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Kicker/Vang Systems Guide and FAQ

Kicker/Vang Systems - What's Important:

Updated February 2024

In common with all control systems, the performance of a kicker system is determined by the quality and size of the blocks and the line that is used.  A better performing kicker system will have lower friction, making it easier to pull it on, and also reducing line wear.

There are a number of key components of a good kicker/vang system – so let’s go through them one by one, in order of importance.

Lower Assembly: Although there were two ILCA approved lower assemblies (Harken and Allen), up until late 2023 there was only really one choice – the popular Harken one.  In the latter part of 2023 Ronstan released their ILCA approved lower assembly, so now there are three approved assemblies. 

 

The Allen lower assembly was never very popular, so we focus here on the Harken assembly that is used by the vast majority of sailors, and the new Ronstan one.

Both the Harken and Ronstan assemblies work well.  The Ronstan has a number of features that make it distinct.  Firstly the fairlead is replaced with a block, lowering friction and reducing line wear.  Early versions of the Ronstan assembly had a very low cleating angle which sometimes made it difficult to cleat the line.  As a result of customer feedback Ronstan have now added a wedge under the cleat to make the cleating angle comparable with the Harken unit, and in use recently at the windy Vilamoura Grand Prix (December 2023) I found the new version of the Ronstan unit much easier to uncleat in strong winds than the Harken assembly.  One thing that I don’t like is that very occasionally either the downhaul or outhaul control line coming down from the gooseneck area would get stuck on either the cleat or small block on the ‘nose' of the Ronstan assembly.  This seems to be a result of the Ronstan assembly being more compact and closer to the mast than the Harken.

 

So, Ronstan and Harken assemblies to choose from, and both work well. 

Fairlead: If you are using the Harken assembly you should regularly inspect the small black plastic fairlead that sits almost hidden behind the cleat.  Depending on the abrasiveness of the control line that you are using, this fairlead can get worn in just a few days of sailing.  As soon as even a small groove appears in the side of the fairlead, friction will increase making your system harder to use and also increasing wear on your control line. 

In early 2023, as a result of a formal rule change submitted by Southeast Sailboats, the ILCA rules were amended to allow the use of alternative fairleads such as our new aluminium one.  Tested over more than a year, these aluminium fairleads are just great – they maintain low friction and reduce rope wear and, although more expensive than the plastic ones, will last much much longer.

Control Lines: The 15:1 kicker system is the only system on the ILCA/Laser that has a large purchase and where the control line runs through a lot of small sheave size blocks.  This can result in considerable rope/block friction from a 4mm line running around the small blocks used in the lower unit and middle block.  To minimise this rope friction a flexible control line is desirable and our recommended control line is Robline Polytech as it is flexible, has great grip in the hands, and good durabilty.  

Top Block Choice: To improve the performance of your kicker/vang system consider replacing the standard Harken 466 top block with one of the new free-running high load blocks from Harken, Allen and Ronstan.  These blocks provide a step change in system performance.  These new blocks are available from us by themselves, or as part of a complete system. 

Middle Block Choice: As a final step, consider using one of the new free-running high load double blocks from Allen and Ronstan.  Whilst the change from the 466 top block to a high load top block provides a significant improvement in performance, replacing the middle block will provide an incremental improvement, hence it is the last step in getting to the ‘ultimate’ system.  These new blocks are available from us by themselves, or as part of a complete system. 

 

Kicker/Vang Notes and FAQ’s:

Primary Line Length:  All our primary lines and system upgrades are optimised for use for the Harken lower assembly which is by far the most popular.  If you are using the Allen lower the primary line need to be longer for the system to work.  If you are ordering a primary line, or upgrade, and are using the Allen lower unit, add a note in the checkout area and we will optimise your system for the Allen unit.  If you are using the new Ronstan lower assembly leave a note in the checkout zone saying that you are using this assembly and also please advise what top/middle blocks you are using.  If you are unclear what lower unit you have the picture below shows the three class legal lower units.

If you are unsure exactly what you should order, below is a list of commonly asked questions that will hopefully help. If not, please contact us at sales@southeastsailboats.co.uk as we are happy to help answer any rigging related question.

  • Can I have less purchase on the kicker system?. Yes, just add the system option to remove one purchase
  • Can I see the instructions as to how the systems are rigged? Yes, the rigging instructions for the kicker upgrade are here Kicker Upgrade Installation Guide
  • I use the Allen lower base unit - do you sell primary lines and upgrades that work with that unit?  Yes, add a note in the checkout area saying that you want your primary line/kicker upgrade to work with the Allen lower unit and we will make the primary line 8cm longer for you.
    • I am unsure of what is best for me – do you offer free advice? Yes, we offer free advice on what we feel is best for you, based on years of sailing the ILCA/Laser at championship level. Just contact us at sales@southeastsailboats.co.uk
    • I like to rig my ILCA/Laser differently. Do you offer custom systems? Yes. A quick walk around the boat park at even a world championship will show that there is no ‘right way’ to a rig a Laser – a lot is down to personal preference, and we are happy to build up exactly what you want.
    • Do I have to have everything spliced together? The answer is no, but there are a number of reasons why we splice our systems together. For the primary lines, the fixing to the new ‘soft attach’ blocks is important that it is done correctly, as an incorrectly fixed primary line can pull apart the head of the block. For the secondary lines, particularly the smaller Harken 18mm and Allen 20mm blocks, the size of the sheave makes it difficult to thread a 4mm control line through when a 3mm primary line has already been threaded through.
    • Having a spliced system is great, but what happens when the ropes inevitably wear out? If you liked the original spliced system that we supplied we can rebuild the system using your original blocks. Just send the blocks back to us and we can replace and re-splice the lines for you.
    • I have just bought a new ILCA dinghy and I have the bag of blocks and ropes that comes with it. Can you put it all together for me? Yes, we have done this for a number of customers. The bag of ropes that comes with a new Laser can be daunting. We can turn all those ropes and blocks into a ready to fit system - just email us at sales@southeastsailboats.co.uk for more information.

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