The time has finally come. We’re going to have to change out all the standing rigging on Siempre Sabado when we come back from Estados Unidos in September. “What brought this on?”, You might very well ask. Well, trust me, we’re not doing it ‘just because’.
First, for the non-sailors out there, let me explain what standing rigging is. There are two types of rigging on a sailboat: standing rigging and running rigging. For a quick refresher, go back and watch Captain Ron again. Basically, running rigging is the collection of lines used to control the sails (halyards, sheets, reefing lines, etc.) while the standing rigging is the collection of (usually) wire cables used to hold the mast upright (shrouds and stays). Without the standing rigging to oppose the forces caused by a sail full of air, the mast would soon come toppling down. There are a few configurations like junks and lateens and catboats that don’t need standing rigging for some mysterious reason. But most sailboats, at least most recreational sailboats, do need it.
I’ve read lots of recommendations about how often the standing rigging needs to be replaced, but 10 years is the figure I remember the most. Well, I have no idea how old the rigging on Siempre Sabado is but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s original. That would make it around 36 years old which is just a wee bit past it’s “best by…” date. What leads me to this suspicion? Well, I have a lot of receipts from past owners for everything from fuel filters to the new (in 1990) engine and haven’t seen a single one that has anything to do with the standing rigging. Also, the way the shrouds and stays are made up with swaged-on eyes at both ends, just like the original drawings, rather than with an eye on one end and a turnbuckle stud on the other like seems to be more common nowadays lead me to believe that this is the original 1976 rig. If so, we’re definitely on borrowed time.
Yeah, but it’s all oversized hunks of stainless steel. The idea of changing it out every 10 years is surely overkill, right? I mean what’s going to go wrong? Well, 10 years may well be overkill but we found out this winter what could go wrong. Now, don’t think that I never look at my rigging. I may not go over every inch with a magnifying glass every month but I do casually check various parts out whenever I happen to think of it. And, anytime I go aloft I make a point of doing a visual inspection of all those pieces way up on the mast. And I never saw a single problem or even a hint of a problem until one day last January in Santa Rosalia. I was walking back from the marina “office” when I happened to see this as I grabbed the shroud to swing myself aboard:
Yeah, baby! That crack went all the way through to the eye. There was already a lot of tension on this fitting so I’m not sure what it would have taken to cause a complete failure but I’d rather not find out either. To give you some perspective, the clevis pin that goes through the eye and has a cotter pin holding it in place is 1/2″ diameter.
What to do? There we were in Santa Rosalia where stainless steel cable and fittings are a little tough to come by. Fortunately, although we didn’t change all the rigging when we bought the boat, I did at least have the foresight to buy a few pieces for emergency repairs. Even though they’re kind of expensive, I packed away a couple of Norseman swageless eyes, just in case.
I already had a pair of bolt cutters on board from when I installed new lifelines back in Mazatlán although a hacksaw would have done the job, albeit much more slowly.
I loosened the turnbuckle, taking the tension off the eye. Then I cut the 1/4″ 1×19 stainless steel cable just above the top of the swaged eye. Of course, that shortened the cable by a good 3″ but I’d deal with that later. This was the first time I’d installed a Norseman fitting and it was absolutely as easy as advertised. The only kink was that I didn’t have any sealant onboard except 3M 5200 (which creates a permanent bond), having used everything else over the course of the last year. Fortunately, another sailor, Guillermo, had some LifeCaulk that he let me have. Need to remember to lay in a good supply of sealants on our next trip to the States. Well, about 15 minutes after I started, the repair was done.
Of course, the shroud (did I mention that this was the rear lower shroud?) was still a good 2-1/2″ short after the repair was made. I removed the turnbuckle and attempted to back it all the way out, extending it to its full length. Attempted is the key word here. I don’t know what all was goobering up the threads but it was a major job unscrewing the studs from each end. Took several hours, lots of PB Blaster, and nearly my entire repertoire of salty words. But I eventually got it apart. Greased the threads with Lewmar grease and put it back together just far enough so that a few threads on each end were holding. This was enough room to get the shroud connected to the turnbuckle. Then I started tightening the turnbuckle up, hoping that there would be enough threads catching by the time I was done to give us some sense of security. Ultimately things were tightened up to where I wanted them before I’d gotten the optimal number of threads engaged. But there were enough that I was pretty sure that the rig would stand up to whatever minor stresses we put on it being the fair weather sailors we are.
After this little scare, I went over the whole rig again and found nothing suspicious. But, about 2 weeks later, without having gone anywhere, I found an identical break on the port aft lower shroud. It was so obvious that I can’t see any way I could have missed it on my previous inspection. Fortunately I had one more Norseman eye but that was all.
One of the problems with blogging is that you put yourself out there for criticism by anyone who’s reading the blog. That’s why I didn’t blog about this back when it happened. If the rig had fallen down on the way down from Santa Rosalia to La Paz, I would have been wide open to comments about how I should have fixed it right the first time even if that meant catching a bus back up to the States for parts. And they would have been right but we made it to La Paz safely and have no intention of sailing anywhere now until the whole rig has been replaced, so now the story can be told.
Noticed the whisker stays were mighty loose the other day. The whisker stays keep the bowsprit from flexing sideways. Not having a whole bunch of things to do, I decided to tighten them up. Yeah right! The turnbuckles refused to turn at all. So, I removed them and started working on them in the cockpit.
Got the stud off one end of both turnbuckles but the other end is, so far, resisting my attempts. Next step: heat. Of course, these things will be replaced during the re-rigging so, as long as I can tighten them up some it’s no big deal whether or not I completely free them up. But, you know, I can’t let them win!
So, we’re replacing all of the shrouds, the whisker stays, the bobstay, the backstay (complete with insulators for my SSB antenna), the spreader lifts, everything except the forestay and headstay which we replaced when we installed the new roller furlers back in 2009. Oops! Come to think of it, I didn’t use new turnbuckles at that time so I guess I have to add a couple more turnbuckles to my list. We’re going with swaged eyes up top and Norseman fittings below so that I can make up the rigging myself. My previous experience with having someone else make up my forestays ended up with them both coming out too short. They made good on them but it’s still a hassle so I’ll just order the wires longer than needed and cut them to fit. Then if they’re too short, it’s on me. Looks like the whole bill is going to come to just under $2300 and that’s before I buy some extras like a couple of Norseman eyes, and a few clevis pins. Probably close to $2500 by the time shipping is figured in.
But, until we get all that swag, I think I’ll just sit here and play my ukulele.