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Standing Rigging Storage

Sailors often forget that the shrouds and stays that keep masts in place are as integral to a rig as the spars themselves.
Standing rigging—collectively the shrouds and stays that hold the mast up—is a critical component of any sailboat (except, of course, those with unstayed rigs). A failure of even the smallest part in these assemblies can ruin your whole day, not to mention putting you or your passengers at risk. For the sake of safety, all standing rigging should be inspected at least twice a year. For boats in northern waters, the fall represents the best opportunity to go over your rig in detail. Before I cover that, however, here are some tips to help you maintain your standing rigging while the mast is still stepped.

In-Season Inspections    Caring for your boat's rigging is admittedly a difficult chore unless you simply live for extra hours in the bosun’s chair. But here are some things that you can do during the season that will offer additional life to your standing rigging:

  • Do rinse standing rigging as high as the stream from your hose will reach and as often as possible, especially after a day of sailing in spray. Dirt and salt spray will cause corrosion, but most of it can be rinsed off stainless steel standing rigging before it causes much harm.
  • Do inspect regularly for any unusual corrosion, especially near the lower wire terminals.
  • Do lubricate and "work" (screw out and in a few turns) all turnbuckles at least once during the season, lubricating the threads lightly with a lanolin-based protectant such as LanoCote. Replace any damaged cotter pins or rings.

Working the turnbuckles at least once or twice per season will help them stave off corrosion.
  • Don’t tape heavily over stainless steel parts or use other adhesive coatings because stainless steel needs fresh airflow to prevent corrosion.
  • Don’t make tight radius bends over the ends of spreaders, since this will permanently deform the wire and reduce its strength. The proper radius for all 1 X 19 stainless wire is a minimum of two cable diameters, or one half-inch for a quarter-inch cable. Use more LanoCote where the stainless wire bears on an aluminum spreader end to prevent electrolytic action.
  • Do use professionally made spreader boots and turnbuckle covers. Tight wrappings of leather or tape invite corrosion and make inspection difficult.
  • Do inspect for any unfair strains at tangs and chainplates because these will damage turnbuckles, bend terminal fittings, or cripple the wire. Add toggles to keep the wire and fittings straight, or solve the problem causing any misalignment.

If your mast stays stepped for the off-season, you should still make an effort to inspect the shrouds, tangs, turnbuckles, and fittings, which means going aloft.

Off-season Inspections    Removing the standing rigging as soon as the mast comes down is the best practice since it is always possible that the cables can be damaged inadvertently while being moved around the yard. Here are some things to look for while you are decommissioning the rig:

  • Don’t leave the rig standing outside if the temperature in your area falls below freezing. Water will wick into the strands of the cable, and then expand as it freezes, causing the lower swage terminals to crack. This will be an expensive surprise in the spring.
  • Do label each shroud and stay before you remove it from the mast with a waterproof plastic tag and grease pencil. Write legibly and large, because there is nothing worse than not knowing how it all goes back together come spring.
  • Do check each tang and clevis pin for unusual wear, corrosion, mismatched sizes, or deformation. Note any problems for repair or replacement over the winter.

Cleaning and inspecting the stainless steel wire and parts before storage is important. Once the rig is down, it is possible to access every inch of the rigging, so a thorough inspection and cleaning are more easily accomplished than when the rig is standing.

In freezing climates, moisture that wicks into swages like the one above can freeze and expand, leading to serious rig damage over time.
  • Don’t drag stainless wires over a concrete surface since this will create deep scratches that will promote corrosion and may damage turnbuckle threads. Use a wooden dock or a grassy area for cleaning and inspection.
  • Do use a water-soluble detergent, but be kind to the environment by selecting a biodegradable type and using it sparingly. Use a soft rag with the soap and inspect the wire as you clean and rinse the wire. Afterward, rinse well with freshwater.
  • Don’t use chlorine bleach, or any product containing chlorine, on stainless steel—it is a major source of chemical corrosion.
  • Do inspect for broken strands in the wire, deep pockets or pits of corrosion, or for cracks in swage terminals. Any of these conditions ought to make the cable assembly suspect, and replacement over the winter should be considered.
  • Don’t use steel wool to remove rust stains, since it will leave bits of ferrous metal in the strands of the rigging wire that will cause more corrosion. Instead use fine bronze wool or a plastic scrubber such as the fine 3M ScotchBrite pads in conjunction with a fine polishing compound. Then after you've cleaned the rig you an wax it, or use a protectorant such as Boeshield to care for the stainless.
Storing all the shrouds and stays properly after cleaning is the final step in the process that will provide your boat with sound, safe rig come the next season.
"Don’t coil wire too tightly or you'll introduce permanent stresses in the cable during long periods of storage."
  • Don’t coil wire too tightly or you'll introduce permanent stresses in the cable during long periods of storage. If you are struggling with the coil, it is too tight.
  • Do support the heavy lower turnbuckle ends by tying them to the coil in several places with light cord. If they dangle around they may damage themselves and put permanent crimps at the ends of the wire terminals.
  • Don’t use tape to hold the coil together. It cuts off the vital airflow to the stainless steel and leaves a sticky mess to deal with in the spring.
  • Do store coils laying flat. Hanging from nails or pegs, or standing on one side, causes flat spots or uneven strains that will shorten the life of the cable.
  • Don’t store standing rigging out in freezing weather, since you’ll face the same type of damage from freezing water as if you had left the rig up. Cold weather by itself won’t damage the rigging, but the combination of cold and water will. Dry basements, attics, garages, or sheds are ideal.

    Suggested Reading:

    Standing Rigging Basics by Mark Matthews

    Quick Rig and Deck Check by Tom Wood

    Inspecting and Replacing Lifelines by Sue & Larry

    Buying Guide: Roller Furlers

    Jerry Hammill is offline  
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