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Articles from "The Wheelhouse"

Stepping and un-stepping a mast
by Bill Cloutier

A common problem faced by many sailors when cruising is the need to step or un-step the mast to pass under a bridge or a similar obstacle.  For a number of years, I have searched for an alternative that would permit me to do this without the use of shearlegs or crane. Several members at my yacht club use an A-Frame made from aluminium tubing to step and un-step their mast.  However, this A-Frame requires extra space to store on the boat, not always practical when one is cruising.

Last year, I read an article in Tanzer Talk, the newsletter of the Tanzer 22 Association, that described a method using the spinnaker pole instead of the A-frame.  However, the method seemed to need some fine tuning. Over the winter, I gave the matter further thought.  This spring, I observed a better method demonstrated at my yacht club. 

The following method is based on the method that is used uses successfully with slight modifications so that it can be used on other classes of boat (I have a Mirage 24).  This method assumes the boat is rigged for spinnaker and requires in addition a 5/16" swivel block on a shackle and some lengths of line. The description below assumes that you have experience stepping and un-stepping the mast of your boat and therefore will only describe the additional steps required to use the spinnaker pole as a device to simplify the process. Modified versions of three figures from the Tanzer Talk article have been used to illustrate this revised method.  

Un-stepping the mast

After removing the boom from the mast, the first task is to rig a substitute headstay from the spinnaker halyard strutted out ahead by the spinnaker pole as in Figure 1 .

1. Attach the spinnaker halyard snap shackle to the foot of the mast (On my Mirage 24, I have a bail near the foot of the mast that I use for a whisker pole).

2. Remove the spinnaker halyard tail from fairleads aft and from swivel block at foot of mast; the tail now leads directly to the top of the mast.

3.  Shackle the swivel block to a point near the bow of the boat (The stem head fitting, if your  boat allows this).

4.  Attach the spinnaker pole to the spinnaker bail on the mast (On my Mirage 24, I use the bail that is at the foot of the mast as it provides a better center of rotation for the guy lines that I will attach to the spinnaker pole) and wrap/tie the spinnaker halyard tail around the outboard end of pole so that the pole is approximately parallel to deck.

5.  Lead the spinnaker halyard tail down from the pole through the swivel block that was installed in step 3, then aft to a cabin‑top winch or to a cleat and tie off.

6.  Attach lengths of line from each side of the forward end of the spinnaker pole to the handrail or toe rail aft of the centre line of the mast.  These guy lines will stabilize the pole as the mast is lowered by acting as an A-Frame.

7.  With the spinnaker halyard now serving as a substitute headstay, you can disengage the headstay from the stemhead fitting. You should now be configured as in Figure 1, opposite.

The second task is to ready the mast for lowering.   This step is no different than if you were lowering your mast by other means, loosening or lengthening the shrouds depending on the design of your boat. The boat is now almost ready to receive the lowered mast. Install a crotch in the cockpit to receive the mast; the crotch should be at least as high as the bow pulpit and as far aft as possible. The cabin hatch must be closed, otherwise, when the mast is lowered it may crush the forward edge of the hatch before it reaches the crotch. You should now be configured as in Figure 2 and are ready to start lowering the mast.

Snub the spinnaker halyard on the winch or on the mooring cleat and ease it while your partner gently pushes aft on the mast. As the mast lowers toward the crotch in the cockpit, you may have to loosen the tension on the two guy lines attached to the spinnaker pole. You should now be configured as in Figure 3. Continue to slowly ease the spinnaker halyard until the mast gently comes to rest on the crotch in the cockpit. After disengaging and stowing the spinnaker pole, the guy lines, the stemhead swivel block and disengaging the backstay and the shrouds, you can unbolt the mast from the tabernacle so that it can be removed.

Re-Stepping the mast

The procedure is essentially the reverse of the above, but does involve a few extra steps. The mast must be eased aft until over the tabernacle bolt and then pressed down into the tabernacle and bolted. It often takes a number of tries to get the mast positioned just right so that the bolt holes line up when the butt is pressed into the tabernacle. You can now rig the mast for raising.


1.  Attach the backstay and shrouds.  The spinnaker halyard was left on when we de-masted.

2.  Ensure that the spinnaker halyard snap shackle is attached to the foot of the mast.

3   Attach spinnaker pole to the spinnaker bail on the mast or preferably to the bail at the foot of the mast if there is one.

4   Wrap/tie the spinnaker halyard tail around the outboard end of pole so that pole is approximately at right angle to the mast.

5   Lead the spinnaker halyard tail forward and down from the outboard pole end through the swivel block at the stemhead fitting and aft to a cabin‑top winch or to a cleat and tie off.

6   Rig the guy lines from each side of the spinnaker pole to the handrail or toe rail.  They will act as an A-Frame and keep the spinnaker pole from falling to the side as the mast is raised.


You are now ready to raise the mast. You may need to get your shoulder to the mast and give it a slight push up to  get it started.  Pull on the end of the spinnaker halyard (using a winch is preferable) until the mast is up.  Cleat the end of the spinnaker halyard to hold the mast in place. Attach the headstay.  You can now finish installing and tuning the rigging. Install the sails and the boat is ready to sail.


Good cruising!!


Source: The Wheelhouse, August 2003, Volume 3, Issue 3




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