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Technical Articles

 Rig Adjustment Made Simple

 Rig Maintenance Made Simple

 Weatherhelm, What and How??

 Working Aloft!

 By Petrea Heathwood, SY Talisman

In the previous edition of TCP we saw maintenance of the rig mostly involves checking for existing problems and preventing new ones. The options for maintenance aloft range from a basic inspection to removing each piece of rigging to check its condition and attachment point. If you feel the latter is necessary it's probably better to pull the stick out and do a thorough check at ground level.

The first consideration in going up the mast is who goes up. Obviously the lightest member of the crew will be easiest to hoist but there is no point sending your wife or teenager up to check the rig unless they know what to look for. It's the skipper's responsibility so the skipper should usually be the one to go up there.

Your first time?
Climbing a mast can be daunting if you've never done it before. I disagree with the conventional wisdom not to look down. Once you've sorted out the safety aspects and your actual method, my advice is to climb up in small increments, getting used to the height as you go. Use your safety line at every stage so you can't fall if things go wrong on deck.

The Bosun's chair
The chair should be strong and in good condition. Even if it's new don't assume it's safe. I've seen stitching give way on new, brand name chairs. Inspect and test the chair before trusting it. Even in my old faithful bosun's chair I like to bounce a bit just above deck level before climbing any higher.

Use a conventional cloth type chair with a solid seat. Soft bottom wrap around designs are promoted as having a snug fit and this is certainly true. While they're light and compact to stow, for extended work aloft they're uncomfortable and restrict circulation to the legs. Worse still are the adapted rock climbers harnesses used by professional sailors on the pointy end of big racing yachts.

Choose a chair that fits you, neither too small nor too roomy. It should have large tool pockets which are easy to use. Make sure the hoisting point is low enough to allow you to reach the masthead. My own chair has secondary lifting rings at hip height. To get right to the top of a mast I can cinch these together with a spare line and use it to hoist myself that last few inches.
Going Up
1. Do it while the boat is afloat. Most boatyards ban the practice of climbing the mast of a boat on the hard, and for good reason. A keel boat propped up ashore is defying gravity and your weight jerking around aloft can cause it to lose balance.
2. Attach two halyards to the chair using separate shackles or knots. Don't trust snapshackles for this job.
3. Assign two people you trust to control the halyards and keep both taut. The halyard tailers must look up at the person in the chair, not down at what they are doing.
4. Use a safety line from the chair to the mast at all times. About a metre of 6 or 8mm line tied tight round the mast can be slid up or down manually but won't slide down if weight is thrown on it suddenly.
5. Keep clear below. Don't allow anyone to stand beneath a person working up a mast.

Once the chair is set up for hoisting, climb in and try it under your weight. I prefer to climb up and have the halyard tailers keep the halyards tight as I go. If they coordinate their pull on the halyard with your upward pull it can help enormously. Alternatively you can just sit in the chair and have them winch you up if you're not fit. Either way, take it easy and don't over exert yourself. It's no place to have a heart attack.

At each stop on the way up the mast keep your safety line attached and have your assistants tie off the halyards. While the climber is at the top of the mast, the assistants should flake down their halyards ready for the descent.

When the person up the mast is ready to come down the halyards must be untied without losing any tension. It's disconcerting to be dropped even a few inches when the halyards are released.

The primary halyard should take the weight while the other is kept slightly slack. The reason for this is friction. As the climber descends the halyard is eased out smoothly. It must be released under full control without binding on the winch. Two turns on the winch is the maximum needed, one is usually enough. Too many turns will cause the halyard to stick, resulting in a series of bounces for the person in the chair.

Getting ready
Older painted masts are usually chalky so wear overalls or similar gear. Some people like the feel of climbing barefoot but I protect my feet with shoes and socks. You'll need to take the appropriate tools for your rig but I would suggest:

1. pliers or multigrips
2. flat blade screwdriver
3. Stanley knife
4. WD40 with a tube on the nozzle
5. Shifting spanners to fit any rigging screws you need to work on.
6. rag and waterproof grease
7. any allen or hex keys needed to fit spreader end fittings
8. Duralac

To keep from spreading grease, Duralac and WD40 over myself and equipment I take a roll of toilet paper instead of a rag and stuff used squares into a separate pocket on the bosun's chair.

Doing the job
I check as I climb. It makes the climb easier and seems logical. What to look at depends on the layout of your mast but I'll try to cover a “typical” mast. You're looking for much the same things as you did at deck level. Corrosion of dissimilar metals, cracked fittings, seized sheaves, worn pins, stranded wire and bubbled paint.

Just above the gooseneck may be a group of sheave or exit boxes for halyards. Check fastening screws are tight but not seized; sheaves turn freely and not worn on one side. If you have mast climbing steps check their fastenings. Spinnaker or whisker pole tracks should be well secured and not bent or damaged. Slides should run freely.

The attachment points for the lower shrouds will be just below the lower spreaders. Ideally you will have someone loosen each shroud so you can check the clevis pin and tang for wear. The bolt holding the tangs should be straight. Check the nuts are sitting flat and not tilted slightly towards the mast at their top. This would indicate a bent bolt, which needs to be replaced.

When replacing through-mast bolts take care not to dislodge the compression sleeve inside the mast. It will be visible when you remove the nut and tang.

If t-balls are fitted instead of tangs, check the t-ball for cracks and that the receiving plate is sitting snugly against the inner mast wall. Black marks around the rivets here indicate movement, which could be serious.

From this position check the base of the spreaders for cracks and signs of movement. Move out to the spreader end and remove the spreader boot or covering tape. The cap or upper shrouds should be held to the spreader ends in some way. This could be a wire seizing, or a clamp welded to the end of the spreader arm. Undo the clamp and check for corrosion where the wire meets the aluminium. Apply Duralac paste if necessary and re-clamp the spreader end. Replace the boot or tape. If you have intermediate or diagonal shrouds terminating here, undo and check them as described in Part 1.

Often the lower spreaders are the site for a steaming or deck light. Glance at this but if it works leave it alone. If not now is the time to take it apart and find out why.

Climbing further up there may be a second set of spreaders to be dealt with in similar manner to the first. Somewhere between the lower and upper spreaders there may be a fitting for a spinnaker pole topping lift, and a tang for an inner forestay or babystay. Check these and lubricate any exit box associated with them.

At the top of the mast check the pins for the forestay and backstay, and the tangs and bolt for the cap shrouds. If you have a furler, check it is not wearing the wire of the forestay and its top cap, if any, is in place. By moving spare halyards over the sheaves you can see if they or their pins are worn. Alternatively poke the sheaves upward with a screwdriver. Movement here indicates a worn sheave hole or pin. Check the sheave pins are straight. If they're OK, lubricate with WD40. (I say WD40 because it comes in an aerosol can. Light machine oil is better but much harder to apply in this situation) Up here may be all sorts of antennas and lights. Again, I would suggest you leave them alone unless there is a known problem. Try reaching up to whatever lights you have there to find out if your bosun's chair allows this. Many of them leave you short, so you need to cinch yourself up higher on the safety line.

Now you've completed the work, relax and have a good look around before readying for the descent. You will have briefed your deck crew to lower you slowly and steadily. If they are new to this remind them to look up and watch how you're going.

Once safely back on deck you can be satisfied you know the condition of your rig and any problems it may have. Even if you need to call in a rigger at this stage you will appreciate their work and understand what they do to charge you so much for their services.

One last thing
Now you've gone to the trouble of checking your rig, make a note in your log book. Then do it all again next year.

 A photo gallery of do's and don't's

 How not to use a split pin! And the clevis pin is undersize for the hole in the toggle.

  an example of halyard chafe.

 Aluminium swage sleeve, stainless steel thimble and what used to be galvanized wire. The thimble should be gal or solid cast aluminium to avoid galvanic corrosion of the wire.

 How did they fit all that stuff up there?

 Neat leather spreader tip boot.

 How to trap salt-laden moisture and dirt, promote corrosion and make your sails nice and dirty too!

 If you must cover the rigging wire make sure the lower end of the cover doesn't trap moisture and debris.

  “Barber's Pole” effect one or more strands have rusted so the wire should be replaced.

Neat spreader-end clamp. Be sure to coat the aluminium with Duralac to discourage corrosion between dissimilar metals.

 Watch the birdie! Peewee will get a big surprise if this boat ever puts to sea.

 Additional notes on climbing the mast, from the coward and the pro!

 From the biggest wimp in the fleet. AKA, Bob Norson

What may be easy for some can be a hell job for one who hates heights. So this is for the other altitude challenged sailors out there. It’s not that I’m generally a coward. Not too long ago my idea of fun was to throw a motorbike into a turn with both ends sliding, and I still like being out of control with 400 HP in a 40 year old Chevrolet. One of my most memorable days of sailing, was a reach from the Percys to Curlew in 40+ knots and huge seas from wind against tide. So why does being a few feet off the ground scare shit out of me when those things don’t? Beats me but I’ve learned to live with it and to maintain a boat in spite of it.

The upside to it is when I was offered good advice, I listened and took it! First attempts... Put Kay in the chair! Hey, I’m more needed on the ground where the muscle is required! (Good thinking Bob, will she buy it?) O K, that didn’t work. So... To the engineering table with slide rule, compass, four pencils and a calculator later... Use the main halyard, better make it spectra, the normal double braid might not be strong enough, only six tonnes load. Hook up the chair aft of the mast head and run the tail to the horizontal anchor windlass, secure around the drum side, have one person cranking (old manual windlass), one person tailing and another with a stretcher and first aid supplies... (And did I mention the three tins of liquid courage for the bosun?)

Obviously not something easy to organise, especially if you factor in the absolute zero breeze required of the ships master (AKA, bosun, AKA wimp of fleet). So it was with some patience (and mirth) that a far savvy-er sailor than I, Tyrone Mckee or SY Sahara, explained that you just “pull yourself up Bob”. Kerry Mckee, mate of said skipper confirmed that all she did really was to try to insure the line didn’t slip off the winch drum allowing Ty to fall and break some expensive bit of deck gear.... strictly one handed stuff.

I hook up on the line from the forward side of the mast and climb up to the boom. With the slack taken out of the line I step off the boom and swing around forward, then reach around the mast and pull upward on the line whilst Kay pulls lightly from the winch and looks after the tail. Three turns on the drum (two would do really) and carefully cleat off when I’m (gulp) at the head. Do the deed o the day, have a look around.. ‘tis glorious up here’ and then monitor the line as Kay slowly feeds the tail over the winch to lower me.

I feel more comfortable because my life is in my own hands... Literally, and Kay is not straining. The only downside so far are the dents in the mast from my clutching knee caps but at least I can straighten out the windex when the next bloody Pelican decides to use it as a park bench.


Petrea Heathwood, AKA “The Pro”

I've mentioned the conventional way to climb a mast in the text of the article, but there are a myriad of other choices for the reluctant climber.

Bob mentioned leading the halyard to a manual windlass but thankfully most of you would have an electric anchor winch. Figure a way to lead the halyard to it and voila, if it's powerful enough, up you go; no sweat. (If not, combine with my favourite, below)

fit mast-climbing steps. You'll still need a halyard as a back up, or at least use a safety line, but for most people climbing steps feels more secure than dangling at the end of a halyard. Steps should be less than half a metre apart. It may seem easy at first to climb wider spaced steps, but unless you're very tall or fit, it's not. Just hard work.

On some boats you can lead the halyard to a primary winch, which makes it easier to wind the climber up the mast. Still hard work if they can't or won't pull themselves up.

Clever Thingies. When Dennis got Beluga Too she was equipped with a special mast climbing ladder. It's like a long rope ladder, with PVC tube rungs. The idea is to hoist it aloft then climb up it. We tried it but it was so scary we had to put it in the shed, where it remains.

Hoisting tackle. My favourite. I have a 4:1 climbing tackle made from a double block and a double becket block, with a very long rope. I use 8mm braidline as the ideal compromise. 6mm is strong enough but would cut your hands, 10mm is overkill and won't render through the blocks easily. The line should be five times the length of your mast, plus a bit (see below). The idea is to hoist the becket block end of the tackle to the masthead, preferably on two halyards. The lower end attaches to the bosun's chair. Sit in the chair, grasp the tail of the tackle, and hoist yourself!
Hint! After hoisting the tackle grab a winch handle and tension the halyards, otherwise they will stretch a little, allowing the top block to slip down from the masthead. You need maximum hoist to reach the very top of the mast.
Obviously, it's even better if someone else does the hoisting and you assist by climbing. The extra bit of length mentioned should allow the tail to be lead to a winch, so the person tailing has some assistance. The beauty of this system is that you can use blocks already on board, like the mainsheet blocks.
Warning! If hoisting yourself, either tuck the loose tail into a bucket hanging on the bosun's chair or be very careful where you allow it to fall. It's bloody embarrassing to have to call someone from another boat to untangle it from something on deck so you can get down again.