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Scaling it up

Allen Brothers

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The ultra-high performance blocks that Allen Brothers developed for foiling Moths and Olympic dinghies are now available in keelboat sizes too.

Allen Brothers’ new range of High Roller blocks for keelboats proves that the British hardware maker has now moved well beyond its well-established roots in dinghy racing. For decades the Essex-based firm has been the supplier of choice for many top sailors in the small-boat arena, including the Olympic circuit.

Dylan Fletcher used Allen hardware on his highly-loaded Moth to win the recent World Championship at the end of last year in Argentina. And just over a year earlier, Fletcher and Stu Bithell sailed their Allen-fitted 49er to Olympic gold medal victory for Great Britain in a last-second victory over the previously invincible Kiwis, Pete Burling and Blair Tuke.

As Allen Brothers’ head of marketing, Ben Harden, explains, the influence of the 30kg foiling Moth is what has steered the company towards developing a range of lightweight but extremely strong and robust blocks for keelboats. ‘The Moth sailors are extremely demanding with what they’re looking for in pursuit of top end performance,’ explains Harden, himself a two-time Blaze National Champion in the UK.

‘They’re running 64:1 purchases through the vang, for example, which means there’s more than a tonne of load in the system. Originally we developed a block to meet the demands Chris Rashley was putting on his boat, the XHL concept was born and what followed over the years is a development of feedback from world class sailors such as Dylan, Stu and the top Spanish 49er sailors like Diego Botin and Florian Trittel [2nd at the 2022 49er Worlds], to develop what we now call our range of XHL blocks.’

Allen Brothers
Main picture: Allen Brothers’ new 60mm High Roller Block – A9060. A serviceable roller bearing block for use on fast-running highly-loaded lines on big boats.

The XHL range has been designed to deal with extremely high loads without compromising on low-load dynamic performance. This has been achieved by combining the Allen dynamic bearing technology – twin rows of stainless-steel ball bearings running on a stainless steel axle – with a plain bearing peek washer. The result is a bearing system which can take extreme static loads without damaging the dynamic performance of the ball bearings.

‘The funny thing is,’ says Harden, ‘we developed the XHL blocks for a quite specific niche market, the Moth, but increasingly, we’ve seen it being used on control systems on GC32s, Etchells, AP30s as well as some lighter applications on TP52s and IMOCAs.

So, what started out as a block to be used in short-course dinghy races lasting less than an hour, is actually helping to get professional offshore sailors all the way around the world in races like the Vendée Globe and The Ocean Race.

‘Based on the feedback we’ve had from our customers, we believe these are the best “high load, small line” blocks on the market. It took a lot of design hours and trial and error to get the range to where it is today, and it’s also equipped us with the expertise to create a range of equally high performance blocks for keelboats.’

The resulting keelboat products come in two forms – TiiTAN and High Roller. TiiTAN – Essentially a development of the XHL block, which is 30 per cent lighter, and offers even less friction. It features a titanium sheave and ceramic ball bearings.

Below: Allen Brothers’ new 30mm TiiTAN Block – A9030. Weighing only 28g and featuring a 1250kg breaking load.

High Roller – A further development from the aluminium-based XHL block, but this time featuring a caged roller bearing to suit fast-running and highly-loaded lines on big boats. Typical applications for High Roller blocks are: mainsheets, runners, halyards, spinnaker systems, jib sheets and control lines.

Among Allen’s boatbuilding clients is Petticrow, the Portugal-based builders of some of the world’s fastest Dragon keelboats. Allen manufactures an extensive range of custom parts for Petticrows such as through deck bushes, mast steps, booms, halyard locks, rudder shaft assemblies and even the mast. This extensive range highlights the fact that Allen Brothers is more than just a marine hardware company, they’re engineering experts.

More surprisingly, perhaps, is that FarEast, the Chinese keelboat and dinghy manufacturer, should go to an Essex-based company for fittings for its range of boats. Normally the West sources its supply of products from the East, not vice versa. ‘We’ve built a reputation for being able to design and produce custom-built products very quickly and efficiently,’ says Harden.

‘FarEast buys quite a lot of injection-moulded products from us, which speaks volumes about the quality of what we produce in Essex. There are probably many companies just down the road from FarEast in China who could make these kinds of products, but they lack the decades of experience of designing and manufacturing for specific marine applications.’

Like Harden, many of his colleagues at Allen Brothers are from a strong sailing background and love racing on the UK circuit, whether it’s at dinghy championships or in offshore events like the Rolex Fastnet Race.

‘Our founder, Tony Allen, was a keen racing sailor and that’s what led him to design the original cam cleat which we’re all familiar with today. Allen Brothers has continued to attract keen sailors to design and engineer our products because that understanding of what sailors want is absolutely vital to producing the best possible hardware for the job.’

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