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Time is Fluid ** (mast re-hab, part 1 of 3)

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(**) "Time is fluid, so the moments where everything feels perfect pass in a wink, and those where you're on your knees in despair drag on like the death of a thousand cuts"
....Ann Aguirre

In other words, "how a small job becomes a four-month project, in three easy steps"

OK, so I’ll start this by saying that I should probably go back and edit a post from January, where I opined that the mast would be back in the boat within a couple of weeks. I estimated that I had about 8 days of work I wanted to do before putting the rig back in… what I didn’t anticipate was that between work, travel, The Wettest Winter in Seattle History ™, scope-creep and supplier delays, it would take four months to get that (relatively) small amount of work done.

As Woody Allen once said, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan…”

The boat arrived up here in late December, in awesome shape. But when I pulled the rig out at the California end of the trip, I noticed that there were some things I wanted to address before I put it back in. There was surface corrosion at a number of places, primarily around the masthead and spreader bases; there were some “issues” with the halyard sheaves, and… I thought the lights and antenna would benefit by being replaced. Plus I figured if was going to do all that I might as well replace wiring and coax as well.

Job one was to get all the relevant bits removed from the mast. Some of which, I suspect, had not been touched since first installed. The easy stuff included the antenna mount, windex, masthead (anchor) light and combo (steaming/foredeck) light. The halyard guard and halyard retainer were a little more interesting – not sure the fasteners had been bedded when installed, and several of them were well on their way to being married to the aluminum. And the worst of the bunch were the 8 fasteners (each) holding the gooseneck and vang bail. I think those may have been bedded with epoxy or something.

As with all things on a boat, “brute force and ignorance” is a perfectly viable approach for dealing with stuck fasteners. In my case, I dug out an old friend from my rigging days – a Craftsman handheld impact-driver.

Much like a sawzall, this is an amazing amount of destruction in a hand-held package. It’s easy to use – put the appropriate driver bit on one end, smack the other end with a hammer, and it will move even the most stubborn fastener. Or… at the least, it will move *part* of the stubborn fastener. The bit selection is super-critical, especially with slotted fasteners, because you can really muck up a slot in just a few seconds if the bit is not snug. And, if you smack too hard, you can spin the head right off the fastener, leaving yourself with a mess.

Happily, most of mine came out without too much fuss. One (rusty?!?) fastener lost its head at the halyard guard, but it was easy enough to drill out once the fitting was out of the way.

Next challenge was to get the sheaves and pins out. If your rig is like mine, it probably has the “Kenyon” style pins, which go in only one way and have an attached cover-plate.

Well… maybe “attached” might be an overstatement for the ones on my mast. One of my plates was still attached to the pin, but quickly became detached as soon as I tried to use it to pull the pin out. The other two plates (main halyard pin, and the pin that the two spinnaker halyards share) were pretty much married to the surface of the spar, and divorced from the pins inside. Which meant that all three pins were stuck inside the spar. And since the pins go in only one direction, there’s no easy way to knock them out from the other side. I thought about drilling and tapping the ends of the pin and pulling them out, or trying to cut a slot in the accessible end to see if I could at least get them turning in the channel, but… none of those seemed like great plans.

I called Buzz Ballenger and asked if he had any suggestions. He laughed (which made me think he’s seen this a few times) and said that the best option was to drill a hole in the opposite side of the mast and drive the pins out with a drift pin.


I don’t like drilling holes in mastheads. I especially don’t like drilling holes in a location where I basically have to work blind and “hope” that I’m hitting the channel for the pin. But couldn’t see another viable way to get the pins out – even with LONG needle-nose vise-grips, I couldn’t get enough of a grip on the pins to get them to rotate, let alone motivate then to come out.

So I measured. And measured again. Made a grid with blue-tape and marked it up where I thought the holes needed to be. Measured some more. Stalled a bit. Took a deep breath and drilled the holes, with a bit selected to fit the smallest drift-pin I could find. And… got lucky. All three holes were really close to centered in the pin channels, and all three pins came out of the masthead with very little effort once they were motivated from the other side.

At the end of that process, the masthead pretty much looked like this:

Once all the stuff had been removed, it was time to take care of corrosion. The protocol I learned about 3.7 million years ago was to wire-wheel down to bright metal, acid-wash to de-oxidize, rinse thoroughly with fresh water then (immediately) prime with a chromate-based primer, and then paint.

Most of that is pretty straightforward. About the only complexity was that appropriate acids are apparently no longer available in the marine industry... but they’re still available to the trucking industry – apparently truckers have to periodically acid-wash the aluminum parts of their rigs to address corrosion. So – from a friend of a friend on a street corner in a bad part of town – I got enough truck-stop hydrofluoric acid (in dilute solution, not full strength) to clean up the areas I was concerned about. Please don’t tell the boatyard police…

There was one place at the masthead where the halyard guard had worn into the surface of the spar, and I wanted to fill that a bit, so I got an “aluminum epoxy stick” from WM, mixed it up per the instructions and filled the divot. Probably could have used JB-weld "water-weld" putty or similar, but this was handy, it was easy to mix and easy to shape, and I think it will do okay. I didn’t need anything structural, I just wanted to have some “filler” that would stay in place and keep the halyard guard from dinging up the spar any more.

Got a rattle-can of zinc chromate primer from the local WM, sprayed on a couple of coats of black Rustoleum from Home Depot, and when done the masthead looked much better. And the spreader bases. And the area under the gooseneck fitting. And the inside of the base of the mast. And the spreader tips. And a few other places. It isn’t glamorous, but it easily passes the “10-foot test”.

To be continued....
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Updated 05-20-2016 at 12:11 PM by bgary

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