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The Marlow Rope Show: We speak to David Mossman

by Mark Jardine 16 Jul 12:00 BST
Marlow Rope Show at Lymington Town SC © Mark Jardine

We spoke to David Mossman of Marlow Ropes after he had just delivered a 'Rope Show' to an extremely knowledgeable crowd at Lymington Town Sailing Club, asking some very specific questions.

Mark Jardine: I notice the Marlow Rope Shows are teaching your users how to lengthen the lifespan of their ropes.... why would you do that?

David Mossman: [Laughs] That's a very good question! I think if people better understand their rope, they are going to get more from it. We are about producing the best product that we can, and there's a lot of knowledge that can go with that, so the end user has a better experience with Marlow, and stays with the brand because they get value for money. You get what you pay for. We will educate you so the product lasts longer: it's good for everybody, it's good for the environment, and there's a safety factor in there.

Mark: If we look back at the 1990s when Vectran was one of the major products out there; it really suffered from UV degradation, so you had a product that looked fine and then would suddenly catastrophically fail. Dyneema doesn't suffer in the same way, does it?

David: No. It's a totally different product in that sense - it's a lot more stable. We are seeing it used in rigging applications, and there are some good long-term studies by DSM, who make Dyneema. It is robust when it is braided, and UV light only affects the outer portion of the braid. Obviously we very heavily PU coat it, so it is more resistant to UV and abrasion. We're seeing it used for backstays in 30ft race boats for a good long period of time. Usually it gets damaged by some external factor, and replaced. We see very little total failure of rope, and it is very easy to spot; we can tell when something has broken through load and fatigue.

Mark: One part of the Rope Show demonstration which stood out for me was when you compared a piece of the old 40mm wire rigging to Dyneema. Dropping the steel on the floor would cause a dent. Yet the Dyneema is 15 times stronger?! Do people still fail to grasp these facts?

David: It is interesting. In the small diameters they do. I was out with some people who were looking to change over from wire. When you give them a piece of 2.5mm Dyneema in place of some 2.5mm wire, they look... unsure! I have other clients in more commercial sectors who are swapping wire in systems for Dyneema, and equally - they don't have issues with my information personally - their end users worry it cannot possibly be strong enough: "it doesn't look anywhere near big enough... it's just a piece of rope!" So there's a big perception thing. We can go smaller and lighter, as we have done with the International Moth and other dinghies. But this belief exists, and that is part of what the Rope Show is about - getting the message out to people.

Mark: So a lot of what you are doing is breaking down preconceptions?

David: Indeed. We all do things - both you and I - based on preconception. You hear, "I like this mainsheet so I've always bought this mainsheet," and it makes me want to put a different mainsheet in someone's hands, and hear them say, "wow!" You give someone a Dyneema mainsheet on a Laser, instead of a polyprop one - which is super light and does the job - and you have them say, "wow, this is totally positive! I almost feel like I can feel the leech - I'm totally attached!" There are subtle differences, but we are trying to win races, and coaches are always telling us to look for 1% gains; well I can give you 10% less friction, or get you a totally different feel. So yes, it's about the preconceptions, but we all - as humans - do that a lot.

Mark: Everyone's looking at what is round the corner / what is the next thing that is going to develop. In the news we've seen materials like graphene and others researched. Is rope now at the point where we have the best material, or are things going to continue to develop?

David: That's a really difficult question to answer. Right now, we are not seeing anything that will braid functionally into rope, and give us significant gains above what we already have. We can still tweak a lot, and we do, application by application. But in terms of "what is the next big thing?" - that is still a question mark at the moment.

Mark: Marlow is a British company, and the engineering is all taking place in this country. How important do you think that is?

David: It's like anything: once the skills are gone, they're gone. I think the fact that we are here, visible and available, is important. The fact that people can come up to me - as they did tonight - and mention a problem, means I can say, "come up to the factory, bring the problem, and we can test it." Once it all goes to the Far East, that channel of communication is lost, and what I would learn from the visit, and testing that piece of rope, has also gone. So I think it is very important we are here. There's a lot of skills here. We have great employees who are smart and know how to get things done. They produce world class rope. We will continue to be here for as long as I can possibly see.

Mark: David, it is superb to see someone with such passion for rope and for the sport. Thanks for your time.

David: Thank you.

Find out more at www.marlowropes.com

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