Well THAT Was Interesting

January 20th, 2020 by inavx

by B.J. Porter (Contributing Editor)

We’ve taken the mast off of Evenstar before.  A couple of times in fact.  When storing on land in the winter her mast is so tall that the windage is dangerous, so to avoid shaking, rattling and damage to the boat we pulled the mast when we did it.

It was pretty easy.  The yard told me “high tide is at 11:30, show up about two hours or so ahead of time.”  I’d bring the boat into the yard, drive it into the “Pit” where the crane could reach the boat and then…the mast would come off.  I’d have to do a few prep items like take the boom off if I didn’t want to pay to get them done, and I might have to disconnect some wires first and reconnect them later – but the yard pretty much did all of it.  They undid all the shrouds and standing rigging, hooked up the crane.  I tended to bring the boat and leave it, then come back after lunch and go find where they’d left the mast for me to work on.

This time, in Panama, it wasn’t quite like that.

We decided to work with a rigger named Mike, a really nice expat from New Zealand living here in Panama.  He’s done this sort of stuff before, though he admits this is kind of “the heaviest” mast he’s pulled.  But it turns out that Mike and the crew of Evenstar got to do a lot of the heavy lifting on this mast pull and re-stepping.

We started last Sunday, when we took down the remaining sail and Mike came out to the boat and we pulled down the radar, took off the boom, and loosened a few things up and made an action plan.  Monday morning we brought the boat to the marina and the fun began.

With sixteen foot tides, timing the tide is a lot more important here than it was back with the puny four-foot tides we used to stress over back in New England.  We arrived two hours before the tide, at 8:00 in the morning, raring to go so we could pull the mast on the rising tide which peaked at 10:00.  So we hurried up…and waited.  This is, after all, Central America.  And I guess it is no big deal to put a boat in the Pit that needs four feet of water at the peak high tide while we waited and waited.  We finally got in after 11:00 when the tide was on its way down.

Now, we were racing the clock.  By the time we got into the pit where was about four feet of water left under the keel; the tide here moves 14-18 feet in about six hours so we estimated we had at most two hours before we were bumping the bottom.  So the disassembly crew set to work.

Back at Brewer’s Marina in East Greenwich the “crew” was all the pros that work in the yard.  Here in Panama we ran Mike up the rig to tie on the strap to the crane.  The crane is run by yard guys but it was Mike, Will, Danielle, Kathy and myself that were running around with wrenches, crowbars, pliers and PB Blaster getting all the standing rigging off.  You kind of want to do this in some semblance of order to keep the rig from escaping and of course not everything came off easily.  We are fortunate that we had the rig down in 2012 as most things were pretty easy and nothing was fatally stuck but it was a frenzy of activity.  Eventually, before anyone was ready for it or expecting it the rig swung free in the crane, almost smashing through the windows in the dodger.  I suspect the crane, which was fixed in place, had the boat dropped out from underneath it as the tide was plummeting down and raising the mast butt from the fitting on the deck. 

With the rig off the boat we had to divide and conquer.  I needed to stay with Mike and make sure the rig was handled properly and placed where we wanted it.  The boat needed to get back to the anchorage since there was no room for us in the marina.  This meant that for the first time ever Kathy and the kids had to move the boat without me on it.  Kathy was nervous but Will did a stellar job getting the boat backed off the dock and out of the marina.  Anchoring it was the easy part, though no one thought to get Mom a paper bag to breath into in the marina.

In the meantime…Mike and I got lunch.  It turned out that the second the rig was off the boat all the yard guys except the crane operator scattered like startled quail because it was lunch time.  So the crane was running (with the meter running too at $185/hour) to hold the mast in the air while everyone had lunch.  We didn’t find out what was happening until we asked why the rig was still in the air, there not being much to do we went and got some food ourselves.

After lunch the rig was very quickly settled on temporary stands as the workmen figured out how they were going to move it to the spot it was to sit while we worked on it.  After an abortive attempt with a backhoe that neither Mike or I could figure how they planned to work it, the crane came back and picked it up as we guided it to its resting place.

The next few days were Mike and I working on the furler, another fellow replacing some soldering I screwed up on the VHF antenna when I installed it, and me fixing a few other items included some stuff that got mashed up when a boat going through the marina waked us and made the mast slam into the crane on the way out.

After a false start Thursday and a cancelled mast stepping we returned Friday at 11:00 to catch the rising 2:00 p.m. high tide.

As you might guess, we did not get into the pit until after 2:30.  Things…happened, including of course the immutable lunch break and we once again went to work on a falling tide.  At least this time we were earlier and the tide was a higher one.

So going back in we reverse the process.  All four of us gather with a few yard guys to handle the mast as the crane carries it in the air through the yard.  It is placed on the ground for a few final attachments and checks, then strapped to the crane in a different location with a control line at the base.  To move the mast one attaches two straps like a bridle over the center of gravity.  To get the mast in the air and on the boat a single strap well above the center of gravity is used so the mast will tilt up when lifted.

Then the real fun begins.

Now, it is important to remember that you have a Kiwi and a Yank calling the shots together here, to a crew of Panamanians with very little English.  The supervisor speaks very good English, but not the crane operator.  And the crane is LOUD, so there is much shouting, hand waving, pointing and demonstrative gestures.

The objective is to get the rig onto the boat without hurting anything or anyone, then get sufficient standing rigging tied to it (the cables and wires that hold it on) so the crane can be removed.

Will, Mike and I gathered around the base of the mast when it was lowered to the deck in order to line it up properly on it’s seat.  Evenstar’s mast is Deck Stepped, meaning the mast rests on the deck of the boat with a compression post underneath it to take the weight and compression loads.  A keel stepped mast has a hole in the deck the mast passes through and the butt of the mast rests on a plate on the bottom of the boat.  Fortunately we did not have to thread that needle, it was hard enough to get this mast down since the crane operator seemed to struggle to get it straight.

We went around and around for close to an hour, moving the mast base around and connecting things to the boat where we could as the tide dropped beneath us.  A few times the mast was placed perfectly but got lifted out of position because the boat was dropping so fast.  Many requests to move the mast up or down “muy pequeno” or to try and straighten it more are passed back and forth.  Many rapid conversations in Spanish bounce around, but we finally we got enough shrouds and stays connected to hold the mast on.

It wasn’t held straight and it wasn’t held well, but with enough connections on the mast will NOT fall off even if it flops and wiggles and bends with every puff of breeze.  We quickly disconnected the crane then moved the boat to a nearby dock to tighten things down while I went off to pay for the crane.

At the end of it, it was the five of us getting the mast installed onto the boat.  And that was pretty cool to do, as the yard guys looked on and my kids helped fit cotter pins in place, bend off clevis pins and tighten turnbuckles down.

We still need to tune and straighten the rig some more, reconnect and reinstall a few more things and put the sails back on.  But we’re a SAILBOAT again and it feels pretty good.

I wish I had more pictures for you all, but we didn’t have any spare hands to take any!

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