Your mast is back in the boat—or it may have been there all winter—the shrouds are tuned, the engine is checked, and all the battens are in the sails. You are ready for your first sail of the season. Without doubt, many boatowners follow this path, but if you’re one of them, be ready to act quickly if a piece of gear holding the mast suddenly fails and the rig begins to wobble.
Avoiding this surprise involves one more routine: inspecting every component that plays a role in keeping the mast in place. These include all the shrouds and fittings, the rigging termination points on the mast and chainplates, the spreaders, and all the sheaves and blocks that manage the boat’s running rigging.
Even if you’ve taken the mast out of the boat and checked it, it’s a smart idea to break out the bosun’s chair (check its condition, too) and go aloft again. Always attach two halyards, a primary and a secondary safety halyard to the chair’s holding ring. Lead both halyards to winches, and be sure that whoever is helping you on deck can tend the halyards as you move up and down. Start at the top of the mast and work down.
What to look for
Check all the masthead fittings and be sure the sheaves turn freely. A penetrant, such as Corrosion X, will loosen a fitting, but any that are damaged or worn should be replaced. Use a lubricant, such as McLube, to keep sheaves moving smoothly. All fittings and clevis pins must fit snugly; replace any that are cracked or damaged. All threaded items must rotate freely and be given a coat of waterproof grease. Make sure that mast tangs or T-ball fittings supporting the upper shrouds are not cracked or deformed. Confirm that spreaders are straight and properly aligned, and that their bases are not compressed or deformed. Cracked or crazed paint around a mast fitting is an early warning that corrosion or electrolysis may be occurring because of dissimilar materials.
Put a small digital camera in with the tools you take aloft. A photograph of a corroded area can help a rigger make an informed decision. Photographing all the items creates a history of all installed gear.
As you descend, check each wire shroud by sliding a cloth along the surface; if the cloth catches on a broken strand of wire, replace replace that wire immediately.
There’s a very good chance, especially if the mast has not been removed, that the turnbuckles may be frozen. Free them up with penetrant, and use freshwater to flush out salt and other grit. Then, coat the threads with waterproof grease. Check that the bearing surfaces of the chainplates and turnbuckle clevis pins are not showing signs of uneven wear. If the two bearing surfaces are mismatched, this can happen quite quickly.
Look for cracks and corrosion in the lower end of a wire shroud or its end fitting. Even if there is rust at the lower end of a shroud, the offending component could well be higher up in the system.
This routine will keep you off the water for another day. But that’s a lot less than the time you’ll have to spend tied up to the dock waiting for your new rig to arrive.