348. Top Tips Tuesday - Spars, Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind


As an old salt or (as Jen pointed out when proof reading) a very, very ancient and grumpy old salt who remembers the days when every yacht was lifted out each autumn at the local yacht club, laid up ashore on a mixture of pit props and 45 gallon oil drums, this was of course after the rigging had been disconnected, boom removed and then the mast lifted out! These days with the majority of boats marina berthed and hard standing often somewhat limited, it's a case of out for a short period of time for annual wash and brush inc antifoul/change anodes and if it's on hard standing for six months or so on a steel boatyard cradle, the mast stays in situ! If you are fortunate enough to have the mast at ground level and not ‘tangled’ up on a boatyard mast rack its easy peasy to give it a thorough check over, however if your spar is still reaching for the stars please do not neglect because it’s out of sight and out of mind, incidentally more on the subject of a mast inspection from a bosuns chair later! Thanks to the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club for their permission to use the above photo. If you are cruising the North East coast the RNYC sailing directionsare an invaluable source of information.


Start at the tip of the mast with the masthead light. Check it’s secure and the lens isn’t suffering from UV damage, check cables for chafe where they exit the light and enter the mast. Remove the lens, then bulbs and make sure all the contacts are clean by using the excellent specialist fast drying contact cleaner. If they are the filament type bulb our recommendation is to replace regardless (keep old as a spare) or seriously consider going for replacement LED bulbs, a lot less current drain and almost bullet proof in a heavy beat to windward!  However, remember you shouldn’t put a white LED behind a coloured lens, only use a coloured LED bulb. After replacing the bulbs, spray all electrical connections with Boeshield and then clean the lens both inside and out. Before replacing the now clean lens, you must of course check the lights are working (our Top Tip is to use an old redundant small 12 volt alarm battery and connect to the wires where they exit at the bottom of the mast, it’s much easier than lugging round a big heavy 110 amp hour beast). Once satisfied, reassemble. If the light has suffered from water ingress last season and you are happy that it's still up to the job, make sure that any seals are intact however a smear of Lanocote will help keep moisture out.

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Check the condition and security of the mast head VHF aerial or combined VHF/wind indicator (if the Windex is becoming brittle through UV damage consider replacing). Incidentally there is a new Windex on the market with a ‘seagull striker’ fitted to warn birds away from landing! See image above. Examine carefully any other antennas like the AIS or Active radar target enhancer and of course don’t forget the condition of any cablesespecially where they enter or exit the mast. Assuming mast head wind speed and direction are stored below deck whilst the mast is down, check manufacturer's handbook for information on lubrication and maintenance. Clean contacts as above and once again spray with Boeshield after refitting. As for me, I prefer to leave the mast head transducer off when the mast is being refitted as often the ‘small print’ of a boatyard’s terms and conditions does not cover you for accidental damage, yes it's a mast climb to fit however replacement transducers can set you back over £400-00! Satisfied with your mast head gear? Now turn your attention to the mast head and check main and topping lift sheavesfor damage or wear.image

Incidentally alloy sheaves running on stainless axles are notorious for seizing up through corrosion. On some masts, especially older Selden (Kemp), it’s impossible to replace the sheave without taking the masthead fitting out of the spar. Clean and then lubricate with a ‘dry’ lubricant don’t use grease or light oil as both attract grit and can damage sheaves especially those made from Tufnol (recognised by it’s brown colour/fabric weave) Next check the condition of the forestay and backstay attachments, draw the clevis pins out, examine them for wear and at the same time check that the ‘hole’ that they pass through has not elongated. If OK, replace and secure with new split pins, not rings, and make sure that they are properly opened out!image

If you have been unfortunate enough to have suffered a halyard wrap last season, pay particular attention to where the wire strands exit the swaged terminal/talurit splice. Flex the wire gently to check for any sign of broken strands, even if it’s only one broken strand replace. If the forestay shows signs of birdcaging (wire opening up) you should also replace the forestay without question. Your spinnaker/asymmetric halyard block can take a hammering lack of articulation can cause issues such as damaged or buckled side plates on sheaves which can lead to halyards jamming.


Working your way down the mast, if an older rig stainless tangs were used for the attaching of standing rigging and if there are signs of corrosion behind the fitting (white ‘crust’ around or bubbling from the fitting) we would suggest  drilling out the old rivets, inspection of the mast wall behind and, if satisfied, replacing with new monel ones after you have used a barrier such as Duralac or Tef-Gel between the two dissimilar metals. However make sure you drift the ferrous metal mandril head out so it drops down inside the mast! If a fractional or similar rig, remove the combined genoa and spinnaker halyard box, check for stress cracks, worn sheaves and then clean and lubricate as above. Then check the security of the cast alloy spreader brackets, paying particular attention to all rivets. Inspect the casting for any signs of damage such as fracture of the alloy. Turning to the spreader tips, if the rigging is still attached to the spreaders release the spreader end clamp and then check for a broken strand that may be hidden behind the plastic or leather spreader boot. Once the clamp has been slackened move the tip up or down and flex the wire gently. If not fitted, to protect your head sail perhaps fit a pair of leather spreader boots to prevent chafe once you have satisfied yourself that everything is OK. Steaming and deck flood lights are often neglected, check and service as per your masthead lights. If there is a Blipper or similar reflector check all fastenings, like wise if there is a radar dome.


Check the gooseneck and base of mast kicker bracket for wear, replace if badly worn, replace any worn nylon spacer washers. Look out for any horizontal cracks around halyard exit slots, this is especially important on fractional rigs set up with high amounts of pre-bend, consult your rigger if any are found. Keel stepped spars should have their deck coats/seals checked as it’s impossible to replace them without lifting the mast out again. If a keel stepped mast, Spartite is an excellent product for sealing the mast/deck not cheap but the best on the market. Make sure that the mast track on a keel stepped mast has a foam or silicon rubber gate to prevent water running below deck. At this stage don’t forget to run  your eye over the rest of the rigging, examine all turnbuckles for damage, if the threaded lower stud is bent replace and pay particular attention to any rigging screw that is not toggled as they do not articulate and are liable to more stress. Make sure the threads on your adjusters are not showing any sign of stretching or galling!

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Wash out and lubricate (as per manufacturer’s instructions) halyard swivels and drum bearings on headsail reefing gear. The Selden Furlex unit should be lubricated with their grease. Pay particular attention to the joints in the headsail foil, if slight movement there is a danger of mis-alignement. Consequences; the sail jamming whilst hoisting and you may run the risk of tearing the luff tape. You may also end up with some rather nasty stains on the sail opposite the suspect joints caused by fretting of the alloy. If you have movement it may be a loose rivet or fastening that’s missing or a worn jointing piece. Consult the manufacturer’s manual for details on how to remove and replace. Foils may be cleaned by washing with soap and water. A scrap of luff tape may be run up the foil to scrub inside the grooves. If lubrication is required, spray a thin coat of McLube SailKote on sail luff tapes away from boat deck. Check the end stop at the top of the foil is secure and that the bearing (just inside the top of the foil is still round) if its oval replace!

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If you haven’t already removed and washed your halyards do so. Do not wash at a high temperature or use a biological washing powder as it can damage some polyester ropes, preferably leave to soak in water for a couple of days prior to washing. Don’t tumble dry as the heat will damage most synthetic ropes, instead hang out to dry then leave in the airing cupboard for a few days. If using a washing machine place any shackles inside a pair of socks to prevent damage to the drum on the machine and keep the other half happy! Check all eye splices, worn or damaged halyards as shown below should be replaced. Wire halyards that are found to have spikes (once again see below) are fatigued and should be replaced as they are on the point of failure, consider replacing with Dyneema, Spectra or similar ultra low stretch materials as it is cost effective and usually has a longer life span.

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When re-stepping your mast replace all split pins that secure clevis pins or lock turnbuckles, mouse shackles with Monel seizing wire, lightly grease all turnbuckle threads with Lanocote. Consider fitting turnbuckle covers adding shroud or guard rail rollers or at the very least tape over the split pins in the turnbuckles with self amalgamating tape after setting up your rig which all help to reduce chafe on sails and prevent damage to crews clothing and boots. Do not under any circumstances tape the complete body of the turnbuckle, water can be so easily trapped see below!

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Mast still up? Climbing a mast using the power of an Ewincher to get you aloft is now a joy however you must read and inwardly digest Spinlock's excellent article on ‘Going Aloft’. Remember always climb on two halyards that you have thoroughly inspected. Spar and rigging inspection with the mast still up will take a lot longer as it has to be carried out from a bosuns chair but it shouldn’t be neglected. If, for whatever reason, you have not removed the rig this year, inspect whilst swinging from halyards and if necessary, budget for its removal next year. If I am climbing, and I still do so on a regular basis even at my advanced age, their Mast Harness isn’t the most comfortable but without a doubt the one that I feel most secure in! Incidentally, if I ever have to go aloft alone, then I use the Topclimber mast climbing kit. All the above still applies however it will take a lot longer and obviously it’s more weather dependent!

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Now for the boom, check the inboard end of the boom casting for wear, check rivets are sound and if any jammers/pulleys are part of the assembly, that any sheaves are free running and not chipped and when the cam lever is rotated they will hold the load from reef and outhaul lines! Check the kicking strap slide (if alloy) for wear from the stainless shackle/attachment point on the strut/strap assembly. Make sure any fastenings are man enough for the job and that the slide is not creeping towards the mast. Examine the boom in this area for any stress cracks and corrosion from stainless fastenings if used to secure. Next check the reefing lines take off attachment eyes are secure and then pull through the lines for signs of chafe. Make sure that when you come to fit the main back on the boom, you reeve the reef line under the boom first to ease the load on the fitting! If the main sheet pulley blocks are secured mid boom as against attached to the end casting examine as per kicking strap slide. Next the outboard boom casting, check the condition of the pulleys then check (if end boom sheeting) that the shackle securing the mainsheet block still has plenty of alloy left on the attachment casting. If you still have a wire outhaul check for spiking in the lay of the wire and if any are found replace. Reef lines, especially in single line systems, can be a source of friction. If fluffed up, consider changing as the difference when putting a reef in can be the difference between chalk and cheese.

Finally if you haven’t already done so, now is the time to give the mast and boom a wipe over with Yachticon's Aluminium Polish and Wax, it’s a mixture of polymers, waxes and polishing agents for cleaning and protecting alloy spars!

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