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Castaway gets a new spar

For the last two years we’ve been involved in the full refit of Castaway, a 1978 Ericson 34T. We recapped the story of this BoatWorks Bailout project in the January issue, and now the boat is at last in the water. Any old-boat project runs into some kinks, and we hit a literal kink with Castaway when the mast was found to be so badly damaged that it had to be replaced.

A new rig was ordered from Charleston Spar, and Kevin Montague from Northeast Rigging was on the spot to dress the mast and step it, using the crane at New England Boatworks in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Bailout sponsor C. S. Johnson Marine supplied the stainless-steel wire and terminals, New England Ropes came up with the running rigging, and Schaefer Marine provided the genoa furler.

1. Kevin starts the process of dressing the mast with several spools of 1×19 stainless-steel wire. After the shrouds and stays are roughly cut to length, he uses a portable swaging machine to attach the fittings at the upper (mast) ends. The machine uses thousands of pounds of pressure to mechanically compress the fittings onto the wire.

2. Once the fittings have had two passes through the swager, they are warm to the touch, thinner, longer, and super-strong because the compression has molded the metal to the wire.

3. While Kevin is swaging the rigging, his assistant, John, is busy measuring, cutting, and splicing the halyards. Each splice takes him about 20 minutes.

4. When all the rigging is swaged, we move over to the mast. Kevin attaches the lowers to the spreader through-bar on the mast. The through-bar ensures the spreaders are set at the proper angle to counter the compression loads created by the shrouds. After the spreaders are in place, the shrouds are fed through the spreader ends. Each spreader tip is then covered with plastic to protect the jib against chafe.

5. Meanwhile, John works on the top of the mast. He attaches the spinnaker blocks, VHF antennae, and windex.

6. The last step before the crane is running all the halyards through the appropriate sheaves using messenger lines.

7. Before the mast was dressed, the crew at Waterline Systems—where Castaway has spent most of the last two years—had run the wires for the tricolor and steaming/deck lights and the VHF antenna. When it comes time to step the mast, the wires are pulled out of the bottom of the mast. Once the bottom of the mast is lowered through the deck, the wires are pulled through a small access hole near the base of the mast. This avoids fishing them out through the access hole and keeps them from getting caught under the mast.

8. When the rig is fully dressed with halyards and standing rigging, it is wheeled over to NEB’s crane. Note that the shrouds are cut roughly to length with no fittings on their lower ends.

9a. The big moment. The crane operators attach a strop between the spreaders, with two lines tied to the lower spreaders, to help guide the mast into place. The strop stays in place because it’s cinching on itself (never hoist a rig by the spreaders). It takes only a couple of minutes to raise the mast and lower it through the deck.

9b. After the base passes through the deck, Kevin pulls the wires through the access hole and guides the mast onto the keel step.

10. With the mast stepped (but not rigged), Kevin uses several halyards to hold it in place as a precaution and then gets started on the lower attachment points. He first cuts the rigging to the proper length. The upper ends of the rigging get swaged (quick and easy) because they are out of reach of most salt spray and their openings point downward. This means they are resistant to the principal rig-killer—corrosion from salt-water intrusion. Because a rig’s lower fittings are exposed to saltwater, the lower ends should terminate in a mechanical fitting (such as Sta-Lok or Norseman) that uses a cone and a threaded end on the wire. These fittings are highly resistant to failure because they spread the load of the fitting over all the wire’s strands, and when sealant is inserted, they are truly watertight. Note how the strands are splayed out around the cone that’s inserted into the wire’s core.

11. With the mechanical fittings attached, all Kevin needs to do is spin on these bright and shiny new turnbuckles. Then the entire rig is tightened. I say “tightened” rather than “tuned” because any fiberglass boat will change shape when it has been on the hard for a while. So when the rig first goes in, the boat will take a “set” and be pulled back into shape. Once that has happened, usually after several weeks, the rig can be tuned for optimum performance.

12. After the shrouds are set and tightened, the boys install the furler. This involves two trips up the mast, the first to retrieve the forestay after it has been measured and cut to length, the second to reset the forestay with the furler attached. A furler could be installed with the forestay attached, but it’s not worth the extra effort. With the forestay on the dock, the solid aluminum extrusions of the Schaefer furler are slid into place on the forestay, put together, and held in place with pop rivets. Then the furling drum is slid over the bottom of the forestay, and the furler/forestay is remounted and tightened down.

13. What a difference. All sailboats look a little naked before the mast is stepped. When Kevin is finished, the new mast is standing straight, tall, and true. Brand-new coated lifelines are swaged in place (see inset), and Castaway is just about ready to cast off.

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