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Ratchet Blocks – Smaller the Better?

PLEASE NOTE: since this article was written back in 2017 Harken advised that the 40mm ratchet block is not warranted for use on the Laser/ILCA, and Harken recommend the 57mm version.  Personally I still use the 40mm version on my ILCA6 (radial). Although one of mine has failed in the last 7 years of use, I consider this acceptable given the advantages of the smaller block.  Note that the loads on the ILCA7 (full rig are higher than on the ILCA6).


We all know and love the Harken 57mm ratchet block that is standard on new Laser’s. But Southeast Sailboats has been using a 40mm ratchet block for a few years after deciding that the 57mm block is just too big. The 57mm block was fine when mainsheets were fatter, but now most sailors are using 6mm mainsheets. The 57mm ratchet block has one drawback when using these mainsheets – the opening is so large that control lines can get pulled through, or worse still your mainsheet which can get looped back through the opening, and if you are very unlucky, back over the top of the ratchet block, resulting in a totally locked mainsheet.  Southeast Sailboats recently provided GBR Team Sailor Michael Beckett with a Harken 40mm ratchet block to try out and, after using it at a major event, this is what he had to say…

At some point every Laser sailor has been sailing along and realised that a control line has gone on an irritating adventure through the mainsheet ratchet block. This usually happens exactly when you don’t want it to; when it is windy and you have lots of control line rope in the boat. It can lead to real boat handling issues.
An answer to this is to use a smaller ratchet block which doesn’t provide as much space for other ropes to feed into, such as a 40mm ratchet block (the conventional block size is 57mm). This block rotates more easily from tack to tack as well as providing a smaller obstruction for other ropes to get tangled around.
One would assume that the drawback with a smaller ratchet block is that the ratchet is less effective and more of the mainsheet load upwind must be taken up by your fore-arm muscles. It was a surprisingly small difference in load when I first went sailing with the new 40mm block. The mainsheet ran superbly well throughout an entire windy weeks’ racing at the World Cup Final and the block didn’t once give me any grief by getting the outhaul or downhaul lines tangled up. It was very satisfying to see a how a small change could make racing that little bit easier and stress-free.

Harken’s 2608 40mm ratchet block is available from Southeast Sailboats at a great saving on the list price!

Left – Harken’s 57mm ratchet block can let a loop of mainsheet get pulled through. Right – Harken’s 40mm ratchet block