May 5, 2015

Mast management for dummies

SPRING HAS SPRUNG and there’s a lot of activity in the boatyards. An important part of it in our northernmost regions is the stepping of masts that were lowered for a winter on the hard. The yachting magazines, keeping up with current events for the benefit of inexperienced boat owners, keep telling of the difficulties of hoisting the stick into the correct position and fastening it in place with the various wire ropes we call stays and shrouds.

Apparently, to step a mast you need you need a small crane, a large fork-lift, or at least an 18-foot-tall A-frame made from 2 x 4s. And as I read, my thoughts drift back to how we did it with such little fuss in the old days.

I had a 28-foot racing sloop called Trapper in those days. I used to raft up with a couple of 25-footers owned by friends, one on each side of my boat. And they would winch my mast up, out of the boat, with their mainsail halyards, the tail-ends of which were formed into loops with bowlines and allowed to slide up my mast until they were stopped at the junction of the mast and the spreaders.

I stood by the butt of my mast as they cranked away, and guided it aft to lie over the stern pulpit. Then my friends lowered away together until the top of the mast rested on the bow pulpit. It was quick and very simple.

Once we’d secured all the rigging and lashed the mast in place, we’d extricate ourselves from the raft-up and motor Trapper to her mooring, where my wife and I would take up our stations, one at each end of the mast, and lower it over the side onto an 11-foot wooden dinghy.

I would then scull the dinghy to a nearby jetty and we’d haul it up off the dinghy and march off with it on our shoulders to our car, where we put the mast on the roof rack and drove it a short way to the yacht club’s spar yard to work on it.

When the mast was ready to go up again, we did the same things in reverse order. It seemed such a simple and logical procedure at the time, well within the capabilities of a couple of reasonably fit adult sailors. We didn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for a mobile crane. We paid our friends in beer or whisky, and performed the same services for them when they wanted to drop their masts.

I sometimes wonder which path the march of progress is taking. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to be going forward, despite all the new tools at our disposal.

Today’s Thought
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
— Albert Einstein

“Is that the sound-effects department?”
“Good, send me a galloping horse immediately.”
“What for?”
“Well, the script calls for the sound of two coconut shells being clapped together.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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