In part two of Sail boat rig checks we run through some useful rig maintenance tips and then finish with a brief look at what a professional rig check involves.
A big part of rig maintenance is about keeping corrosion and metal fatigue at bay. This means understanding why the marine environment shows no mercy to the rig’s components and what you can do to protect them.
- Stainless steel rigging should not be left in contact with an aluminium mast when it is unstepped in order to avoid galvanic corrosion.
- Routine cleaning of stainless steel components should be done throughout the year.
- As well as rinsing with fresh water to remove salt, it is a good idea to clean everything with a cloth and polish out any surface rust spots – ideally when the boat is ashore.
- Any traces of rust should be removed and the area inspected for hairline cracks or signs of damage to the metal. Use stainless steel cleaners only as some cleaners contain chlorine which destroys stainless steel. Don’t use wire wool as this can leave tiny particles in the rigging which will rust.
- If corrosion has gone deep and cannot be removed by polishing, the part should be replaced.
- Clean the rigging screw threads using a degreasing solvent – an old toothbrush is ideal for this. Dry the threads and then lubricate with rigging screw oil.
- If a single strand of wire has failed, then the shroud or stay should be replaced with a new one. It is good practice to replace wires in pairs, so for example if one cap shroud has failed, then the opposite one must be replaced as well.
- Don’t wrap rigging terminals in tape as this deprives stainless steel of oxygen and causes corrosion.
Mast and boom – anodized
- Rinse the mast and boom with fresh water, then wash with liquid detergent. Rinse off thoroughly with fresh water to remove all traces of saltwater and detergent, not forgetting the inside of the mast as well.
- Flush the sail track and slides to remove salt crystals and lubricate them with track lubricant – some people use vaseline.
- Remove and grease the screws of the boom outboard end-fitting.
- Coat all aluminium surfaces and cast metal parts with paraffin oil or wax to seal and preserve the surfaces.
Mast and boom – painted
- Carry out the same maintenance as with an anodized mast and boom.
- Use coatings which are suitable for use on aluminium and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- If you drill holes into a painted mast, there is a high probability that corrosion will spread under the paint which will cause To prevent this happening ensure that fittings are properly bedded down onto the mast with mastic type sealant. If there are an exposed edges, these must be protected with a suitable primer and top-coat.
- Clean and inspect the masthead sheaves. Check they run freely and that the bearings are in good order. Then lubricate them with a light machine oil.
- If they are badly worn then replace them. Also check the retaining pins are secure.
Lubricate roller-furling gear according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Maintenance is normally straightforward, even when a furler is rigged on the boat:
- Wash and rinse the furling system with fresh water and a mild detergent to remove dirt and salt.
- Polish the luff extrusions with silicon-free polish or wax. This prevents dirt from staining the sail.
- Clean and polish any stainless steel components.
- Halyard leads should be inspected for wear and any sharp edges should be filed smooth. Halyard leads need to be replaced when wear reaches 50%.
- The bearing assemblies need to be lubricated with grease. Getting access to these is normally possible via greasing holes.
- Grease the halyard swivel which may have an upper and lower bearing.
Wooden masts and booms
It is no secret that varnished wooden spars require a lot of maintenance. Even the best quality varnishes are unlikely to last two seasons given their exposure to the sun and ultraviolet, especially in hotter climates. For this reason, some wooden spars are painted on the upward facing surfaces, particularly spreaders. In some cases the whole mast may be painted. While a painted mast may not be as attractive to look at, it can last up to 5 years before needing to be repainted.
As soon as varnish begins to crack and peel, then moisture can penetrate the wood beneath leaving a telltale dark stain which unless dealt with can quickly cause rot to develop.
- Little and often maintenance is the best way to look after wooden masts.
- Repair any rot damage as soon as it appears.
- Rub back old varnish and apply new coatings where necessary.
Wooden mast repairs
Most wooden masts and booms are usually hollow and typically are constructed in a series of sections that are connected together by scarf joints to form the finished box shaped spar. A scarf joint comprises two tapered pieces of wood that are glued together.
Being hollow, wooden spars are susceptible to rot from both outside and inside. The outside is visible of course and can be easily checked, but the inside is hidden from view and if the wood begins to rot from the inside then this can be very bad news. Consequently all hollow wooden spars need to be treated internally to protect them from rot. This means gaining access periodically and treating the insides with rot proofing fluid.
Major repairs to a spar damaged by rot
An area of damaged or rotten spar can be repaired but it is usually a specialist job unless the repair is very minor. You need excellent woodworking skills and the know-how to make tight fitting scarf joints, access to the best quality timber, a large workshop with good supports for the mast while it is being repaired and plenty of clamps to grip the repaired area as it glues.
As soon as the boat is ashore in the boatyard one of the first things I do is remove most of the running rigging and take it home for cleaning, then dry and store it for the winter. While rinsing blocks and lines in fresh water regularly during the sailing season is a good idea, if they are left unattended dirt and salt easily gets ingrained into rope fibres and blocks, shortening their lifespan and making them unpleasant to use.
How to wash ropes:
- Before removing the standing rigging, I take photos of all of it in situ and especially which block goes where. Also label all the major components to remind you where everything goes when you rig the boat again at the beginning of the season. This saves a lot of head scratching.
- Replace the halyards with mousing lines. I put all the ropes in an old sail bag and the blocks in a plastic box and then take them home.
- Check all the halyard ends are properly sealed or whipped before cleaning them.
- New rope should not be washed, a light scrubbing with a brush is ample.
- Soak older ropes in warm water and a mild detergent for at least an hour. A bath or large, deep sink is best.
- Heavily soiled ropes can be cleaned in a washing machine but care needs to be taken when doing this. Rope ends need to be whipped and stitched or fused to stop them from fraying. Ropes should be coiled tightly and any spliced shackles should be covered with old socks to protect the machine and ropes.
- Put the ropes in mesh laundry bags or pillowcases, tying knots in the ends.
- Use a mild detergent or fabric softener and a gentle cycle.
- Leave rope to dry slowly and never use excessive heat as the core and sheath will shrink differently, causing the rope to be distorted and weakened.
- Do not use strong laundry detergents as marine ropes have coatings which protect them from uv radiation and abrasion. Do not use bleach as this significantly reduces a rope’s breaking strength.
- Tests have shown that machine washing a rope is to be avoided as splices come undone and the core of double braided lines gets pulled out by the wash cycle action.
Maintenance of blocks
Blocks need the minimum of maintenance. Simply rinse in hot soapy water to remove salt and greasy deposits. If they remain stiff after cleaning then some light lubrication with WD-40 may help but shouldn’t be needed.
Professional rig inspection
Every five years or so, depending on usage and the mast manufacturer’s recommendations, a full professional rig inspection of a sail boat needs to be carried out.
A professional rig inspection will comprise a visual inspection, sometimes aided by ultrasound tools, dye penetration testing, or x-rays, which reveal surface flaws not visible to the naked eye. The full inspection will look for items such as cracks in rigging components, misalignment of stays and corrosion. A written report will record observations and any work carried out to help with future inspections.
- Keep a maintenance log of your boat’s rig. This should include details of inspections, replacement parts, wire sizes and expenditure so that at a glance you can be aware of what is likely to need doing and when and what the costs should be.