Two Ways to Rebuild Your Main Sheet Traveler Car

What condition is your main sheet traveler car in? Do the sheaves look like the picture below, chipped and cracked? After twenty, thirty, or forty years they can get brittle and weak. You don’t want them to break while you’re out on the water. The car wouldn’t come off the bar but there would be metal riding on metal, not a good thing.

When we purchased Summer Dance, the main sheet traveler car was in bad shape. The sheaves that run along the bar itself had chipped edges, flat spots, and years of grime buildup. The control line sheaves were completely gone. I think the other sheaves were next. The lines ran around the bushings, which meant a lot of friction and chafing. Altogether, the traveler wasn’t easy to use.

BEFORE – Missing, cracked, and chipped sheaves

For C-22s, you would think that a certain online Catalina parts retailer would offer replacement sheaves for the car. They’re not particularly high-tech, no bearings, and no exotic materials. Sadly, no. They’ll tell you to replace the entire car. To their credit, my extensive Internet search for alternate suppliers yielded no direct replacements so I guess they had no choice. What’s a stingy sailor to do?

Necessity is the mother of invention

The five original equipment C-22 traveler car sheaves are bearingless and turn on 3/8″ OD (outside diameter) stainless steel bushings. The four bottom sheaves are held in place by two 1/4″ diameter stainless steel rivets. The top sheave and the main sheet shackle are attached by a 1/4″ bolt and lock nut.

By the way, the Catalina 25 uses the same traveler car as the Catalina 22.

The sheaves are three different sizes as shown in the drawing below—two larger sheaves under the bar, one medium size sheave over the bar, and two smaller sheaves to turn the control lines.

There are two ways to rebuild your traveler car, an easier way and a more challenging way.

Rebuild Method #1

You might be able to make your own replacement sheaves. This is the more challenging way. If you’re sure it’s not for you, jump down to the easier method below.

If you’re up to the challenge, it’s easiest if you modify a combination of Ronstan RF128 and RF578 sheaves rather than make them from scratch. Those are the closest to the sizes you need. You can order them online from various marine suppliers. They’re made of Acetal (the material commonly used in sailboat blocks) and it’s easy to work with using normal woodworking tools.

Modifications to stock Ronstan sheaves (dashed lines) to fit the C-22/C-25 traveler car

Rebuild tips

  1. To remove the car from the traveler bar to work on it, remove the shackle bolt and then pry the plates apart slightly until the car’s plates clear the bar. You probably won’t deform the plates much and the shackle bolt will pull them back together when you replace the car.
  2. Use a 1/2″ HSS bit in a drill press to cut off the mushroomed ends of the rivets flush with the underlying tie strap. Be careful to not drill into the strap itself. You can replace the rivets with machine screws as described below. Then you should be able to disassemble the car to replace the sheaves. Clean the bushings with a wire brush and polish both sides of the plates with Flitz.
  3. Enlarge the center holes of all the replacement sheaves with a drill press and 3/8″ HSS bit. Be careful to keep the sheaves square to the bit so the sheaves won’t wobble in the car. You’re done for now with the two larger sheaves.
  4. Turn the medium size sheave and the two smaller sheaves down to the sizes shown in the drawing above using a mandrel mounted on a lathe. A pen turning mandrel works great. Use enough pen turning bushings or other spacers to take up space on the mandrel so that you can hold the sheaves tight for turning.
  5. The sheave material is softer than most hardwoods, so keep your lathe chisels very sharp and work slowly.
  6. Use a small diameter round file while the sheaves are still turning on the lathe for final shaping and smoothing.
  7. Replace the rivets that you cut off with 1/4-20 x 1-1/2″ stainless steel pan head machine screws or cap bolts with nylon lock nuts.
Turning stock sheaves on a lathe to fit the traveler car

After you’re done rebuilding the car, you can remove it more easily in the future to replace any of the sheaves if they wear out again (we should all be so lucky to sail that much). You should never need to replace the entire car.

Rebuild Method #2

Not that handy with tools? Here’s an easier way.

Making your own sheaves isn’t a simple project and it requires a lathe and the skill to use it; not things that every skipper has access to. So I’m curious. If I offered you a kit with everything that you would need to rebuild your traveler car: five Acetal sheaves custom made to fit the C-22/C-25 traveler car, new stainless steel fasteners,  and detailed yet easy to follow instructions, would you buy one?

A full set of modified sheaves
A full set of modified sheaves

All you would need to do is drill out your old rivets, replace your old or missing sheaves with the new ones from the kit, and screw the car together. The price would be about $35 per kit including shipping within the US. A portion of the proceeds would go toward supporting this blog.

If you would purchase a C-22/C-25 Traveler Car Rebuild Kit, let me know by submitting the form below.  You won’t be placing an order yet and you’re under no obligation. This is only to test the waters and see whether this idea is worth me pursuing or not—market research, as they say. Only respond if you’re serious, please. I’ll be counting on you to help me decide how much material and parts to buy and maintain for inventory. If there is enough positive response, I’ll announce the availability of the kits here and you early adopters will get the first crack at them.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. sturmkatze says:

    The kit is great. It took me about 20 minutes to take the old car apart and another couple to put it back together. Very happy with it. Thanks!!!!

  2. Taylor Fry says:

    Is this the same traveler as the Catalina 25’s? I’ve become a huge fan of Viadana and they sell sheaves individually, . Be a great way to get ball bearings…

    1. Yes, it is the same traveler as on the Catalina 25. The Viadana sheaves would be a good option but they aren’t the right size.

  3. thomasphorton says:

    I’m a little late to the party, but I love your blog!

    Did you ever throw the kits together?


    1. Hello, Thomas

      The demand for the kits was higher than I expected. But it also takes more time to machine the sheaves than I’ve had to spare so far. So if I did make them, I wouldn’t have time to do much else. I’m looking for other options to make the sheaves and if I find a practical one or am able to start making them myself, I’ll announce it to everybody here.

      Thanks for asking and stay tuned,

  4. Jonathan says:

    I am currently fabricating my own using a 1 inch polypropylene round rod which is $ 9.45 on amazon. Will post results when I am finished any maybe upload a youtube video on the process. Jonathan

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