Rigging Your Mast: Solutions to Common Problems

When we rigged our J/35 mast for the first time, several issues cropped up. Fortunately we found solutions for them all.

17th November 2010.
By Paul Grimes

Maybe your mast is perfect, but ours certainly isn’t.  I hadn’t been working on the mast more than twenty minutes before I almost put the entire project on indefinite hold. When backing out one of the machine screws from a spreader end plate, the head sheared right off. I had visions of needing to take the spreader back to Hall Spars and waiting for a new end to be welded onto the spreader – in the middle of the busy season. Fortunately, a cooler head prevailed – in the form of Louis Mariorenzi, my orthopedic surgeon and electrical wizard friend who was helping with the project. (Louis is a hoot; he arrives at projects like this so well equipped that I’m afraid I’ll be accused of sneaking a sub-contractor into the boatyard. Fortunately, he likes nice cars, so I guess I could always point to the vehicle holding all those tool boxes.) He was sure it could be drilled out and retapped, and he had the right, small, sharp, high-quality drill bits to do it.

At the end of the season, this stainless bolt came right out of the aluminum spreader - thanks to the Duralac we'd used to install it.

Duralac and Tef-gel
For all of the bolts threaded into the aluminum, we used Duralac – a zinc-chromate paste that is the messiest stuff on earth, but works like a charm in two ways: preventing bolts from backing out and preventing corrosion. I have never seen a bolt with Duralac get locked in place.

On other close-fitting parts, like spreader pins and stemball fittings in spreader bar seats, we used a bit of Tef-Gel. This is another gooey, sticky, grease-based substance that prevents corrosion and is a good lubricant where two matched metal surfaces bear on each other.

Sealing Open Holes
No mast wants to have too many holes cut in it. Halyard exits are carefully spaced out on either side of the mast, to eliminate the chance of creating a “dotted line” where the mast will crumple. Our mast had spinnaker halyard exit holes about three feet from the top of the mast, leftovers from a time when it must have had two external spinnaker halyard blocks hung off two forward cranes. That setup is no longer there – the spinnaker halyards now exit through conventional sheaves just above the forestay, but the exit holes remain. After all these years, it’s valid to assume that the leftover holes would not make the top of the mast fall off, but they would certainly leak and add windage.

A combination of sail repair tape and shrink wrap tape cover halyard exits that are no longer needed.

I tried a combination of two tapes to cover the holes, and after a full season of use, the spots still look pristine. The first layer over the hole was a piece of woven sail repair tape, with corners rounded. Over that I used a larger piece of white shrink-wrap tape, again with corners rounded. The idea was that the woven sail repair tape would provide the strength, and the shrinkwrap tape would handle the weathering. This seems to have worked well.

Spreader Boots
To boot or not to boot? What little remains of the 20 year-old racer in me thinks spreader boots are clunky and high-windage, the above-the-deck equivalent of sailing around with your dock fenders hanging over the side. The 46 year-old in me with the checkbook says we have to have them. When we had our other boat, it seemed like each race during the first season cost $250 for something breaking, and a few times that was for damage to the sails from spreaders. All it takes is one late release on a tack, the genoa backwinds against the spreader, and cha-ching – it’s off to the sail loft.

Practicality wins – the spreader boot taped carefully in place.

A Note About Tape
The rigging tape on the boots was intact at the end of the season. I was careful to cut the end of the tape and press it into place, rather than stretching it to break it. On other projects where I wasn’t so careful, the tape started to peel up. Stretching tape damages its adhesive, so it’s best to cut tape with a sharp knife if you want it to stay stuck for the season.

Fixing the Instrument Box
It’s not a good sign when the only thing holding your instruments onto your mast is a piece of line wrapped around the box. The back face of plastic was bolted to the mast, but the box had broken off it. Scraps of tape on the box were all that was left of previous attempts to put it back together. We used woven sail repair tape to rebuild the back corner of the box, which held well for the season. My mom should be proud of my “hospital corners” at each end.

The instrument box before our fix...

The instrument box, repaired.

Up at the Masthead
The mast had only a Windex, and a bracket for the wind wand at the top – no antenna or lights. This was a one-design day racing setup. We would rather have had a tricolor light and an anchor light but reasoned that we wouldn’t actually use them too much. However, the current VHF antenna was on the stern pulpit, and while that’s OK for local use, or as a spare, we did want to move it to the top of the mast for better range. We also wanted a light for the Windex.

We ordered a Shakespeare 4200 antenna and some RG-8-X coaxial cable with crimp-on connectors. The remains of old wiring in the mast helped us to pull new wires through. Most masts have a conduit for the wires to protect them from the halyards and keep them from slapping around inside the mast. An electricians’ snake will allow you to pull a wire through, but you really want it inside the conduit. The antenna bracket mounted with three 10-24 bolts tapped (with Duralac) into the aluminum.

The Windex light is a Davis 3200 light, which draws only .12 Amps. We used 16 AWG wire and Ancor heat shrink butt connectors to splice the wire to the pigtail from the light, and clear silicone to seal the exit hole for the wiring.

The masthead, complete with Windex light and new antenna and bracket.

We wanted the light mounted behind the Windex, so we moved the Windex forward on its aluminum arm just enough to make room for the light behind it.

Next, we’ll look at what it took to get the mast set up correctly in the boat – a subtle process involving a sledgehammer.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series on used boat repairs. Previous posts include:

To Buy a Boat or Not to Buy a Boat

Used Boat Ads

How to Talk with the Broker

Looking at the Boat

Reaching an Agreement

Choosing a Name

Keel Repair and Fairing

Working with Boatyards

Paul Grimes is an engineer and marine surveyor living in Portsmouth, RI. For more information, visit the Grimes Yacht Services website.


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