Strong Track System
This page was last updated on May2, 2009.

In the fall, I had made the decision to order a Tides Marine Strong Track system for my mainsail.  This low friction system promised to make mainsail handling a treat, rather than a sometime chore.  I dropped my sail off at my local sail loft, and ordered the system; the loft would install the hardware on the sail, but I picked up the track when it arrived and took it home for my own installation.

After storing the large, flat box containing the rolled-up track all winter, the time finally came for installation.  Installation was quite straightforward; the  track section simply slides over (or into, if you have an internal track) the existing track.  The way the coiled track is secured, one can cut the ties in such a way as to maintain the integrity of the coil throughout installation, preventing the whole long coil from unwinding at once.

To install, I simply fed the top part of the track onto the existing bronze mainsail track, and pushed the new plastic track up the mast (with the mast on horses) a little at a time, cutting more of the plastic cable ties as needed to continue working the track up the mast.  In my particular case, the horses were weak, and the force of pushing the track up the mast started causing the horses to collapse.  To stem this, I tied them together with some line I had around, and then tied the whole thing to a nearby trailer to stabilize the whole thing.

Presently, I reached the end.  As I had suspected, the track was slightly too long--I had ordered 33'.  The directions called for cutting the excess off at the bottom, but I quickly discovered this wouldn't work since the bottom of the track featured a widened cutout to allow installation of the mainsail slugs and a retaining piece.  However, by simply removing the main halyard sheave arrangement at the top of the mast--which was blocking further progress of the track--I could continue pushing the excess track upwards.  It was easy to cut the top end, which had only a bevel at the corner, and then shape the new bevel and redrill for the stop pin, which prevents the sail from being overhoisted.

At the bottom, I secured the track in place with a single machine screw (the kit comes with a self-tapping screw for this purpose).  I drilled and tapped the mast for the screw, and drove it home.  Then, I reinstalled the metal plate over the base, which is there to hold the sail slugs in place once installed.


Once the boat was in the water, I had an opportunity to check out the new slugs and batten receptacles.  The stainless steel slugs added slightly to the overall stack height of the sail when stowed, and also caused the sailmaker to remove the jacklines needed to allow the sail to be pulled down far enough to allow hooking on the reefing hook; this was something I would have to take up with them later.


Post-Installation Update

I can highly recommend the Strong  Track system.  It's simple to install, quite inexpensive, and works like a charm.  I can drop the sail with zero effort; if I let the halyard go, the sail will crash completely down without any interference whatsoever.  After several seasons, all the hardware seems to be holding up well with no signs of wear or other problems.

The long and the short of it:  if you're considering a Strong Track, then just buy it.  You won't be disappointed.

UPDATE:  May 2009

Several years ago, when I installed my Strong Track for the mainsail, I ended the track an inch or so below the terminus of the external bronze track--logically and as directed.  This location was 8-10 inches above the height of the gooseneck.  However, I determined that this created a reefing problem:  the stack height of the slugs was such that the reefing ears wouldn't reach the reefing hook, for neither the first nor second reef.

To get around this, I installed a couple shackles that I had on board to extend the first reefing ear enough to allow me to hook it and make it usable.  This was acceptable enough for a few years, but there was no chance of hooking the second reef.  Fortunately, I never needed the second reef during this time.  You can see the reefing ear, the shackles, and the general first reef setup in this photo.  Clearly the slugs needed to come down further.

I wanted a better solution.  Through my sail loft, I eventually discovered that Tides Marine, maker of the Strong Track, offered an extension for this purpose.  The extension was simply a short length of track that incorporated the wide slug feed at the bottom, with a clip at the top end to secure the two pieces together.  I ordered the appropriate section.

To install the extension, I first determined where to cut the old track by holding the 15" extension in place and marking the old track with tape.  This provided enough overlap to remove the old feed section and allow the new extension to slide partway onto the bronze track.

Next, I unscrewed the single screw that held the track in place at the bottom, and slid the existing track down enough to allow me to cut off the track at my mark.


Then, I slid on the extension and double-checked my placement (I left the new bottom of the track about 2" above the gooseneck to avoid clearance issues when loading the slugs), and then drilled two holes through the track (which extend through the solid center portion of the track) for the slim bolts provided, which secured the two pieces of track together.  Finally, I drilled and tapped at the bottom of the track for a new screw with which to secure the end.

There ended up being a slight seam at the joint, caused by imperfect cuts on one or both pieces of track, but since this seam was at the bottom of the track, and easily reachable, I didn't see any problem with it even if the slugs should hang up slightly.  But now the stacked slugs would extend nearly to the gooseneck, which would make reefing (both reef points) much easier and also reduce the overall stack height when the sail was lowered, which would have the side benefit of easing pressure on my sailcover, which barely covered the old stack height.

I'll report more once I see this in practice this season.


Glissando, Pearson  Triton #381

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