Articles, Sails and Rigging

How often do you need to check the rig?

Shag Morton, FKG: If your boat is new or 3 years old, there should not be much to worry about other than a monthly check of the whole rig. After this age, the mast and rigging should be checked more thoroughly.

You should remove your mast at least every other year. This is around $300 in and out which is not much in comparison to a new mast if things go wrong.

Good advice is to check your mast and rigging every time you do a passage, and again after you get there. It’s like checking a car – oil and tyre pressures, windscreen wipers, have you got the right CDs in the player?

Patrick Amiand, Must Yacht Rigging : According to insurance company guidelines, the approximate lifespan of the standing rigging is 10 years for a monohull and 7 years for a multihull.

Iain Abernethy, Antigua Rigging: Rigs have to be pulled every two years. If you have bought a previously owned vessel it is advisable as a precaution.

What are the most common type of problems?

FKG: Most problems stem from the rigging being too loose, as the leeward side will be moving around excessively and cause fatigue at the end of the fittings. A good example of this is on an Atlantic crossing where you are on the same tack most of the time and when you arrive in the Caribbean, you start going north on the other tack and things start breaking. Shock cord on the D’s to the Caps can help stop this movement.

Most Stainless steel suffers from ageing and you have to check all the folds, welded joins, thin points and deck chain plates.

Antigua Rigging: Corrosion. Leather covers hold moisture and need to have a suitable lubricating barrier between them and what they are protecting. Electrolysis will occur any time dissimilar metals are in contact in a saltwater environment (gooseneck brackets, vang tangs). Chain plates cannot be seen and should again be removed and inspected on boats 20 years or older.

Frozen or worn sheaves will induce a lot of friction making life harder. Any sheave which is making undue noise should be inspected. Poorly sized pins will result in point loading, damaging the pin and the fittings it is connecting, whether it be tangs, chain plates or gooseneck toggles. Gooseneck and vang brackets should also be inspected to check there are spacer washers between the mast bracket and the toggle. Likewise between the jaws of booms or vangs – spacer washers are required here to prevent wear where there is movement.

What can you do to prevent problems?

FKG: Chafe is the sailors worst enemy, so a little time taken before the crossing covering these parts can save sails and rigging from being damaged.

If you do not know how to tune a mast you should not do anything other than tighten your rigging at the dock with a small spanner. Do not tune under sail!

Rust is normally an indication that the metal is breaking down. Check these spots regularly, especially if your boat is over 10 years old, as stainless doesn’t last for ever, like us ALL.

Corrosion around winches, cleats and other mast fittings should be treated immediately, as this will cause damage to the mast. All fastenings should be treated with an anti-corrosion product if your mast is aluminium.

MUST: Sailors would really save money if every year they greased the rigging screws and tuned the spars. The screws seize up and cause expensive corrosion. Obviously, a small annual revision prevents long periods out of action.

On top of that, you have to look at all the sailing accessories, such as roller furling, boom, electric cable in the mast.

Antigua Rigging: Furling systems need to be set up properly to prevent undue wear or failure. The lower foil should be closely inspected as it takes the most torque. The sail feed entry should also be carefully inspected for any hairline cracks. An overloaded sheet can put undue stress into the system causing many problems, as does tensioning the halyard with the sail furled. Tired foils will have slop at the joints which will eventually damage the boltrope, possibly preventing furling or dropping of the sail. Damage to the top foil is common due to ill fitting shackles.

Wire standing rigging is most susceptible to failure where it enters the terminal and the load is transferred from the wire to the fitting. Ill fitting or misaligned terminals negatively affect rig lifetime and greatly increase the probability of failure.

Rod standing rigging is most susceptible at the underside of the head of the rod. Vertical cracking on rod heads indicates fatigue. The rod can be re-headed given there is enough stroke on the adjuster. The most common problem with cold heading is when the stay is not under constant load or misaligned. This is most prevalent with diagonal shrouds, where the shrouds should be tied with bungie to the verticals to retain tension when it becomes the leeward shroud.

Moving parts such as sheaves, winches and bearings should be cleaned or flushed with hot fresh water and lubricated with an appropriate spray or grease. Any parts which are bent or frozen should be replaced or repaired. Not to be forgotten are halyard swivels; a rarely serviced piece of equipment is the mainsail halyard swivel (furling masts). This should also be lowered, flushed and greased every three to four months.

What spares should you have on board?

FKG: Have some spectra or any non-stretch rope; 3-4 times the length of your boat, equivalent to the strength of your wire. This rope is as strong as wire and can be used as rigging. It will get you to port if used right.

If your mast does come down, my best advice is to get rid of it as fast as possible. The longer you have it hanging over the side, the sooner it can make a hole in the side of your boat. It is good advice to carry some way of cutting your rigging (manually or electric).

What should be left to the experts?

FKG : As your boat gets older the things that cannot be seen become a problem, i.e. internal fittings in the mast, sheaves that are impossible to take out with the mast in the boat, and most importantly, your chain plates… well, who looks at them? They are a part of the boat building and should last the life of the vessel, (they will not). They are the same as keel bolts, at 8-10 years old they should be looked at. The problem is, what is their condition between the deck where you can’t see? In some boats this is easy to do, but the boats that are not are normally the ones that break, as nothing is done.

MUST : For the complete rigging, I recommend taking off the mast because the work is much cheaper and quicker and we can refit many small details on the spot. For a 35, a complete rig will cost about 2000 Euros, ie 200 Euros a year for 10 years. That’s 100 hours work for 10 years.