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 plan was to change out each stay one by one. Althea is rigged in the conventional manner of most masthead-rigged sloops with a forestay, backstay, a pair of uppers and four lower shrouds. The uppers, forestay and backstay consist of 9/32-inch wire, while the lowers are all 1/4-inch in diameter. We adjust each of these by way of half-inch bronze turnbuckles.
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.)
|"When we were sure of our length, we wrapped tape around the incision point on the new wire, put it in a vice, and cut it with a hacksaw"|
After we slid the receptacle end of the Sta-Lok over the wire, we unwound the outer strands until only the core remained. Then we slid the stainless-steel, wedge-shaped cone over the core and rewound the outer strands over it. Sta-Lok fittings have a forming device that sits in the top of the eye fitting and when you screw that together with the receptacle end, the wire is compressed. This compression force from the two halves screwing together makes all the components act as one. Once we did that, we unscrewed the Sta-Lok to add silicone to the inside and smeared a little Loctite on the threads. (Sta-Lok's instructions caution against over tightening. They recommend using no more than the force of one hand on a wrench.) After that we reassembled the fitting and one of us went back up the mast with it to make the upper attachment.
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.
When you're working with rigging, it's always good to remember that when aluminum and stainless steel come into contact, the conditions are right for corrosion. No matter how insulated stainless-steel wire is, water will find its way in and serve as a conductor for electrolysis. Moisture can become trapped beneath rigging tape and in spreader boots, degrading the wire's integrity. To keep our aluminum spreaders insulated from the stainless-steel shrouds, we used self-amalgamating rigging tape on the end of the spreaders. We wrapped our spreader boots tightly at the top, but kept them open at the bottom to allow air to circulate and keep water from becoming trapped.
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 AloftGoing aloft is inherently dangerous, so a few tips are in order to make the trip easier and safer. For starters, it helps to be patient. Even the simplest task aloft can become frustrating, especially if neighboring boaters are unaware of the problems their wakes are creating. Slight boat movements get amplified the higher up you go, so make sure your help on deck is aware of this too.
Anytime you go up the mast, use two halyards rather than one if you can. Even if you've only got one person tailing on deck, they should take their time and alternately tail each halyard. And instead of using the halyard's shackle, tie a bowline to the bosun's chair or harness you're using. This will ensure that there won't be any accidental release. If you're using a bosun's chair, wear a harness for additional insurance and attach the second halyard to the harness.
While you're aloft, make sure no one stands underneath you in case you drop a tool or other item. If your boat's halyard winches are on the mast, consider leading the line back to the cockpit so that your deck helper isn't directly beneath you. Depending on how many tools you'll need once you get to where you're going, consider bringing a messenger line along with you and pulling up a bucket to hold heavier items like a drill or hammer. Attaching a line to your precious cordless drill at this height is also prudent.
As you ascend, try to pull as much of your own weight up the mast as you can and work out a rhythm with whoever is winching you up. Clear and direct communication with the person who has your life in their hands is essential, so work out a set of signals before you go aloft because you won't be heard as well from up there. Finally, leave all libations at deck level for after you've finished and are back on terra firma.
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