I would like to know the advantages and disadvantages of a keel versus a deck-stepped mast. Most books on cruising swear by keel stepped because, if your standing rigging fails, you might have a split second to get on another tack, whereas a deck stepped is going straight into the water. On the other hand, boats like a Tayana 42 or Halberg-Rassy that are supposed world cruisers have deck-stepped masts. Can you help?
Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for the question. You're right about having that extra second or so with a keel-stepped mast, but when you think about it, it's unlikely that most sailors would be able to respond quickly enough to take advantage of that moment.
One difference to consider is that a deck-stepped mast allows you to avoid the problems of leaks at the partners (where a keel-stepped mast goes through the deck). Also I wouldn't shy away from the deck-stepped option simply because you fear it isn't secure enough. Consider that the bulk of the boats that are competing in the Vendee Globe (around the world, nonstop, single-handed race) have masts that are stepped on deck. The engineers behind these boats have figured out how to secure these spars so that they can stand up to the worst that the elements have to dish out. Another benefit of a deck-stepped mast is that if it does go over the side, you still have a cabintop left. That said, most conventional designs for boats in the 35-foot-plus range have masts that are stepped on the keel.
The examples you mentioned notwithstanding, I personally prefer the keel-stepped option because it allows the rigging loads to be distributed throughout the structure of the boat. With a mast stepped on deck, you need to ensure that there is sufficient structure beneath the mast to withstand and distribute its load, and that usually requires a bulkhead, a compression post, a ring frame, or some other structural member to do the job. I hope this information is helpful. Best of luck hunting for your next boat. If you'd like a quick way of doing that, have a look at the listings at BoatSearch.com.