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post #1 of 33 Old 04-04-2017 Thread Starter
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Single Handed Mast Stepping without a Crane

I am curious to hear some thoughts, tricks and tips with regards to stepping and unstepping a mast on a small boat (Less than 25 feet) without a crane, single handed, or with only the help of a small child.

I have done some research and actually gone, looked at a few systems, and even own a beach cat with a mast raising system, but I want to hear from others what their favorite methods and gear are. Below are some of my thoughts in point form.

-A pin through the base of the mast/mast step for the mast to pivot up on seems pretty well a must.
-Not all small sailboats have a pin, in fact lots don't, I wonder why?
-Gin poles always seem to work great in articles and on Youtube, but in practice, it seems really hard to keep the mast from flopping over port to starboard and causing all kinds of damage.
-Systems where the mast itself folds seem only to be on boats that weren't intended to sail well
-I saw an interesting A-Frame system recently that bolts onto the boats Toe-Rail, looked pretty good, but it wasn't something that you can bring with you on the boat.
-I Have seen trailers with tall poles, again, can't bring those with you on the boat.

My son and I plan to sail up the Rideau Canal this summer to Ottawa for Canadas 150 th. There are 8 fixed bridges under 22 feet on the canal. We could motor, but that's not the point. We have not yet bought the boat for this trip, but there are pretty well no boats we're interested in with a mast less than 22 feet.
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post #2 of 33 Old 04-04-2017
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Re: Single Handed Mast Stepping without a Crane

Originally Posted by Arcb View Post
-Gin poles always seem to work great in articles and on Youtube, but in practice, it seems really hard to keep the mast from flopping over port to starboard and causing all kinds of damage.
The gin pole is to keep the leverage high enough so that you have control lowering the mast. It's the straps/lines that go to either side of the pole that are supposed to control sideways movement. On my Pacific Seacraft 25, we lowered the mast by undoing just the forestay and running a line attached to the end of the halyard, through a block at the bow, back to a cockpit winch. Once the mast was below the critical angle where the line running from the masthead to the bow and back no longer had any leverage upwards, my son acted as a boom crutch and we lowered it the rest of the way by hand. We didn't disconnect any of the rigging other than the forestay, and the mast didn't seem to want to go sideways. Perhaps on larger boats this is more of a problem since you've got a lot more weight and length. All these descriptions of lowering masts seem to assume that the forces are the same whether the mast is 10 feet or 50 feet, and they're not, just like it's easier to handle an 8' ladder as opposed to a 20' one.
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Last edited by willyd; 04-04-2017 at 09:33 AM. Reason: missing indefinite article
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post #3 of 33 Old 04-04-2017
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Re: Single Handed Mast Stepping without a Crane

I'm assuming it's a deck stepped mast. Whatever you do, make sure you have 2 things:
1. mast bottom or step is hinged and will not 'jump out' of position
2. you raise the mast using standard trailer winch that allows even a small kid to fully control mast up and down movement.
I attach a block on top of mast support pole on my trailer, and run the trailer winch cable through it (it is a separate winch only used for raising mast). I use the main halyard coupled with the winch cable to raise the mast. Once the mast is in position, I attach the bow shroud and I'm done. My helper only cranks the winch on my command as I hole the mast to prevent it from moving sideways.
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post #4 of 33 Old 04-04-2017
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Re: Single Handed Mast Stepping without a Crane

Thanks for bringing this up, I will soon have this challenge plus a dozen more. My S2 has a 35' mast. Yes... in over my head a bit, seems that I deliberately seek out daunting challenges to add color to life.

Have three stout aluminum poles that are each 8' long and screw to one another. Need to make an attachment for the tip that allows control of the mast. Leverage can be the enemy of the single hander, or the friend.

Looking forward to some tips...
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post #5 of 33 Old 04-04-2017
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Re: Single Handed Mast Stepping without a Crane

I think I post these pictures every year around this time. That is a Capri 25, with a hinged mast step. Its a deck stepped mast, and the mast is 31 feet off the deck. The mast in question is a masthead rig, with 2 lowers and an upper. The Capri 25 is a fixed keel boat with a spade rudder (no pintles). To accomplish this, the forward lowers ONLY and forestay have been removed.

The critical component isn't the A-frame (which is pretty critical) its the support at the stern, you need to get the mast above horizontal to start, and the higher you can get it to start, the easier the whole process is to implement. I used the spinnaker pole attachment point (on this boat it is on a track and can be raised to nearly eye level)... a Higher attachment point for the mainsheet purchase is better (more leverage). You'll notice I have the mainsheet (4:1) with the cam cleat at the apex of the A-frame. you stand below the Apex of the A-frame, and heave. I faced port, and used my right hand to haul line, and my left is available to "steer" the mast. The great part about this setup is you can stop raising/lowering at any point. If you have anyone at all available they can hold the mast in place, while you sort lines... or in my case (alone)... you can lower back down, sort shrouds/lines, and start again. The legs of the A-frame must be held in place... the Apex must sit well forward of the mast, enough room for the full mainsheet system at its shortest length to fit. I usually angled the A-frame slightly forward to accomplish this task, the picture shows is angled slightly aft, which isn't helpful.

This is a better shot of the deal.

Before you think this can only be used on a particular boat... here is an S2 7.9. The S2 is a heavier boat than the Capri 25 (by 1500lbs) and also has a heavier built mast that is roughly the same height. The S2 7.9 is 26 feet (I'll do that conversion for you), and has single lowers and single uppers, with swept spreaders. This means the only stay removed is the forestay for lowering. You'll note that the mast holder to stern is nearly off the boat, that is because this is a transom hung rudder... it sits on the pintles (gudgeons were on the rudder on the S2 7.9 I know weird). Anyway, I created this mast support to be adjustable, for a lower position while trailering, and adding 4 feet for raising/lowering the mast. In this picture its in the raised position.

I presently have a Wavelength 24, which is also a masthead rig, but with a keel stepped mast, and a spade rudder. It is my contention that there are 2 types of "gin poles." One is attached to the mast at a 90 degree, and winched into horizontal position (mast vert).... the other is a pole that is used as a crane. The latter is the one that I'll be likely employing this year. Actually instead of a gin pole, I'm thinking of building another A-frame, but using IT as a crane. This requires that the A-frame be taller than the mid-point of the mast, which is at least 4 feet longer than it's height above deck. So for my 30 foot deck height mast, that means I have to be at least 17 feet high... My aim is to make it 20 feet total in height. Best I can tell there is no way to manage (easily) a keel stepped mast solo. I am determined (by having spotters available) to find a way, but for now, I'm resolved to accept help to get the stick vertical.

My fall back (since I am behind for the season) is that we have a rather LARGE tree branch across our launch ramp (like 12 inches in diameter), that is easily 24 feet in the air. Our dockmaster used it successfully to raise the stick on a J80 last year (with the help of at least 4 others). This is of a very old hardwood tree. Of course the downside to it, is you have to be in JUST the right spot for it to be helpful to place the stick. This is not something you'd want to do weekly.

Finally, by the implications of your post above, I gather you want to solely trailer-sail your boat. This is a VERY noble thing to do, but at 25 feet it'd be quite a long process to launch, and retrieve in one day. I got pretty good at my S2 7.9 which was easy to launch actually (retractable keel)... but it still took at good 1.5 hours to launch, raise the stick, bend sails on... that's 3 hours out of your day, and you haven't gotten any sailing time in yet! The last boat I successfully trailer sailed that had any kind of performance to it, that I'd argue was "easy" enough to do each time... was my Capri 22. The mast was ALMOST light enough to raise without an A-frame. The rigging was simple and light, and things like the outboard could stay on the motor mount. On that boat the rudder/tiller was light enough to easily throw on quickly at launch too. With the Wing Keel model and deck stepped fractional rig it was almost easy to launch (especially with a trailer tongue extension). Must heavier/bigger than a 22 gets really tiresome to try to launch solo every time you want to sail. Actually I'd argue an 18 footer would be a much more comfortable size for 2 people and solo launch day sails (also no need for an A-frame or gin pole). A boat like a Precision 18, Catalina Capri 18, Victoria 18, or Compac 19.

The Catalina 22 is popular because it launches easy, has a light rig, sails pretty well, and is nearly simple enough to trailer day sail it. It hits every hot button for a multi-purpose boat.

Just my worthless $0.02.

Freedom, a 1983 C&C 32 sailing Smith Mountain Lake, VA

Last edited by SHNOOL; 04-04-2017 at 10:43 AM.
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Re: Single Handed Mast Stepping without a Crane

The gin pole system really does work quite well as long as it is set up correctly. It relies upon several key points:

Boom must be kept under control and not allowed to wobble. On mine, I have a set of pad eyes on the coach roof to which I clip a wire rope harness which effectively acts as a set of shrouds to the boom. I have a central turn buckle at the top that I use to apply a bit of tension and that keeps the boom solidly under control.

Harness must be able to pivot with the boom and retain control. Really this is a convoluted way of saying make sure the pad eyes are even fore and aft with the mast base so that the geometry does not change as the mast pivots up.

Mainsheet should be able to reach the end of the boom when itís in the full up position. In my case, it does not. I just use a section of line to extend it and know that I will need to manually pull it the last little bit down myself. I am a big guy so itís a snap for me but if you wanted to really do it right you would give yourself enough sheet to do it all with the block and tackle.

I raise the mast on my Dawson 26 including the furler, the genoa, a masthead full of instruments etc by myself with little hassle aside from moving the mast into place from the position where it sits during transport.

The nicest thing about the gin pole system is the ability to stop, cleat off, and check that everything is moving correctly rather than the hut hut hut system of finding nearby teenagers to help you just shove it up by hand.

Another trick I do which helps in set up is I leave the forward shroud turnbuckles locked, I use a locknut on my locknut then turn the turnbuckle off the locknut leaving the locknut in place as a fixed stopper for the aft shrouds and the back stay so that once I pop the mast into place I can fairly quickly spin the turnbuckles to more or less the right location right off rather than having to tune the entire rig each time. Itís not perfect but compromises rarely are.

Hereís a few pics of mine going up to help you visualize whatís going on.

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Re: Single Handed Mast Stepping without a Crane

Shnool.....can we get an estimate of the weight of the mast on your S2? Seems to be a sturdily built boat which helps explain the original prices, on the higher side, for a boat with a pretty spartan cockpit.

It seems like I could possibly use a winch on my truck to keep things from getting out of control.
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Re: Single Handed Mast Stepping without a Crane

All else equal, you will have more difficulty doing this on the water, than on a trailer.

My C22 had a mast pin that had a bit of play in it. This results in a bit of wobble going up, but, unless your mast hinge is very robust, might prevent damage where the pin goes through the mast.

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post #9 of 33 Old 04-04-2017 Thread Starter
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Re: Single Handed Mast Stepping without a Crane

Great pics guys,

Schnool, your Aframe looks very attractive.

Just to clarify a couple of points, for my situation, the plan is to keep the boat in a slip, mast stepped %80+ of the time. However, my goal is to trailer sail it for roughly 1x2week vacation per year. This particular year, the plan is to do the big Canada Day celebration in the Capital (I already have my seasonal lockage permit). So basically, launch the boat in the spring. Week end/evening sail it out of it's slip. Then when my summer vacation comes, unstep mast, load boat on trailer. Sail boat 125 miles through inland water way. Watch the fire works on parliament hill. Put boat back on trailer, then sail it out of slip on week ends/evenings until November/December.

The hitch is, for the vacation this year I have these 8 bridges in my way. My thoughts are I don't need to completely drop the mast to pass under a 22' bridge, just rake it back by 45 degrees or so.

As for the boat, I haven't purchased it yet, but I'm only looking at deck stepped models with a maximum size of about 25', however, I am considering boats as small as 18'. Certainly a Catalina 22 style of boat is an option I'm considering. Indeed, part of my boat selection criteria is based on ease of mast stepping.

I was wondering about the tree branch option. There are some big maples at my local boat ramp. Just toss the tow cable on my SUV over a branch, and boom, I've got an electric crane. I'd have to figure out a way to get some chaffing gear over the branch so I didn't damage the tree.

However, my hopes are this thread will be useful for other folks pondering mast stepping issues as well.

Here is a map and list of bridges I need to contend with.

Last edited by Arcb; 04-04-2017 at 11:51 AM.
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post #10 of 33 Old 04-04-2017
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Re: Single Handed Mast Stepping without a Crane

Our Nor'sea has a mast rising/lower system. The boom is used as the gin pole. The foot of the mast is angled, the tabernacle is slotted so the bolt rides up/down. The mast is lower forward with the aft lower shrouds disconnected, other stays/shrouds loosened. The aft end of the boom is attached to the upper chain plates via wire cables. This attachment point A is even horizontally with the tabernacle via an extension of the upper shrouds that is permanently mounted. The main halyards, I use all three halyards when doing this, are attached to the end of the boom. There are two other cables, port/starboard, attached to point A that led aft to pad eyes. Once all the cables and halyards are attached, the backstay is undone, I walk forward with the mani sheet in hand and pull on the forestay which pulls the mast forward and start the lower process. The main sheet controls decent, the cables on the end of the boom and upper and forward lower stays stabilizes the mast side to side. The biggest problem is attaching the boom to the mast when rising. The boom is 13 feet long. Right now it takes two people, one to hold the boom and the other to insert the bolt into the gooseneck fitting. I have thought about building a boot of some kind that would fit around the mast that would hold the boom. The other problem is sliding the mast forward. I have a roller on the bow rail which helps but the mast has to lifted when the deck/steaming light and spreaders come up to that roller. Google has an image of this system here:
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