for you and the industry in general. I am also impressed that you are paying attention to your cordage. Rope is wonderfully versatile and unappreciated tool, especially on a cruising boat. A lot of new boat owners would be satisfied in knowing the boat has sheets and halyards and wouldn't care what they were made of.
First off, I'd like to dispel the thought that racers need better rigging than cruisers. Everyone needs rigging appropriate to their boat. Actually, the cost of suboptimal rigging is often higher for a cruiser than a racer as racers compete for little triangles of cloth, but cruisers need to claw off lee shores essentially competing for the survival of their vessels.
Good old Dacron double braid, like New England Ropes Sta-Set, is great cordage but not ideal for all applications. The good news is that we can use this relatively inexpensive workhorse in most applications on board, and I will describe a few of the places where something else would be better.
You need a rope that is less elastic than Dacron in your main, jib and staysail halyards, but your spinnaker halyard will be just fine in Dacron. I would use a rope with a Dacron cover and a blended core, something like New England Ropes VPC. VPC has a polypro and Vectran core to keep things low stretch. This rope is not terribly expensive and you'll use roughly the same diameter that you would in Dacron, so your clutches and self tailers will still work correctly.
I like to use a nice easy-handling single braid rope in tackle systems like your mainsheet. New England Ropes Regatta braid is braided Dacron, it has a really nice hand feel and is very flexible. A single braid is a little more elastic than a double braid, but the overall load and loaded length is pretty small in a mainsheet tackle.
Finally, we'll tackle your staysail runners. I am assuming that the fixed part of the runners is stainless wire, and I would replace that with a covered or uncovered high mod fiber like Spectra. The Spectra will be lighter and will not chafe your mainsail nearly as much as wire. You will need to watch for UV damage and rope chafe more so than you would with wire. The runner tails need to be an inelastic rope, similar in strength to the fixed portion, since they will be winched and belayed the rope needs to be covered. I would use a rope like New England Ropes Endura Braid, a Dacron covered rope with a Spectra core.