October 18, 2016

When a mast drives you mad

WHEN YOU’RE THINKING about buying a boat there’s always something you think of too late. Something that will keep you awake all night the very first time you drop the hook in a beautiful anchorage.
Slap! Clang! Slap! It’s the noise of the loose wires in the mast. The incessant noise of the loose wires in the mast. The noise that drives you mad with frustration as you lie wide awake at 3 a.m. in your nice cozy bunk wanting to tear the mast open with your bare hands and strangle those damn wires that go clang with every little movement of the boat.

I have seen instructions from the experts showing how to pop-rivet a small-diameter plastic pipe along one side of the mast. Apparently, if you thread all the wires and cables through that pipe they can’t move around enough to make a noise.

The other way, which is a whole lot easier, is to fit those nylon zip ties used to bundle up electrical wiring. You’re supposed to use extra-long ones, so that the stiff ends protrude, and place groups of four of them together so they stick out at right angles to each other. The ends should protrude more than the diameter of the mast, so they will bend in place with enough spring to hold the wires in the middle of the mast. The groups of four need to be about 6 inches apart all the way up the bundle. You then haul the wires up through the mast on your messenger line, fix them in place, and hope for the best.

I don’t know how long this arrangement will last. I can’t guarantee that the stiff nylon ends won’t make squeaky dozens of little scritching noises in the middle of the night, which might be more annoying than a few honest-to-god hearty slaps, but people who’ve done it assure me they’ve enjoyed nothing but silence.

On a long cruise, you’ll probably find that you don’t notice the slapping noises after the second or third night. Your brain just tunes them out. But the first night is always hell, no matter how calm the anchorage seems, and no matter how many Dark ’n Stormies you’ve taken as a medicinal aid to sleep.

So before you buy your next boat, put an ear to the mast and get someone to rock the boat from side to side. Then get a quote for dropping the mast and fixing the slap. Subtract it from the purchase price. No seller with the faintest modicum of conscience will object.

Today’s Thought
I never take a nap after dinner but when I have had a bad night, and then the nap takes me.
— Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Life, 1775

“I find you guilty and sentence you to a fine of $250 and 30 days in jail.”
“Oh, please Your Honor, please I beg of you, please reverse my sentence.”
“Very well. I sentence you to a fine of $30 and 250 days in jail.”


Alden Smith said...

I was very surprised to read this. In 1979 when I built 'Mariners' 37 foot mast I pop riveted a long plastic tube inside the mast to take all the wiring. I did this without thinking because this was considered standard practise. But I guess New Zealand is a pretty advanced country in most ways so I guess I am not surprised to hear that others spend their anchorages listening to a percussion band.

Mike K said...

I have found it's often the halyards that make the slapping noise, not necessarily the wiring. Good luck fixing those. Have spent many hours in various boats trying all manner of tension and slack trying to get them to SHUTTHEHELLUP!!
If you don't have a dedicated sleeve tube for your wiring you run the risk of the wires being snagged/worn by the halyards and failing. Perhaps this isn't such an issue with larger section masts but in my little tapered 1/4 tonners stick I once went to a lot of trouble to replace a broken masthead anchor light wire (unprotected) only to have it fail again a year later due to halyard wear.

Anonymous said...

I find the halyards outside of the mast make the most noise...I simply attach the jib/spinnaker halyards to their own loops on the bow pulpit and the main halyard to a starboard lifeline. I am probably the only person I know who actually enjoys the metronomic sounds, though. It brings back memories of standing by the dock as a child dreaming of sailing to far off places.