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Ask Sail: State of Standing Rigging

Keeping a close eye on your standing rigging is part of good seamanship

Keeping a close eye on your standing rigging is part of good seamanship

Q: I have a 1974 Aquarius 23 that I am fixing up. I am wondering if I should replace the standing rigging no matter what, or if I can just check it over. I think that it is original, but I am not sure. It seems from what I have read that I should at least replace the wire, but I am wondering about the turnbuckles, tangs, chainplates, etc. I will be sailing on small lakes for the most part.

— Peter Ellis, Tappan Lake, OH

DON CASEY REPLIES

Where you will be sailing should not influence your decision. A sudden rigging failure can bring down the mast in a heartbeat with the real risk of serious physical injury or worse no matter where the boat is. Even if the crew escapes unscathed, repair is likely to be more costly than prevention would have been. Finally, aside from this “pay me now or pay me more later” aspect, a niggling concern that the rig might not be secure will surely compromise the mental tranquility that sailing, particular the kind of sailing you anticipate, can otherwise deliver.

It is just good seamanship to inspect every component of the standing rigging of a new-to-you boat. That means fasteners, tangs, end fittings, wire, turnbuckles, toggles, clevis pins, chainplates and even attachment points. If the wire shows noticeable rust, particularly a spiral line, replace it. If it is bright, grip a cotton ball tightly around it and slide the ball the full length in both directions. A broken strand will snag the cotton, typically flagging the break with a bit of cotton fiber. A single break condemns all of the rigging wire, not just the shroud or stay with the break.

The most common rigging failure happens at swaged end fittings, but rarely without having clearly exhibited impending failure for some time. Careful inspection with a $10 illuminated jeweler’s loupe can provide reassurance or reveal cracks that will condemn the rig. The same brightly lit and magnified inspection is appropriate for all of the other stainless steel rigging components. Polishing the steel before inspecting it will deliver a more reliable result.

Stainless steel suffers from environment, not age, so there is little reason to replace rigging components that do not exhibit corrosion, cracking or distortion. That said, the only downside to replacing a rigging component that does not need replacing is spending money you do not need to spend. By contrast, the result of not replacing something can be extremely unpleasant, made worse by your knowledge that it was avoidable. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.

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April 2019

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