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Replacing Genoa Leads

J29 BlackJack has adjustable Harken genoa leads. The leads ride on a set of ball bearing on a specially shaped track. There are small, medium and large versions of these Harken Genoa lead cars. On J29 Blackjack, we use the small 22mm version, as these are more than adequate for the sail area and loading.

Adjustable Genoa Leads Worth It?

Now about these adjustable Genoa leads. I have mixed feelings about them.

On a reach, adjustable leads work great. I recall this one ocean race where we were close reaching in 10-12 knots of wind. There was a lot of confused choppy waves and the boat was constantly wiggling around. Moving the genoa lead back a few inches to introduce more twist made the boat go noticeably faster in this condition.

And that’s not all. Adjustable genoa leads made it easy to experiment. I moved the lead back where it was and the boat slowed down. We knew it really was the lead position that made the difference. Adjustable genoa leads really work.

On the other hand, the adjustable system introduces more complexity. It’s more lines you have to deal with. And it’s one more equipment that can and will fail.

Broken Genoa Lead Car

In fact, one of the Genoa lead cars on BlackJack gave out not long ago. The plastic ends broke and the Delrin balls went missing. This, in turn, caused the lead car to jump off the track with a loud bang. That was scary.

Broken Harken Genoa Lead Car

Now, these genoa lead cars were 15 years old. So it’s not too surprising that the plastic part failed.

Simple pin-stop fairleads on T-track, however, would not have failed like this.

Genoa Lead Replacement

After the Genoa lead car failed, I agonized over whether to stay with the adjustable leads or go back to T-track.

In the end, I decided to stick with adjustable Genoa leads.

The adjustable genoa lead cars offered by Harken have evolved since I purchased my old one. On the new model (Harken G224B), the blocks for adjustable purchase are built-in and serviceable. Also, the base is a single piece of solid aluminum, no more plastic ends that break.

What I wasn’t too impressed about is the sheave for Genoa sheets. The old model had a large diameter sheave with Delrin ball bearings. They were like bicycle wheels, if you spun them with your hands, they keep spinning for minutes. The new model has a non-ball bearing sheave that’s smaller. The sheave looks and feels cheaper.

Granted, this is the ESP version which is the economy model. Well, “economy” is a relative scale, they still aren’t exactly cheap at $600 per pair at retail pricing (as of 2019).

It makes one wonder, will these sheaves perform under pressure? Will I end up regretting not going with T-track and pin-stop cars that are simpler and more reliable, but non-adjustable?

Installing New Genoa Lead Cars

Once I ordered the Genoa lead cars, they came after 2 weeks as retailers don’t stock these items and have to have it shipped from Harken.

Once I received the Genoa lead cars and took them down to the boat, the installation was very easy. Just take the track ends off, remove the old cars, then slide the new ones on. Put the track ends back on and you are done.

The Delrin balls on the new cars are kept in place with a hold-down that’s a very clever design. The Delrin balls do not fall out of the cars like on the old ones.

It was almost uneventful, especially considering boat projects are never as easy as it first seems.

I also changed the lead car adjusting lines as old lines were looking rather worn. For each side, I cut 5mm AmSteel Blue to the proper length, then put a Brummel Lock Splice on one end. I then put red 5/16″ Yale Cordage Cover and buried the cover end inside the Dyneema core. The other end was melted and whipped.

Once installed, and with yellow bungee tied with hog rings, I was pleased to see how simple and clean looking it came out.

And I must admit, the smaller sheaves actually look better than the old genoa cars.

How Well Does it Work?

I’ve sailed a couple of times since the Genoa cars were replaced.

I’m happy to report that the smaller sheaves were not a problem at all. In fact, they work very smoothly. The genoa cars are easy to adjust under load. I was able to adjust them while power reaching in 15+ knots.

All in all, I’m quite happy about how this project came out.

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