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post #1 of 5 Old 05-25-2008 Thread Starter
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Wooden mast question

Does anyone know why the top part of wooden masts are painted white, while the rest is just natural varnished wood ? The question has bugged me for years and no one has ever been able to give me an answer.
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post #2 of 5 Old 05-25-2008
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The top of the spreaders and the top portion of the masts are painted white because they are harder to re-varnish. A quick coat of paint is easier and more durable.

You don't notice the top of the spreaders unless you go aloft.

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post #3 of 5 Old 05-26-2008
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I had a beautifully varnished sitka spruce mast on my Gulf 40. It was varinshed (by the PO) all the way to the very top - no paint. One day while out sailing I went up to the mast to tighten the jib which was sagging slightly. As I looked at the jib and began to crank, the winch pulled partway out of the mast in my hand (yes, that was a sickening feeling...). Water had over the years wicked its way up from the bottom at the deck step plate, and about three feet up the mast the wood got soft from the inside out until the three-inch long screws holding the winch in place pulled out.

Anyway... Long story short, had the mast pulled and fixed at Schooner Creek Boatworks in Portland, OR. While it was down, more soft spots were found at the very top of the mast where a lot of the harware was attached. It was because the varnish started peeling and blistering at the wood/metal points, way before any other part of the mast began to show any signs of UV degradation. So water got in at the top. Just like Plumper said, paint up there is a lot easier to work with and won't fail as quickly.

The yard owner, Steve Rander (who is an awesome boat guy), told me the "rule of thumb" for painting wood spars was to paint the top 1/5 to 1/6 of the mast.


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post #4 of 5 Old 06-01-2008
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When I acquired this boat in 1962 the masts were painted. Eventually rot set into the top of the main adjacent to a fastening. The paint had done a nice job of masking it. After scarfing on a new top section I have kept it varnished, which makes it far easier to detect the onset of problems. Yes, paint lasts longer, and I don't enjoy varnishing, but it's safer and they look a lot better.

Years ago an old timer came by while I was docked in Gloucester, and chastized me for having painted masts. When I told him that I already had more maintenance than I could handle he said, "Just slush 'em down with used motor oil like we did on the fishing schooners."

When it comes to varnish, I have had the best luck with Pettit's Flagship. I stripped them and put on six coats four years ago. And as I speak, we are doing it again.

Anyone have a better idea?

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post #5 of 5 Old 07-02-2008
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Stripping the mast

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Originally Posted by FishSticks View Post
When I acquired this boat in 1962 the masts were painted. Eventually rot set into the top of the main adjacent to a fastening. The paint had done a nice job of masking it. After scarfing on a new top section I have kept it varnished, which makes it far easier to detect the onset of problems. Yes, paint lasts longer, and I don't enjoy varnishing, but it's safer and they look a lot better.

Years ago an old timer came by while I was docked in Gloucester, and chastized me for having painted masts. When I told him that I already had more maintenance than I could handle he said, "Just slush 'em down with used motor oil like we did on the fishing schooners."

When it comes to varnish, I have had the best luck with Pettit's Flagship. I stripped them and put on six coats four years ago. And as I speak, we are doing it again.

Anyone have a better idea?
What type or brand of stripper did you use to remove the old varnish? I take it that your mast is sitka spruce. Maybe not? I'll be doing mine in the next week or so. The varnish last applied was Epiphanes or however it is spelled. It was done by pros but has not lasted four years.

Oh, just for planning, about how much stripper and how much varnish might it take for about a 41' mast?
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