Stepping a heavy mast on a sail boat can be an awkward job.
An SJ23 mast weighs about 150 pounds, plus furling gear and whatever wind force there is.
difficult to source a replacement mast and
expensive to ship across the country, not to mention paying for
what it hit! I wouldn't want to be under it when things let go. For these reasons it is
important to control the mast when stepping it.
trucker's world an A-frame secured to the back of a flat deck truck is usually called a
"gin pole" and is used to easily lift a
heavy object on or off the deck or
manoeuvre it across the yard. It is a very convenient tool to "lift & walk"
a heavy object for a short distance. An A-frame mounted
on the end of a work barge is a very robust yet simple crane. You
don't see this type of A-frame much anymore
because it is quicker to rotate a
hydraulic knuckle crane mounted in the middle of the barge than rotate the whole barge.
As late as the mid 1900s sail driven canal
boats in the Netherlands were equipped with an A-frame as a permanent deck fixture to
raise or lower the mast so the boat could slide under a fixed bridge. The boat's momentum carried
it past the bridge and the mast was raised on the other side to resume
sailing. This procedure had to operate very smooth and quick so
the vessel would not loose way and block the canal to other commercial traffic.
It was considered a major blunder if you screwed up the procedure. Unfortunately you don't see this technique anymore, diesel propulsion having pushed sail aside.
In the trailerable sailboat
world, an A-frame can come into its own for stepping a mast. The
advantage of using an A-frame is the mechanical
advantage to reduce the lifting effort.
longer or taller the A-frame is relative to the mast length, the greater the mechanical advantage. The huge control that you
have leads to
the second advantage, safety; in large part because you don't
have to stand under the
step the mast hand over hand, with the aid of a block and tackle
connected to the forestay, then you must also steady the mast sideways so you
don't twist the deck plate off. The most difficult part of stepping
a mast is the transition from standing in the cockpit to standing on the cabin roof. It is during this CRITICAL TRANSITION
that the deck plate is usually twisted loose. This is also when the odds
of dropping the mast increase and you twist your back out of alignment. Suffice it to say that the less time the mast is in the unsupported transition zone the better.
If the wind is strong, it
is much safer to point the
hull into the wind and step the mast quickly during a lull. If the wind is really strong,
wait it out in a coffee shop or install some temporary shrouds.
- Fabricate your A-frame in the sequence that the components are described here
to minimize your chances of making an error relative to the effort
required to make each component;
Cut the poles to length, about 101".
Attach the foot hinge
plate to each pole.
Bolt it to the T-extrusion.
Screw the T-extrusion on
it's mating foot pad aligned to the toe rail.
Cross the pole ends to form the apex
drill a common hole through both poles using a single long bit to make the hinge.
following these steps you eliminate complex measuring that
will likely be off by several degrees resulting in a misaligned hinge that
will bind or can't pivot. The chances of you measuring it correct are minimal!
The 2" OD
aluminum poles of my A-frame are 101" long and
have 1/4" thick
wall. This thickness is overkill to the Nth degree but the price was
thick wall is sufficient, similar to a
spinnaker pole or conduit. See COMMENT below.
The distance from the pivot bolt at
the foot to the hinge bolt at the apex is 99" with 1"
of pole beyond the apex hinge. With the A-frame laying on the deck, the apex fits just short of the deck forestay
fitting, leaving room to easily transfer the forestay from the A-frame
to the deck fitting.
If you decide to make your poles longer, keep in mind that the apex must not block the stem fitting for attaching the forestay. It is prudent to attach the forestay to the
fitting quickly to secure the
and protect the safety of the people standing in the drop zone.
It is also convenient to leave the A-frame on deck for trailering or
winter storage, as seen in these two photos.
If you want to fabricate an A-frame for a larger sailboat, scale the
dimensions up proportionally. The length of the poles should be
from the mast step to the forestay fitting. The pole diameter and
wall thickness should be equivalent (or bigger) to a spinnaker pole
designed for your boat. If the assembly is too long then consider
two shorter poles joined with a sleeve. This would allow you to
A-frame in a
small space. This is a great way to go if you are a globe trotting sailor
who wants to be independent of shore services.
COMMENT: When I designed this A-frame in 1999 I had no idea how much force I
could be dealing with
so I erred on the side of safety by using heavy gauge aluminum. After using this A-frame on
sail boats as long as 30', I realize I overbuilt the assembly. I now
know that lighter poles are quite
OK since the load is all compression.
fact, I have seen poles made from 3/4" conduit, although 1.5" would be
better as it is less apt to collapse under the load.
Conduit or light gauge aluminum poles would make it easier to carry the assembly. I have also seen poles made from 1.5" spruce tree trunks,
gnarled up 2" poplar trees and fir 2x4"s. If you intend to
use wood then choose clear, straight grain poles.
It would be relatively simple to cut a notch in the end of the wood pole
to insert the hinge plate and fasten a hose clamp over
the end to reinforce it. Saturate the pole ends with
epoxy for strength and coat the wood with Sikkens Cetol to protect it from the elements.
Another method is to slip 6" long 1/8" thick metal tubing over the
pole end. Flatten the protruding tube
end, bending it to align with the T-extrusion on the foot pad to form the
foot hinge. Be your own judge in this design. I have this habit of
everything to withstand "WWIII". I hate flimsy Mickey Mouse stuff.
No offence Walt! TOP
& Deck Pads - You can make a fully articulating hinge so the
poles always align to the deck or you can make a simple hinge, aligned to the plane the poles pivot
on. I built the latter design
because I had the material and was in a bit of a
hurry to launch.
The top half of the hinge plate consists of a 1/4" thick
aluminum fitted inside the bottom of a pole and fastened with a 3/8" bolt with two centering spacers. The spacers are short sections of aluminum
tube cut from an ski
pole. Click here for a cross profile of the
hinge assembly. Notice the two
notches cut into the pole to fit the plate into. The spacers and notches hold the plate
firmly along the center line of the pole.
The plate is bent 250
to align with the aluminum T-extrusion (bottom plate of hinge) on the deck pad. The T-extrusions must lie parallel to the center line of the hull (the turning axis of the hinge) so the frame can pivot.
the hinge location draw an imaginary line across the deck and another
one over the hinge, fore & aft, parallel to the center line.
is your pivot point and axis of rotation. The
curvature of the deck can fool you when taking measurements. Be
use a full articulating ball joint here, you can dispense with all of this critical alignment
as the hinge would pivot freely regardless of the
angle of the poles. Aviation type ball joints are not cheap but they work very well.
The aircraft industry uses them extensively for perfect alignment of
control arms). The hole in the bottom plate is drilled slightly forward of center so the A-frame can lay flat on
the fore deck. The two deck pads are made of (2x8)" spruce to protect
the gel-coat and are coated with tung
oil to prevent rot.
The 3" long aluminum T-extrusions are screwed to
the center of each
deck pad. Thus the hinge operates freely through the
full 1350 arc that the frame must operate. With
the deck pad wedged against the toe rail and tied to the stanchion, the pad doesn't
move. All of this may sound complicated, as
it takes a bit of finagling to bend the plates just right, but both
hinges must turn freely. Take your time with this part of the
job. Patience has its rewards!
- Apex Hinge -
The simplest way to create a strong hinge at the
apex is to overlap the ends of the poles. I
was well on the way to making a fancy hinge when common sense prevailed!
The cross lap joint may look
but is strong, it works, is easier to make and stores well.
Assemble the foot hinges first, place the assembly on the deck with the poles bolted to the deck pads, cross lap the poles
to form the A-frame, clamp
them together and
drill a pilot hole through the middle of both poles. Be very
careful in drilling the pilot holes as alignment of the moving parts
is critical. If you are off even by a little bit, the hinge will bind.
Drill out the holes to 1/2." Then insert a 1/2" hinge bolt
with a nut as a spacer
between the poles to create room for the eye bolt nuts. The
two eye bolts (cast type are strongest) are through bolted just below
the apex hinge bolt. Finally, test your frame by swinging it
through the full 1350 arc of travel.
The forestay attaches to the aft facing eye bolt and the 4x1 block and
tackle or winch line attaches to the forward eye bolt.
right you see the apex of the A-frame with the
block and tackle in place.
I tow my boat
regularly with the A-frame hanging just below the mast, unless somebody
has borrowed my A-frame!
4a - Pull A-Frame with Block & Tackle - I have pulled the A-frame with a 4x1 block
& tackle from 1999 to 2021. If you pull by hand, you require ~90' of 3/8" line. 90' creates a long tail section that allows the tailing person to stand
well out of the mast's drop zone. Some people are squeamish about
a stick falling on them! Jam tarts!
If you're going to crank the mast up using one of your primary winches, then make the line ~130' long. If you ever had a desire to install self tailing primary winches, there is no better justification than stepping the mast. With a self tailing winch you can safely stop in mid lift to correct a snag, although its safest to also secure the line around a cleat.
4b - Pull A-Frame with Trailer Winch (2022) - In the Fall of 2021 I helped my buddy lower his mast and discovered how easy the job is using a trailer winch to pull the A-frame. He used 2" wide seat belt webbing for a hoist line so it packs tight on the drum. On Panache I have to run the hoist line over the anchor roller to get around the bow. Since the flat portion of a roller isn't wide enough for webbing I use 1/2" (12mm) polyester line. The 2 speed winch has a ratchet that locks in either direction so can pause in mid lift.
NOTE - An alternative to using this bow roller could be a block tied to the inside curve of the pulpit. I have not tried this yet but the strain on the pulpit is related to the angle to the winch.
Panache's mast was lowered at end of the 2022 season with the greatest of ease. Of course I had to try lifting the mast from horizontal, which the winch did quite easily by the way. This is something we found impossible by hand pulling the A-frame with the block & tackle.
The hoist line
is 20' of 1/2" (12mm) triple plait polyester, (~5080 lb. BS & 710 lbs SWL).
The trailer eye hook was spliced on the end of the line with 6 tucks into the standing line and a taper.
It took ~4 weeks to remove the construction stretch and harden the line by tensioning it in the rain and sun. Hard line packs tight under load on the winch drum without an overrun; an absolute must for hoisting. By tensioning the line to five hundred pounds it tests the overall strength to ensure it is strong enough. Better to discover it can hold this now than see it fail while hoisting the mast! It would be nice to know how much load is on the line but I don't have the tools to measure that.
The winch drum is full with 20' of 1/2" line. This leaves 1 roll of line on the drum to start the pull during the heaviest point of the hoist, when the mast is horizontal and the A-frame vertical.
The alternative to polyester line is 2" wide polyester seat belt webbing (~6000 lb. SWL). However, it must run over a flat anchor roller to load up the longitudinal fibres uniformly.
For now the block & tackle will be left on the A-frame in the rare case the mast has to be stepped on water. It could also go into storage if it gets in the way while hoisting with the trailer winch.
ASSEMBLY - Once the A-frame is assembled on deck, mark the bottoms of the poles with a felt pen as starboard and port for
easy reference when placing it on the deck the next time you hoist the mast. It may
obvious now but you'll thank me later for this tid bit of
4c - Pull A-Frame with Electric Winch (2022) - A variation of hoisting with the trailer winch is to use an electric off road style winch. It can be fasten to the truck or if you have a long tongue on the trailer, fasten it there to get the hoist line past the bow. That is what is shown in Figure 2 below. Besides the large torque of an electric motor, this style winch has internal gears to increase the pulling power. Electrical power comes directly from the truck battery and alternator, which is standard practice. The operator I saw using this winch left his truck running while operating the winch, it draws that much power. But that is OK as
it is well within electrical limits of the system. While I saw him use an A-frame, I also saw him hoist the mast directly by the forestay. The nice thing about this procedure is that you have a remote control to operate the winch.
Not sure what his backup is if the winch quits.
|Fig 1 - The winch mounted on trailer tongue.
|Fig 2 - The bracket welded on the trailer to fasten the winch.
Fig 3 - Winch is mounted on the very long trailer tongue. Almost like the trailer is for a longer sailboat. The power cable is slung over the tailgate and clipped to the battery under the hood. Its a fairly simple setup.
The boat shown is about 25' long so this mast is heavier than an SJ23 mast. The winch had no problem hoisting the mast.
I think this includes pretty well all the popular techniques of hoisting the mast. If anyone has an alternate technique of hoisting the mast, I'd be interested to hear from you. Bob.
HINGE PIN - I found the factory hinge pin difficult to insert
through four misalignment mast base holes or
to remove since there is no hand hold. For this reason I made a replacement
1/4" stainless steel rod. One end is bent back on itself to
create a 1" diameter loop for easy handling. The other end is
slightly tapered for easy insertion through the four holes and has a hole drilled
through the rod to fit a hair pin through. You could drill a
second hold near the ring for a second hair pin.
(2014) TEMPORARY SHROUDS to ELIMINATE SIDE SWING of
MAST - Before I had temporary shrouds, I used to man handle the mast to control the side swing while my buddy handled the
A-frame hoist line. This
worked for many years but I
knew there had to be a better way.
I always have gusty winds when I do this
job and its usually impractical to point the trailer into the wind. What follows is the result of a successful experiment during my 2014 haul out by tying temporary shrouds to the mast to lower it in a side wind.
problem of tying temporary shrouds to the SJ23 toe rail is that this
elevation is below the pivot point of the mast. As a result the
shrouds go slack when the mast is lowered, rendering them useless. To solve this the
toe rail height must be artificially raised to the pivot height of the mast
foot by securing a bridle to the toe rail on either side of the mast.
The steel ring, tied at the middle
of each bridle, then becomes the elevated pivot point that is at the same height as the mast base.
With the A-frame supporting the weight of the mast and the temporary shrouds
controlling the side swing you have total control of the mast. As a result, I
can handle the A-frame hoist line from the safety of the trailer winch, the fore deck
or the side of the cockpit. All of these are preferable to standing in the drop zone of the mast, the center of the cockpit. The benefits of safety and control far exceed the extra setup time.
The bottom of each temporary shroud consists of a bridle e/w 2 small carabineers and a welded ring (above left) plus a shroud with a loop tied at the top (above right). The bridle lines are unequal in length to position the rings relative to the holes in the toe rail. Each ring is positioned beside the mast, at mast foot height. To ease use, the bridle and shroud are permanently
spliced to each other with the aft line marked. Carabineers are used to clip to the toe rail. Panache's temporary shrouds are 11'
7" long, fitting to about a foot below the spreaders to allow for a
bit of give. The line is low stretch 5/16" polyester.
(NOTE for 2023 - These photos will be updated to reflect the new mast sleeve that will secure the temporary shrouds to the mast. The technique shown here chokes on the mast, making it time consuming due to difficulties sliding it along the mast. The new sleeve will go through the loop on the end of each temporary shroud, eliminating knots, and be hoisted by the halyard.)
To attach the temporary shrouds to the mast I slip a Dyneema shackle around the mast, going through the loop at the top of each shroud, then hoist it with the spinnaker halyard cleated on the mast. (It is
important that the shackle around the mast be free to slide once the
temporary shrouds are slackened off. You have to pull it down
once the mast is standing). Both temporary shrouds must be snug. Now you are ready to
lower the mast using the
steps below. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see how well
this technique works. I consistently lay the mast directly into the
mast support on the transom. Talk about cool. In 2015 I
took this procedure to the final step and lowered the mast on my own
with complete control. Down is easier than up. Keep in mind that the mast was lighter and easier
then because I didn't have the weight of roller furling to
contend with. However, in 2019 I again lowered the mast on my own with the roller
furling on the forestay. Progress.
IMPORTANT - Once the mast is standing, the temporary shrouds
are quite easy to pull down by releasing the spinnaker halyard and pulling a
temp shroud. If that doesn't work, use your boat hook. So don't hoist
them beyond the reach of your boat hook!
There is no give in the temporary shrouds. I have
stepped the mast in a 15 knot side wind with no problem and always settled the mast on the transom support.
Here is a variation of this technique using a sliding
spinnaker ring on a track.
By the way, my buddy and I still launch
our boats together each year. The temporary shrouds on Panache
make the job
a lot easier for a couple of aging gents. Sooner or later you have
to get smart! Isn't that what life is about?
(2020) TELESCOPIC TRANSOM SUPPORT POST- Whenever I step the mast with the block and tackle, my buddy pulls the A-frame hoisting line while I stand on the cockpit seats and lift the mast from the middle for the initial lift. It is a bit easier to pull the mast up from the
150 angle, but lifting it will get harder each year!
- The block and tackle with A-frame does not have quite enough
mechanical advantage to lift the mast from horizontal.
- I want to slide the mast without it falling off the roller.
- 2 hand holds were welded to the bottom of the outer tube to eliminate hand slipping when lifting.
- A hole was drilled through the inner tube to push a locking pin through.
- The top 1' of the inner tube was painted white to indicate when to stop lifting the outer tube.
- There is no slop between the extended tubes.
- The sides of the yoke were extended 6" above the roller so the mast stays on the V block when rolling it.
- The lateral tie down lines were lengthened to tie to the forward ends of the pushpit. This prevents the post
from rotating and offsets the push while the mast is slid aft.
I extend the transom support post 24" prior to sliding the mast aft, then place the mast on it for rolling aft. My technique is to transfer the mast to my shoulder, extend the support post till the lock pin hole shows, insert the pin, place the mast on the roller, (about 150 up) then tie the lateral support lines to the pushpit.
MAST STEPPING PROCEDURE
(Using an A-Frame with Trailer Winch or Block-n-tackle) -
Before putting the stick up, inspect the standing rigging where it attaches to the mast and deck.
All cotter pin ends must be rolled over leaving nothing sticking out and
show no sign of fatigue. All nuts must be screwed tight to full
depth. The standing rigging wire must have no strands standing proud of a swaged fitting, no broken strands ("meat hooks") sticking out and no kinks between the ends. The changing
tension of the wire (pumping), will
eventually fatigue and break it at any of these spots. This is the same
process as flexing a piece of metal back and forth to
break it. While this A-frame makes it safer to
step the mast, the job is easier with two people.
OK, lets put the stick UP.
SAFETY FIRST - Ensure
the sailboat is on the shore side of any overhead electrical line or other
obstruction. A boat with an aluminum mast should keep at least 57' away from a high voltage electrical line to prevent arcing to the mast.
(National Electrical Safety Code, NESC Handbook).
When I step Panache's mast on land, I
keep the trailer hitched to the tow vehicle
so it can't rock or roll away. Geez that would be embarrassing
and the wrong reason to be on YouTube.
If you step the mast on water, the water should be calm and
use temporary shrouds to control the side swing of the mast. The only time I tried this
without temporary shrouds is documented in the photos below. I will NOT do
without them. The boat rocks too much
when walking on the deck and
the risk of twisting the deck plate loose is too great. I have stepped it once on flat water using temp shrouds and all worked perfectly fine.
FRUSTRATION SAVER - Wear a tool apron with
a shallow pocket across the front to hold tools as you walk around
the boat. It saves the frustration of stumbling over loose rigging to grab an errant tool lying at the other end of the deck.
- WINDEX & ANTENNA - Attach the Windex and VHF
antenna while you can still reach the masthead from the cockpit.
Do a double take on both to ensure they are snug. Its a real
pain to have to lower the stick just to tighten a set screw.
- PLACE A-FRAME - Lay the
A-frame on the fore deck with the apex at the bow and the deck pads
wedged against the forward side of each mid stanchion. Secure
each deck pad with a short line tied around the stanchion & toe rail to prevent slippage.
Panache's A-frame stays on deck over winter and the poles are marked
starboard and port for quick reference while man handling it on deck. OK you can than me now!
In practice the deck pads on my A-frame stay wedged against the stanchion
and seldom slip, but security is a good thing.
RIGGING - It is assumed the
mast was not removed
since the previous take down and the shrouds are still attached to their respective mast tangs, spreaders and chain plates; the backstay is still attached to the mast head and chain plate; the forestay is attached to the mast head with the turnbuckle ready to connect to the stem.
HINT - If this is your first time
assembling the SJ23 rigging,
read the SJ23 manual to
install it correctly and ensure that no wires are crossed that would
prevent the mast from standing.
LOOSEN SHROUD TURNBUCKLES 3/8" -
It is assumed that all shroud turnbuckles are still loosened
3/8" from the tuned
sailing position since the previous take down. The 3/8" slack
prevents straining the shrouds, turnbuckles, chain plates, deck seals, and bulkheads when the mast pivots up on the hinge; stretching the aforementioned hardware as the mast approaches ~300 aft of vertical.
HINT - Tape
wrapped around the thread at the tuned sailing position can reveal the
required 3/8" of exposed thread when the barrel is loosened. Ensure there is at
least 1/2" of thread screwed into each barrel.
the 2 shroud turnbuckle toggles together in the upright position.
Do this for both sides.
- Tape the back stay turnbuckle toggle in the upright
Now all turnbuckles can pivot safely on their T-bolts without
the toggles binding and breaking as the mast goes vertical.
SPLIT BACKSTAY TURNBUCKLE -
It is assumed the backstay tension control line was loosened 8" to the knot that limits travel since the previous take down, and the
turnbuckle barrel was removed and stored. Retrieve the turnbuckle barrel
from where it was stored and place it in the back of the cockpit, ready to install.
TEMPORARY SHROUDS (To eliminate side swing of the mast during the lift) - It is assumed the bridles are still clipped to each toe rail, the top of the temporary shrouds are clipped to the spinnaker halyard (wrapped around the mast below the spreaders) and the lengths have not changed since the previous take down.
HINT - If the temp shrouds have been loosened, the lengths can be set again once the mast is slid aft and the foot is in the deck hinge plate.
TRANSOM SUPPORT POST -
The telescopic post is left short for trailer winch hoist. The two lateral support lines are tied from the top of the post to the front of each pushpit to steady and support the post for rolling the mast aft.
(If I have to raise the mast on the water using the block & tackle, I temporarily transfer the mast from the post to my shoulder, extend the post, and place the mast
back on the roller. Then I slide the mast aft).
- SLIDE MAST AFT - Close the companionway sliding
hatch and avoid stepping on it to protect the solar panels.
Stand on the deck and push the mast aft on
the roller until the holes in the mast foot
line up with the holes in the deck hinge plate. While holding down the foot of the mast,
insert the hinge pin followed by the hair pin to lock it.
HINT - The condition of
the fasteners that hold the foot casting to the bottom of the mast extrusion MUST be very
secure. The mast foot undergoes a tremendous amount of torque when the mast
is stepped. If
the fasteners are worn loose, replace them with 1/4" NF stainless
steel machine screws. Drill out the rivet holes and tap a thread
through the foot casting.
Snug up the
screws and secure them with marine sealant to prevent movement and
corrosion. If the hole is tapped correctly, NF machine screws are stronger than pop rivets. - Not comfortable with machine screws? Install the biggest SS pop rivet you can find.
CONNECT LINES TO A-FRAME (Assume the A-frame is still on deck since the previous take down) - Stepping the mast hand over hand is risky. You can step it with control using an A-frame pulled with the trailer winch or a block & tackle.
- Tip the A-frame aft and attach the forestay to the aft eye bolt.
- If you have roller furling you must
protect the foil when stepping the mast. I leave it to your
understanding of your system to take the necessary precautions.
The advantage of a flexible furler is that it can
safely flex under its own weight
while stepping the mast.
- Attach the 2 jib halyards (in case one breaks) to the top of each arm with 2 wraps around the pipe, clipped to itself. Tension the 2 halyards equally to divide the strain by cleating the free ends to the bottom of the mast.
A - (2022) Pull A-Frame using trailer winch
- Attach the winch line to the bottom eye bolt of the A-frame. Let out enough line to tilt the A-frame to ~800 between it and the mast.
Set the winch ratchet to secure the drum for hoist. Use low speed for raising or lowering the mast. Don't let go of the handle.
Tie all loose mast lines to the butt of the mast to eliminate
SAFETY - While I could now step the mast on my own, it isn't the goal since the job is safer with a helper. Our group of aging sailors here is running out of able bodied help and anything to make the job easier allows us to continue sailing.
- GO TO STEP 12.
B - Pull A-frame using block & tackle
- (Assume the top of the block & tackle is still attached to the forward eye bolt of the A-frame). Attach the bottom end to the
forestay fitting. (I have NEVER attached the bottom end to the
ram's horns for fear it may slip off or the horns bend back).
- Take up the slack of the block & tackle, winding the free end around a winch & secure it to a cleat. A self tailing winch is even better and the safest type for this job.
Tie all loose mast lines to the butt of the mast to eliminate
- GO TO STEP 12.
LAST INSPECTION & PULL A-FRAME -
Take a last look around the deck to ensure all rigging is free from obstruction and
all turnbuckle toggles are free to pivot fore and aft. Breaking one can really spoil your day!
HINT - If the adjacent turnbuckle toggles (bottom flexible portion) are taped together or tie wrapped together (photo is not an SJ23) in the upright position it keeps
them inline to prevent buckling while stepping the mast. In lieu of taping, shove a screw driver shaft through the adjacent toggles. Similarly prop up (Panache) the backstay toggle with vinyl tubing or tape it in the upright position. It is also helpful to tape the shrouds to the cabin top hand holds or life lines so the turnbuckle is slightly up from the deck to keep you from stepping on it while the stick is down.
SAFETY - If you use a tie wrap around the toggles, cut off the tail with micro shears. Unlike side cutters, micro shears cut flush to leave a smooth finish that is safe to pass bare skin over. If you poke your hand into a tie wrap that was trimmed with side cutters you will puncture your skin. This is extremely painful. If the tie wrap has any dirt on it, the wound may get infected which can be lethal. Use a micro shear. It can be bought from an electronics supplier and sometimes a tool shop.
A - Pull A-Frame using trailer winch - If I'm on my own I will stand at the bow to crank the trailer winch keeping an eye over the deck for a snag. If I have a helper I will stand on deck next to the mast looking for a snag while the helper cranks the winch.
SAFETY - DO NOT STAND IN THE DROP ZONE OF THE MAST during the lift.
B - Pull A-frame using block and tackle - My helper pulls the A-frame hoist line and I check for
while standing on deck. I have never been able to hoist the mast on my own using the block & tackle.
- If I ever get self tailing primary winches for Panache I plan to stand to one side in the cockpit to pull the A-frame hoist line. This is a good place to watch for jammed turnbuckles, snagged lines, etc.
If I feel resistance with either technique, I STOP to investigate the problem. You
can do serious damage to a toggle by bending it or to the wire by
kinking it. Pull the mast up to standing quickly. Don't dilly
dally with the mast half way up.
CAUTION - Using a winch to pull an A-frame presents both safety and a danger unto itself. If you let go of the handle the weight of the falling mast can spin the winch handle at a speed that is extremely dangerous. This applies mostly to a trailer winch and to a lesser degree a primary winch.
"NEVER LET GO OF THE WINCH HANDLE".
A - If I have to stop and let go of the trailer winch, I will ensure the ratchet is set and secure the handle with a line to the trailer frame. Slip the line loop over the handle.
- If I have to stop and let go of the primary winch, I will secure the line around a cleat.
- MAST STANDING -
Once the mast is standing,
secure the free end of the A-frame hoist line to a cleat
to keep it standing.
- I then walk
forward and push the A-frame down with my body weight (this pulls the
mast forward via the halyards) and transfer the
forestay (no tension on it) from the A-frame to the stem fitting.
Line up the
holes, slip in the pin and install the locking ring.
On Panache this is only possible with a slack backstay. Then I tighten the back stay tensioner line and screw in the turnbuckle barrel. The mast should be raked aft with the mainsail halyard touching the deck ~(6-8)" aft.
HINT - If the mast is pulled up using just the forestay have your helper
push and hold the mast forward while you transfer the forestay from the A-frame
to the deck fitting. Alternatively pull and hold the mast forward with a
line around it and the free end secured to the deck. Your
- SNUG TURNBUCKLES - With
the mast reasonably vertical snug
up all turnbuckles by turning the
barrel while holding the wire from turning. Use the free
hanging mainsheet halyard to determine if the mast is standing
straight (left / right). Tension the rigging and
lock the turnbuckles. See
Tech Tip F33.
- REMOVE A-FRAME & TEMP SHROUDS -
Now that the forestay is in place it is safe to remove the
halyards from the A-frame and place it on the trailer. Store the transom
support post and temporary shrouds in a bag for the mast take down in the Fall.
- Run all halyards and reef
lines to their respective terminations at the cockpit. A really easy way to
"push" a line through a rope clutch is to use a fid.
Stop using a little screw driver.
- INSTALL BOOM - Install the boom on the mast.
- Connect the boom topping lift and main sheet.
- Connect the boom
- Install the lazy jacks.
- Run the mainsail up the mast and install the reefing lines and lazy jacks.
- Lower the mainsail for storage on the boom.
- Install the mainsail cover.
- INSTALL JIB - If you have a roller furling jib
now is the time to slide the jib up the foil and store it in the rolled
Tech Tip F10.
- LOWER THE MAST - Reverse the hoisting procedure
to lower the mast. Hope you can remember all this?
There is one consideration when lowering the mast on your own. The mast must be pushed aft to overcome the initial resistance of the mast foot that keeps the mast standing. After attaching all the necessary lines:
A - Lower A-Frame using trailer winch
- Tie or clip (karabiner) a 25' long line to the backstay (as high as you can reach) and send the loose end over the deck to the trailer winch. Tilt the mast aft by pulling the line and simultaneously releasing the winch line. Pull the line to lower the mast until it naturally starts to fall. Once gravity takes over, continue lowering the mast with the winch line till it nestles in the transom post crutch.
B - Lower A-frame using block & tackle - Push the mast aft while letting the A-frame lift line (block and tackle) slip through my hand till it naturally starts to fall. Once gravity takes over, let the lift line out till the mast nestles in the transom post crutch.
you have never stepped a mast before, rehearse this procedure in
your mind so you know it cold when you do the job. Go through the motion, doing
several dry runs if you have to. Nobody will pass judgment on such
an important job as this. Everybody appreciates a job well
executed and done safely. Practice, practice, practice till
everybody understands. The
astronauts do it all the time. If I have a "green
horn" to help me, I always go through at least two dry runs with them till I know they understand.
You know they understand when that squirrelly look on their face changes
to a "light bulb" smile. If you don't get that light
bulb moment, change your description
of the process! Go slowly so no steps are missed.
"I once helped a guy lower his mast and
quickly discovered he knew very little about the procedure when the mast
stuck at just above horizontal on the way down. His lines were too short (tightened to violin tension) preventing the mast from being
fully lowered. It was scary how quickly he was willing to
crucial line in the urgency of the moment to prevent a deck fitting from
being ripped out. Had he done so, the
mast would have dropped and likely bent. As it was, some kind
hearted dock watchers supported
the mast so we could release the lines and then we all lowered the
mast gently to the deck. After discussing the problem, he still didn't
realize the physics of a mast base that pivots on the cabin roof, well
above the deck where the A-frame pivots. Sometimes the
obvious isn't obvious to all! But it does demonstrate the need to
fully understand the physics of the job."
NOTE - Words are all fine and dandy but photos demonstrate the procedure better. These were taken in 1999 the first time I used the A-frame; years before Panache had roller furling, the transom support post was a fixed length and I removed the solar panel from the deck. Shown below
is the only time I stepped the mast on water without the temporary shrouds that eliminate sideways movement of the mast. Never again!
Fig 1 -
This was my first time using the new A-frame and my buddy Ron was curious about my latest gadget so he came along to help. The road
tie down lines were released, deck cleared of gear and Windex
and VHF antenna attached.
Fig 2 -
Mast was carried aft and the foot aligned to the tabernacle. Here I'm
rotating the mast into alignment so Ron can insert the hinge pin to
Note that the mast is still supported by the
transom support post.
Fig 3 -
Hinge pin is inserted. I made this custom hinge pin because
it was difficult and time consuming to insert the factory pin through the tabernacle and mast base.
The end of the pin is slightly tapered to facilitate easier insertion. The loop on
the end makes it real easy to manipulate the pin.
3a - Hinge pin is made from
1/4" stainless steel rod. I bent one end back on itself to
create a loop for easy handling. There is a hole drilled
through the pin to lock it with a SS safety pin.
Fig 4 -
Final check of A-frame, forestay is attached to the apex of the A-frame,
block & tackle hoist line is attached between the apex and the bow.
Fig 5 -
and standing up.
Halyards are attached to the A-frame
as back up to the fore stay. All
lines clear. Mast is ready to be raised.
Fig 6 -
Steady the mast sideways during the bottom portion of the
lift to protect the mast step and foot when the boat is floating or during a side
wind. Its a bit wiggly on a floating boat.
Fig 7 -
Mast is vertical with the A-frame pulled down to the deck. It is important to hold the mast fully forward
while attaching each jib halyard to the bow after which you can safely transfer
the forestay to the bow fitting.
NOTE - With
the addition of my Scheafer flexible roller furling I no longer use just the forestay to step the mast. Instead,
both jib halyards (two wraps around an A-frame arm, then clipped to
itself) with the forestay attached to the apex of the A-frame. Once the
A-frame is down on the deck (mast is standing) and the hoisting line
is secured, I walk to the bow to transfer the forestay to
the stem fitting. Next I tighten the shroud and backstay turnbuckles.
also use temporary shrouds to eliminate sideways movement of the mast. In
the photo below Roy and I stepped the mast in a 15 knot side wind, with no side movement of the mast, totally
protecting the mast, hinge plate and mast foot.
PS: My buddy Roy passed on in May 2022.
COMMENT - "Using
an A-frame to step the mast takes all the worry
and frustration out of the job. There is no sideways movement of the
mast when using temporary shrouds. We stopped several times during the lift to check on things and to
take these photos. I wouldn't dare stop in the middle of a lift using the hand over hand
method. The deck pads stayed in place and the hinges worked perfectly.
used this A-frame to step the mast of several other SJ23s and an SJ7.7M
and only tied the deck pads with a short length of line. This poses no
problem as they stay in place with the slight force that pushes them
towards the stanchions.
Despite the ease that I describe of stepping the mast, I still recommend it to be a two
man job. That is, unless you use temporary shrouds to eliminate
side swing. The reason is that steadying a 27' mast in a side breeze can be a daunting
load. Better to align the hull to the wind. If it is too
windy, go find a coffee shop!"