and un-stepping a mast
by Bill Cloutier
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Shackle the swivel block to a point near the bow of the boat
(The stem head fitting, if your boat allows this).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
2 and are ready to start lowering 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
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.
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.
Attach the backstay and shrouds. The spinnaker halyard was left on
when we de-masted.
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.
Wrap/tie the spinnaker halyard tail around the outboard end of pole so
that pole is approximately at right angle to the mast.
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.
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.
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.
The Wheelhouse, August 2003, Volume 3, Issue 3