|SJ23 Tech Tip F18, (Updated 2015-09-19, Bob Schimmel)|
Stepping a heavy mast on a sail boat can be an awkward job.
An SJ23 mast weighs about 150 pounds, plus whatever wind force there is.
also be expensive to replace a dropped mast, not to mention paying for
what you hit! For these reasons it is
important to control it as much as possible when stepping it.
In a trucker's world an A-frame secured to the back of a flat deck is usually called a "gin pole" and is used to easily lift a heavy object on or off the deck or maneuver it across the ground. Similarly, an A-frame is mounted on the end of a work barge as a very robust yet simple crane. An A-frame can also be considered as a convenient way of lifting & moving a heavy object through a short distance. You don't see an A-frame much anymore because it is quicker to rotate a hydraulic knuckle crane 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 lower the mast so the boat could slide under an unmanned 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. Blocking the canal to other commercial traffic was considered a major blunder if you screwed up the procedure. In the trailerable sailboat world, an A-frame comes into its own for stepping a mast. The advantage of using an A-frame is that you have lots of mechanical advantage to reduce the lifting effort. The longer or taller the A-frame is relative to the mast length, the greater the mechanical advantage. The huge control that you achieve leads to the single biggest advantage, safety; in large part because you don't have to stand under the unsupported mast! If you 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 or when you increase your odds of dropping the mast. I have stepped the mast in a side breeze using my A frame, there is that much control, but I don't recommend it. If the wind is strong, it is much safer to point the hull into the wind and step the mast quickly during a lull. I have done this a few times with no problem. The less time you spend in the transition zone with an unsupported mast the better. If the wind is really strong, either wait it out in a coffee shop or install some temporary shrouds.
A-FRAME CONSTRUCTION - 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;
By following these steps you eliminate complex measuring that will likely be off by several degrees making for a misaligned hinge that can't pivot. The chances of you measuring it correct are minimal! Remember, Murphy!
1 - Poles - The aluminum poles of my A-frame are 2" OD with 1/4" thick wall. This thickness is overkill to the Nth degree but the price was right; 1/8" thick wall is sufficient, similar to a spinnaker pole. See COMMENT below. Each pole measures 101" long. 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. The apex fits just short of the forestay fitting, leaving room to easily transfer the forestay from the A-frame to the deck fitting. It is prudent to attach the forestay to the fitting quickly to secure the mast and protect the safety of the people standing within 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.
COMMENT: When I designed this A frame I had no idea how much force I could be dealing with so I erred on the side of safety by using heavy material. After using this A-frame on other 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. In fact I have seen poles made from 3/4" conduit (1" would be better as they are less apt to buckle or collapse under the load). 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 slip a metal collar or hose clamp over the pole end to reinforce it. Saturate the pole ends with epoxy for strength and coat the wood with Cetol Marine 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 and bend it to align with the T extrusion to form the foot hinge. Light gauge aluminum poles would make it easier to carry the assembly. Be your own judge in this design. I have this habit of building everything to withstand "WWIII". I hate flimsy Mickey Mouse stuff. No offence Walt!
If you want to fabricate an A-frame for a larger sailboat, scale the dimensions up proportionally. The length of the A-frame 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 store the A-frame in a small space. This is a great way to go if you are a globe trotting sailor who wishes to be independent of shore services. TOP
& Deck Pads - There are
two ways you can fabricate a hinge; make it fully articulating so the
poles always align to the deck or 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.
- 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 it works, is easier to make and stores well.
RIGGING - If you use a 4x1 block and tackle you will require 80' of 3/8" line. This length creates a long tail section which 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!
ASSEMBLY - Having assembled the frame on deck, mark the starboard and port poles with a felt pen for easy reference when placing it on the deck the next time. It may not be obvious now but you'll thank me for this tid bit of advice later!
ELIMINATE SIDE SWING of MAST - I usually have a buddy to handle the hoist line of the A-frame while I control the side swing of the mast. This has worked for many years and I thought it was good enough. But I always knew there was a way to eliminate the side swing in a cross wind by tying temporary shrouds to the mast. It seems I always have gusty winds when I do this job! What follows was an experiment during my 2014 haul out. It turned out successful.
The problem of tying temporary shrouds to the SJ23 is that the deck elevation is below the mast pivot point. If you attach the temporary shrouds to the toe rails they will go slack as the mast is lowered, rendering them useless. Therefore, you have to artificially raise the deck height up to the height of the mast base by installing port and starboard bridles. The steel ring at the middle of the bridle becomes the pivot point for the temporary shrouds so they stay tensioned as the mast is stepped. With the A-frame supporting the weight and the temporary shrouds controlling side swing you have total control of the mast. In addition, you can handle the hoist line from the safety of the fore deck. This may sound complicated but it isn't.
I made each bridle from low stretch 1/4" line, 1 welded ring, 2 small carabineers and an old stretched 3/8" line for a temporary shroud. The bottoms of each bridle are clipped to their toe rail with carabineers. See left photo showing port bridle clipped to the toe rail with the temporary shroud tensioned.
The upper end of each temporary shroud was tied (bowline) around the mast and the two loops were clipped to the spinnaker halyard, hoisted to the spreaders. See right photo above. The bottom of each temporary shroud was pulled through its bridle ring and tensioned by tying a trucker's rolling hitch. This was the easiest way to create equal line length. The halyard line was then tightened to take up the slack. Afterwards we stepped the mast using the steps listed below. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this technique worked as we laid the mast directly into the yoke that supports the mast 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. Keep in mind that this is possible because I don't have roller furling hardware to contend with. Unfortunately I can't give you line lengths for the bridles because the toe rail holes are in different places for each boat. There is enough information here for you to position the rings to your own boat, knowing that the system will work!
Here is a variation of this technique using a sliding spinnaker ring on a track. http://www.klackospars.com/about/mast-raising-magic.html
MAST STEPPING PROCEDURE using an A-FRAME (no roller furling) - Inspect the standing rigging where it attaches to the mast. 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. There must be no "meat hooks" (broken strands) sticking out of the wire and no kinks in the wire. The continual changing tension of the wire (pumping), between strained and released, will eventually fatigue and break it at the kink. This is the same process as flexing a piece of metal back and forth in your hands to break it. While this A-frame makes it is possible to step the mast by yourself, the job is easier with two people.
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. Practice, practice, practice till
everybody understands. The
astronauts do it all the time. Whenever 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.
Words are all fine and dandy but picture often
demonstrate the procedure better.
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, shrouds freed from fittings and deck cleared of gear. Windex and VHF antenna attached to mast head.
2 - Mast was carried aft and the foot aligned to the tabernacle. Here I'm twisting the mast into alignment so Ron can insert the hinge pin. Note that the mast is supported by the transom support post.
3 - Hinge pin is inserted. I made this custom hinge pin because everybody had a difficult time inserting the factory pin through the tabernacle and mast base. The end of the pin is slightly tapered to facilitate easy 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 extraction. There is a hole drilled through the rod for a split ring or a safety pin. I have since replaced it with a stainless safety pin for greater security.
4 - Final check of A-frame, forestay is attached to the apex of the A-frame, block & tackle line is attached between the apex and the bow. Halyards not yet attached to the A-frame.
5 - Turnbuckles loosened and standing up. All lines clear. Mast ready to be raised.
6 - Steady the mast sideways during the bottom portion of the lift to protect the mast step when the boat is floating or in a side wind. Its a bit wiggly on a floating boat.
7 - Mast is almost vertical with the A-frame pulled down to the deck. It is important to push the mast fully forward while attaching the jib halyards to the bow so you can safely transfer the forestay to the bow fitting.
NOTE - I no longer use just the forestay to step the mast. I
both jib halyards (two wraps around a A-frame arm) to step the
mast with the forestay attached as backup and to have it within reach to
transfer it to/from the forestay fitting. Once the
A-frame is down on the deck (mast is standing) and the hoisting line
secured, all I have to do is walk to the bow, transfer the forestay to
the stem fitting and tighten the turnbuckles.
also now use temporary shrouds to eliminate sideways movement of the mast.
MAST HINGE PIN - The factory hinge pin is difficult to insert through four misalignment mast base holes or to remove since there is no hand hold. I made a replacement pin from 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.
COMMENT - "Using
an A-frame to step the mast is so effortless that it takes all the worry
and frustration out of the job. There is minimal 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
aft to the stanchions.
Replacement SJ23 Mast - If you "intend" to break your mast or want other replacement rigging parts, contact:
SAN JUAN SAILBOATS
He has lots of parts and can get just about anything else that isn't in stock.
Replacement SJ24, 26, 28 or 30 Mast - If you want replacement rigging parts for these models, phone:
NOTE 1 - If you wish to leave the A-frame in place while towing, then suspend the apex of the frame from the mast with a line up to the mast. This prevents the frame from pounding on the deck and punching a hole through the gel-coat. In addition, you could use a tie down line to prevent the frame from bouncing up to the mast! To date I know of eight A-frames that have been built using these plans. Mine has stepped dozens of boat masts. Hmmm, I should say this qualifies for a free grog!
Here is a U-Tube video of
exactly my system