Fratcher - Marine Engineer/Captain. Adapted from
"Businesses run from a cruising boat or How to make money
Driving a mast down the road
This rig made it 1500 miles!
Raising and lowering masts means you might have to move a mast
by road. Moving a mast is pretty easy if you know the trick. The
photo above is a mast that we drove from San Francisco all the
way to La Paz, Mexico down the 700-mile twisty tourney Baja highway.
The trick here is to get the mast up and over the vehicle. If
we just try to tow the mast the car and trailer will be too long
to legally drive down the road.
We have to build a carriage for the mast on top of the tow vehicle
and another for the far end of the mast on the trailer. The tow
vehicle mast carriage will have to support the weight of the mast
and be strong enough to pull the mast along. A couple lines run
aft take the pull of the mast and two lines forward stop the mast
from sliding forward during a crash stop.
The trailer simply holds the mast up and allows the mast to slide
inside a greased track. The sliding track we used here was just
some greased teak strips lashed to the mast. The track is needed
because the mast carriage on the tow vehicle pivots at a different
location than the trailer to the vehicle. When you turn this causes
the distance between the mast carriage on the tow vehicle and
the carriage on the trailer to change length.
Lowering a mast without a crane
Yachts have to lower their masts for all types of
reasons. Maybe they found the mast step to be corroded, or the
masthead had a failure that can only be dealt with from land,
or maybe it's just time for maintenance. In this article were
going to talk about lowering a mast when no crane is available.
For example, perhaps your vessel is
in a remote location or perhaps the cost of a crane is out of
the DIY budget.
The steps to unstopping a mast without a crane are:
- Estimate the weight of the rig to be lifted
- Find a structure to lift from
- Attach the lifting rig to the mast
- Lower the mast to the deck
Estimate the mast weight
Start by estimating the weight of the mast you plan to lift.
You might have to do some investigating but don't forget to add
the weight of the mast winches, rigging, and electrical cables.
Rig up some sailing blocks capable of lifting the rig weight
six times over. This is our six to one safety margin. Don't skimp
on the safety margin. If a little sailing block stamped 1000 kg
looks too small then it probably is. Even if you plan to lift
a small rig at least 12mm line and blocks should be used simply
so your hands can effectively grab the line.
Finding something strong to lift from
When raising a mast without a crane the two most commonly used
lifting points are:
* Other boats, or
* A bridge.
A bridge (or other over the water structure) can be the most
stable, but often takes time to gain permission. If we can find
a good solid land based support to lift from then we only have
to consider the tide.
Lifting from other boats tend to be easier to arrange, but more
complicated to rig. Lifting from another boat can be done in two
ways. Either by side tying one boat to each side to make an even
lift or using a gaff boom.
Note-Spinker poles can be used in place of a gaff boom, but pay
careful attention to the load where the spinker pole attaches
to the lifting mast. The force during lift can be extreme and
spiniker poles may induce a "rolling" motion at the
point of mast attachment stressing the fittings. Gaff booms push
straight into the mast center and thus don't suffer this problem.
Lets look at lifting from other boats rafted alongside. The surrounding
boats will not actually lift the mast, but will just provide a
support point. The actual lift will be done through a block simply
supported by the surrounding rigs.
We want a lifting point directly above our mast. To get this
we take a line from the masthead of each boat and tie them together
into a bowline. In practice we want two lines from each boat.
One line as a safety and one to hold the load, so we have four
lines forming four bowlines that are secured together looking
like one thick loop.
Attach the block and tackle to the bowlines and raise them with
the block till they are over the mast. We should now have a block
and tackle ready to lift and the bitter end on deck.
Attaching to the mast
To lift a mast we must find away of attaching a line to it. We
need a connection that is soft, easy to build, and available on
the yacht. I like to make collar from a short bit of good high
quality sailing line. Were going to make two lifting collars so,
take two lines and wrap them around the mast about four times
each. Make the bitter ends fast to themselves using bowlines.
The two collars (one to lift and one for a safety) can now be
slid up and down the mast. Next we make the make way to hold the
collars in the chosen position.
We make an adjustable collar by connecting lines from the collars
to cleats at the base of the mast. This allows us to easily adjust
the height of the collar from deck and provides double security.
Remember, for every section of this lift we want two support lines.
One to lift and one for security.
Note-Often I see people use the spreaders as a "stop"
for the rope collar when lifting a mast. This is not a good idea
for two reason. First you're not in control of where the lifting
collar lands. It may grab a spreader or electrical line in an
unpredictable way causing more work. Second the spreader base
is not meant to carry the upward load of lifting a mast. You can
never predict exactly how a rig is going to lift so minimizing
any "unknowns" is important.
Find about the center point of the mast and plan on lifting from
this point. You don't want to be lifting from below the half way
point as the mast may flip upside down uncontrollably once all
stays have been removed. Wooden tapered masts are less of a balance
risk, but aluminum extrusions must be looked at carefully as they
often have no taper thus you must lift from above the middle/balance
We can now turn our attention to the lifting rig. For a deck
stepped mast I like to use a four to one purchase tailed to a
winch at the base of the mast. The winch on the base of the mast
should be well mounted as it will be lifting one quarter the weight
of the mast.
The top of the four to one block and tackle is attached to your
chosen lift point weather this is the end of your gaff boom, spinnaker
pole or whatever point you are using to lift from.
As a test start cranking on the winch to take some load on the
lifting system. The stays should not be loose yet so this is a
good safe test. Take a hefty amount of strain on your lifting
rig and inspect the complete system.
Look at the winch bases for signs of failure. Examine the cleats
that are taking load. Inspect each section of the block and tackle
with binoculars. Check for twists or blocks side loading.
Consider the path to deck once you begin lowering the mast. Verify
it will not twist causing the block to jam. This is your last
chance to find and correct any suspect areas of your planned lift.
Lift and lower to deck
If the lifting rig has passed all inspections it's time to lift
and lower the mast to deck. Every person on deck should know what
they are expected to do. All spectators should be clear. This
is a perfect time for some people to be in the dingy taking photos.
We can now disconnect the uppers, head stays and backstays relying
solely on the lowers.
Slacken the lowers till they are floppy loose and take tension
on the block and tackle.
We should see the mast begin to lift and the lowers go tight.
If not then the mast is stuck in the base or something else is
preventing the mast from lifting.
It's common for the mast base to be stuck in the shoe. Resist
the urge to use the lifting rig to "break" the mast
free from the stuck base. It may take some precisely directed
force to free a stuck mast base. Sometimes prying with a bar on
the mast base may be enough or occasionally a judicious use of
a mallet may cause the base let go.
Careful-If the lifting rig has been preloaded we risk the mast
"jumping" when released.
As the mast rises it will clear the deck or mast base and it's
time to pull the base toward one end of the boat and so mast can
begin to be lowered and laid down.
You'll remember for a deck stepped mast we are controlling the
lift from the winch at the base of the mast so you can just follow
the mast base and be in control of the mast and the lowering at
the same time. This saves a lot of time shouting commands.
Be prepared to remove delicate rig parts as they come into reach.
Pay particular attention to the spreaders and radar.
Note-A keel stepped mast is more difficult as the rig must be
lifted a couple meters to clear the deck. In this case we don't
use the winch at the base of the mast but instead run our lifting
line to the yachts largest winch. Maybe the windlass, or a large
sheet winch. Keep in mind this will add weight to safety factor
as the block tail is not lifting the mast, but instead it being
fed to a winch.
To raise the mast simply just reverse the procedure.
Be careful what you wish for… A mast stepping encounter
I was writing this chapter on working and stepping masts
I said to Allison,“You know we have not stepped a mast in
a long time and I don’t have any good mast stepping photos.We
need a mast stepping job”.
Just two days later we got a call on the SSB.
An Islander 37, two hundred miles out of French Polynesia
headed for Hawaii had just suffered a collapsed mast step.
We talked to the owner over the radio while they were still
deciding what to do about the problem. We explained that
we could lift the mast with our gaff boom and use our onboard
welding to make a new mast step. They liked the idea and
three days later they arrived.
On the first day we lifted the mast using
the gaff boom, and laid it on deck. We found the old mast
step to be completely rotten. The tough strong steel had
turned to rust and nastiness over the last 25 years. All
the old corroded metal was removed, the area cleaned.
The second day a new mast step was built.
At mid afternoon on the third day we started raising the
mast and thirty minutes later the it was sitting on its
new step. A very nice piece of work. Three full days plus
a bit of a third to tune the mast and clean up. Everyone
was happy and the boat sailed away headed back for Hawaii.
All this work took place in the lee of an
island in the French Island chain where the water is calm
water and a few boat yards reside in case we needed any
special materials. One of the boat yards has an office that
over looked the whole bay. The owner of the yard sat in
his office all three days watching the show.
After the stepping we found him waiting on
shore for us as we came in for our morning walk.
“What boat are you on” he asked.
“The black one” I said pointing.
“Oh, you are the one that did the mast work”.
Ah, I thought, here it comes, the boat yard
owner saw the job go off without a hitch. Now he wants to
offer us a job.
“Yes” I beamed “that went well, we got lucky
and everything fell into place”.
He stared at me with narrow eyes.
“You have to know you are FORBIDEN to work
in this port”.
“Well yes, but it was a pretty good job don’t
you think” I continued.
He cut me off.
“When I go to your country I have to get a
face scan and I can only stay for one month and I can’t
work, so you can not work here either” he flatly stated.
“Ok, I understand” I said, but still looking
for where to spend cyclone season I carried on “you run
a yard here, you must know how to get legal work papers;
help me with that and I’ll stay right here and work for
you this coming season”.
That put the poor fellow over the edge. He
took a deep gasp, then let out one of those long French
farting sounds while he tilted his head back, blowing little
droplets of spit into the air.
“The only way you could work here is if you
could do a job that no Frenchman on the island could do,
but since we are French we can do anything you Americans
can do, so we don’t need you here!”
I realized our chances for a job were not
too good. We headed back out to our boat to study the charts
and decided to spend our cyclone season in New Zealand.
Rotten mast base
New mast base
to lower a mast without a crane
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