An awareness that the upcoming passages and the steady tradewinds we'd encounter would test both our crew and boat alike helped cement the decision to take the plunge and replace the entire standing rigging. Doing it ourselves would ensure limited incursion into our cruising kitty, and we knew that the intimate familiarity we'd develop with of every crucial clevis pin, terminal, and load-bearing tang would further increase our confidence.
The next step was contacting the Custom Rigging Shop at SailNet. We called the office in North Charleston and talked to the riggers there, giving them our measurements and the wire diameter. Having firsthand experience with degrading swages that can't be fixed in the field, we decided to go with mechanical cone-type fittings and used Sta-Lok terminals. Sta-Lok units have the advantage of being able to be made up on site. With a pair of crescent wrenches, a little Lock Tight, and some silicone, these mechanical beauties allow you to make a wire-to-end-fitting attachment that is stronger than the breaking strength of the wire itself. And somewhere down the road should you need to inspect this critical attachment point, you can disassemble and reassemble them as well.
One popular approach to rigging that is favored by many cruising boats is a roller swage fitting on the top of the stay and a Sta-Lok terminal on the bottom. Because water can eventually weep down into swage fittings, the lower fitting of a shroud or stay is more susceptible to corrosion and degradation. When using conventional swages, check which type of machine the riggers will be using, as swages rendered by a rotary swaging machine are much superior to roller-swage terminals. (See Tom Wood's piece on Swage Fittings.)
To change out Althea's rigging, we used a total of 16 Sta-Loks. (We also used this system to adapt a pair of backstay insulators for the SSB as well.) While the system is ingenious and easy, it still demands attention. Having successfully completed 14 of the fittings, I was working on putting together one of the insulators and with a bit of bad luck and operator error, I managed to cross-thread the fitting, postponing successful completion of the project and ending the day on a bad note.
Like clevis and cotter pins, turnbuckles deserve their own careful inspection. If they haven't been adjusted in a long time, they can be difficult to turn, and the threads can become galled or disfigured. These can also generate a surprising amount of heat while you're turning them, so go slowly and in a controlled manner. Once you get them unthreaded and loose, coat them with a light film of grease to ensure that they won't be as difficult to adjust next time. One of our more high-profile setbacks during this project involved an especially reluctant turnbuckle that had seized together. Just when it seemed like no combination of lubricant or wrench persuasion would help, the thread on the lower fork parted; the offending piece zinged into the drink, and my seaman's curse echoed throughout the marina.
If your boat's mast is properly tuned, noting this before you start unscrewing turnbuckles will help later if you're unsure of the proper tension. We used a Loos gauge to measure shroud tension and get the mast straight and take the guesswork out of getting the tension in the right neighborhood after we'd finished the change out. The gauge also comes with some helpful guidelines for tuning the rig based on the wire diameter. The ultimate rigging test, however, is going sailing, which we aim to do soon as possible.
Minus the cross-threaded Sta-Lok and the broken turnbuckle, it was a successful project and we've crawled through enough bilges and lazerettes to know that any major upgrade will likely involve a tale or two of woe. We're confident that the boat will be able to take what Mother Nature dishes out once we get underway, and we saved a heap of cash in the process, plus we now have a better understanding of the forces operating on our mast and the demands made upon its components.
Safety Tips for Going Aloft
Standing Rigging Basics by Mark MatthewsAvoiding and Surviving Rig Failures by John KretschmerSwage Fittings by Tom Wood