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As mitiempo said that plate will bolt to another below, sandwiching the deck.

If you're going to remove it - (leaking?) then you do need to slacken the rig first - pull the cotter pins on the turnbuckles in the picture and then turn the barrels in the 'loosening' direction - you'll figure it out soon enough.

However you'll want to support the mast with a halyard or two somewhere as a temporary support, and you also probably want to slacken both sides rather than just the one, to keep from stressing the mast during the job. If you need to do both sides it may well be a good idea to pull the rig and do a thorough inspection, esp on a boat that age. Replacing all that rigging would be a good plan unless you have records of that having been recently done.

I'd strongly suggest you do contact a rigger or a knowledgable boat neighbour before tackling this yourself. In the meantime investigate what's under the deck and how good your access is.
 
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