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Rigging: The game

Rigging, the "standing" parts of which hold up the mast or masts of a sailboat, is a complex and somewhat contentious topic.
An undesirable outcome. Photo copyright Vincent Bossley.
To the more lubberly of my readers, it helps to think of a sailboat's mast like a tent pole. Various lines, or, in the case of a big tent or a sailboat, wires, are led from the mast/tent pole into stakes in the ground, or, in the case of sailboats, chain plates. The difference, and it's a significant one, is that whereas the tent must stay supported statically (the tent shouldn't move) against the forces of wind and clumsy/drunken campers, the sailboat mast is designed to support a device (a sail) that is continually exerting dynamic force in a range of vectors against itself. In turn, the mast, being strongly tied into the hull of the boat, is a relayer of the sail force: the wind blows, the sail experiences the lift of its airfoil shape, and that energy is transferred via the largely static mast to make the heavy boat move.
An oldie but a goodie from which I finally grasped how sails and hulls interact.

Please note that compared to masts and sails, all boat hulls are exponentially heavier, unless you are an America's Cup design.

As mentioned previously, while the upkeep and maintenance on my first boat, the 1973 Viking 33 Valiente, could be considered a distraction, the truth of the matter is that, despite age and lack of most mod cons, she remains a pretty hot boat. She is a great deal of fun to bomb around in during those parts of the summer too blazing for needful tasks on Alchemy. A secondary benefit keeping her in play is that I frequently use Valiente, which as mentioned is largely amenity-free, as a test platform for projects I wish to install on Alchemy.

Alchemy's standing rigging is in excellent shape. It's never seen salt and is of high quality with Sta-lok fittings and beefy turnbuckles. But it dates from the boat's original launch date of 1988. The smart thing to do would be to replace it, at least the standing and running rigging parts; to service the rest, maybe upgrade the furler, and save the "old" (if sparkly) rigging as ready spares should a typhoon or collision break things.

But I don't need to do that this year. If I even get the stick up on Alchemy in 2013, it will be to reposition solar panels, to use the boom to hoist batteries into the guts, and generally rewire neglected conduits. Sailing Alchemy this summer? An afterthought, a big maybe. Much would have to go right and in the right order.

Valiente, on the other hand, may have been until last fall been sporting her original, factory, 1973 rigging. When I bought her, she was just short of 26 years old (Hull No. 32 and a date of "Nov. 73" on the original Monel gas tank..maybe she was first bought at a January 1974 boat show...I would have been a stripling 12!).  She is a boat that, despite being sailed hard and overcanvassed (by myself for the last 14 years..I'm the fourth owner and likely no less aggressive than the first) had by 2013 its original standing rigging for 39 years (1/4 inch 7 x 19 with really nice Merriman forks/turnbuckles).
Like this, but my are in 95% rather than 50% condition. Fresh water for the win.

This sort of ridiculous endurance is probably more common on the unsalted low seas of the Great Lakes than is generally admitted. Certainly I've noted on ancient Albergs and the like, i.e. boats a decade older than mine, pretty grotty looking standing rigging that never seems to get replaced or even looked at critically.
Uhh...time for service. Photo copyright  JG Jones.
In brackish places like Florida, a lifecycle of 10 to 12 years for standing rigging is generally considered prudent by mariner and insurer alike, and 15 years seems on par for the active cruiser who regularly inspects her rigging in a strong light, reefs early and often, and rinses with fresh water when rain does not suffice. Still, a snapped stay can ruin your whole day, and 39 years is older than Mrs. Alchemy, whose snapping can be equally fearful.

So I said to myself: "Skipper, this can't be that difficult", and removed the old rigging and bought new standing rigging as a 40th-birthday present "just because".  While the old rigging still looks fine, it's cheap (under a boat buck) insurance. The fact that I've had to retab bulkheads and cabin furniture under my stewardship makes it clear that the boat has and will continue to flex, especially as I like to make it go fast. The rigging is hardly exempt, and the concept of "cycle loading" must inevitably apply.

Alchemy, the redoubtable steel cutter, has, by contrast, 11 5/16ths-inch stays and shrouds with Sta-lok terminals on a similarly sized, if thicker in cross-section, Seldén mast (40-45 feet) as the old racer's excellent Klacko mast: The whole rig of Alchemy is "overdone" by comparision to both Valiente and a "typical" cruiser, and has, like the 39-year-old stuff on Valiente, no visible wear. But as mentioned, it too is original to 1988 when the boat was splashed and so before we leave for the ocean, I will "roll back the odometer" with all-new standing (and running) rigging, due to concerns I've got, and which many share, as to the nasty surprises lying in wait for those who ignore what years of tiny movement can do to objects under tension.

Many of the items I am replacing or upgrading on Alchemy are getting better and larger sets of fasteners and fittings based on the same logic.  A related habit for the ocean-voyager is to examine the deck each morning for evidence of popped pins or bits of line or metal where they shouldn't be. They say rust never sleeps, and they are right.
Upon reflection, I could probably spray-paint a better "black band", but it rained a lot this spring

So firstly, the older boat has the new rigging. A close peer at the existing clevis pins and through bolts and tangs/straps indicates plenty of beef, no cracks and no corrosion, so back they go, with a couple of replacement bits:
The pig-sticking point

Some wiring is updated, and the new crimps and crimper and heat gun are brought to bear. I had an idea (not pictured) to wire up a couple of 6V lantern batteries to make a weak but fully 12 VDC dry's all the battery system planning affecting my mind; I see Ohm's Law everywhere...and this served to test anchor, trilight and new deck/steaming light connections. Unfortunately the wind direction/speed device leads were too short to attach without splicing in wire I didn't have handy, so that's a no-go for this year. Maybe I'll try to fix the knot meter instead!
Horses for courses
Spreaders on, some running rigging installed for convenience, and even a hoist for a pig Neptune, that's looking almost yar. 
What Constantine may have seen at the Milvian Bridge. Or not.

After a rather rushed, and therefore typical, mast hoist, and the solving of a problem with a forestay tang caught up in a block (solved by a fellow boat club member who did a Spiderman trick with a boat hook up the crane!), we were home.
As I broke the venerable easyBlock last season, this is the new Garhauer triple-block mainsheet. Not entirely pleased with my reeving job, and may soon revise. There's too much line, too, but I got it at a discount.

Note that this guy, whose video is even in 3D(!), is "Maine Sail" level of thoroughness and DIY-itude; if your boat is sufficiently popular, the rigger will have all these measurements at hand and would notice if your old rigging deviated very much from the expected dimensions. Label early and often!
Being avid readers, we WANT to sail away with a couple of hundred books, but this is one of maybe four books we would NEED.
Periodic inspection of the rigging and replacement if necessary is good practice, cheap insurance (this rigging cost under $1,000) against catastrophic failure, and is prudent seamanship: whatever the as-yet murky fate of Valiente, I now have reasonable confidence that she won't snap a stay short of getting caught in a full gale with all sail out.

And now I've been through a re-rigging myself, I feel more confident about doing it for the bigger boat before we push off.

UPDATE: June, 2013:  I took a little time last week during a calm spell to tune the rig at the dock. This consisted of getting a couple of levers for turnbuckle turning and a Loos Gauge.

Most people who aren't racers tend to have somewhat slack rigging, I've found
I will assume that those interested in the topic of rig tuning can read about it from the rather basic level of knowledge I possess. Nonetheless, even a basic tuning that "takes up the slack", spreads the loads among all the stays and shrouds, and keeps the mast in column can add significantly to sail performance. Good tuning also reduces vibration, wear and the tendency of the mast to want to bend or topple. Laudable, self-evident things, one would think, but to judge by some of the indifferently tuned boats I've been on, it's not a skill or even a tendency that is understood among all recreational cruisers. Which is a shame, because I consider it at least as important a factor in efficient sailing as mastering various sail controls. A Ferrari with under-inflated tires just isn't a proper sports car.

Unlike some people, I can't pluck a shroud and tell from the note if it's taut enough. I need the tool.

There are suggested tensions for rigging based on diameter and a set percentage of "breaking load". I tend to load up the forestay slightly more than the backstay, and the uppers and lowers to the suggested values. My mast is original and frankly, the fact I use recycled main sails means I'm not really going to benefit from distorting the mast in the sort of interesting shallow parabolas of modern race boats. I'm going for stable and straight most of the time, and will retune in September to see if the new standing rigging has stretched at all and needs a couple more threads of dogging down.  Alchemy, being deck-stepped and, as is generally the case, over-built in the rigging, has a greater number of larger stays: I'll need a different gauge than the one I am using here.


James G. Jones said...

Howdy. I'm "JG Jones", whose rigging photo you used in this post. Ironically, you have the following posted on your blog: "Please note that all text and images on this site are copyrighted and may not be used without permission of their respective authors and creators." Since you used my photo without permission and did not even bother to ask, I find this rather humorous.

Rhys said...

A good point, JG. I found the image via Google Images and linked your blog into my list of interesting blogs to the right.

I have had issues with my own photos being used by commercial vendors without compensation (related in an earlier post), and that is why I listed your name as the copyrighted owner...the image itself does not appear to be watermarked.

Clearly, this is not a commercial site. If I have given offense, or you wish further recognition that the image I have linked to your rusty rigging is required, I would be happy to do so, or to remove your image at your request. When I sourced the image, I thought "oh, no, this guy's name must occupy eight pages of the phonebook" and only later did I spot your e-mail address under the "About" tab on your blog.

So I will e-mail you directly, if only to seek permission retroactively because I was composing this post late at night and didn't have the juice to Google "JG Jones"...