Category Archives: masts

New aluminium masts

A new year and time for new junk-rig masts

Goodbye to 350kg of steel

Goodbye to 350kg of steel

Although I replaced my broken Red pine mainmast with a steel pole back in 2013, I have never been very satisfied with it. The 350 kg steel tube was within acceptable limits for the boat, not making it too tender (prone to excessive heeling) – but it had a few drawbacks.

One drawback being its excessive diameter below, taking up too much living space (approx 9″ at the partners increasing to 10.5″ diameter at the step).

Another drawback was its weight – reducing the amount of extra weight that would be reasonable to load on for long distance cruising.

mainmast partner hole

Then there was the nagging worry that so much steel wagging about in big seas would be too much strain on the structural integrity of the hull and deck. This may not have been a strictly rational concern – but it was an emotive one.

And we sail to enjoy, not worry, right?

Another factor in prompting me to install new masts was the fact that I sourced a supplier of aluminium poles only an hours walk over the mountain from where I live. The company, ALC, import aluminium poles from the Netherlands mainly for street lighting uses but were willing to both source and do some custom welding on the poles for me before delivering them to Lawrenny Yacht Station – where the boat is currently moored.

look at all those potential masts at ALC!

The main mast pole weighs in at 87kg with an 8 inch  (199mm) diameter and a wall thickness of 3.5mm. You can view the blueprint for this pole here.

What’s interesting about this pole is that the 8 inch diameter remains constant for the first 18 feet and only then tapers to 76mm at the top.  This means that it provides significant strength and resistance when reefed down in heavy weather. It also has the benefit of not unnecessarily increasing in size between partner and step leaving it easier to accommodate down below.

The same is true for the 6 inch diameter foremast pole. It only begins to taper after approximately 9 feet down to a top diameter of 76mm. Wall thickness 3mm. You can view the blueprint if the foremast pole here.

foremast crane

For the masthead cranes I modified an idea forwarded to me via the Junk Rig Association forum. I fabricated two circular discs of 50mm thickness.

The bottom plate had a hole cut out of the center approximately the size of the pole’s top diameter – to allow for wires to be passed up through.

The top plate had a small hole just to let the navigation light wires (mainmast) and VHF cable (foremast) to exit.

The two plates were then bolted together with stainless steel U-bolts from which the masthead lines and blocks were attached.

For extra strength, 6  triangular (10mm thickness) buttresses were welded to the pole and plate. If that sounds all confusing take a look at the picture above of the foremast crane. (I was planning to take more detailed pictures of the design but got too involved in doing it to remember to get the camera.)

mainmast wooden plug being loaded for transport to Lawrenny (Wales)

old, new and wooded plugs

Having ordered these poles I was a little concerned that the bare poles by themselves may not provide sufficient strength in extreme conditions – conditions one has to face occasionally when sailing long distance. To assuage this worry I designed and built solid wooden plugs that could be inserted into the poles to extend well above the partners.

The design is based on the fact that given enough force the place where standing masts will buckle (assuming no internal defect in the pole) is at the place of maximum resistance – at the partners where the mast exits the coach roof.

pulling the mainmast plug in with the aid of block and tackle

The plugs themselves completely fill the lower internal cavity of the of the poles and then are increasingly reduced in bulk for a further few feet until it is only a 2 inch thick cross contacting the internal pole walls before coming to an end.

The reduction in bulk is to allow a degree of bending of the plugs themselves and mitigate against buckling of the pole at the place of maximum resistance – which would be at the top of the wooden plug – if they remained solid and came to an abrupt stop some 8 feet above the partners.

This design is meant to produce free-standing masts that are a reasonable in size and weight while ensuring sufficient strength and flexibility in the most demanding conditions. Should work ;).

The mainmast now weighs approximately 300lbs (140kg) and the foremast 150lbs (70kg) – including weight of wooden plugs. A reduction of over 450lbs (200kg) of mast weight. The waterline has dropped an inch or more.

main mast being lifted – notice the wooden insert has been squared off to fit neatly into the remade main mast step

fitting in the main mast (with a little help from a crane)

The sails and rigging are now refitted with only a few remaining tasks to be completed before sailing off for the summer.

We were originally planning to sail to Lofoten, Norway but time is slipping by and the weather has turned a bit more unfriendly for a spell – so we’ll just have to see how it goes …

Watch this space.



The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A recent comment on the web-log reminded me that I have been neglecting it for close to a year. I suppose I have been waiting for positive sailing news but the truth is I’m still farting around with the engine and propeller.

The Good – Junk Rig

The actual junk-rig itself is in sound condition and is really ready to go. A few small sticky sail-repair patches on small holes here and there should keep in good condition for the coming year.

junk rig bosons chair

The Good – halyard renewal

Another issue is the main halyard. No matter how careful we handle it it always seems to take on some annoying twisting over time, although careful coiling (figure of eight) and storage does keep it to a minimum. We also found that the weathered part of the halyard was getting rather stiff / less pliable so we switched it around, end to end. Being a four part purchase meant that the  becket end of the halyard was secured to the block at the top of the mast – requiring someone to be hoisted up to untie it, tie on the opposite end, and then thread it through the sheeves. Alison volunteered and was hoisted up on a Bosun’s Chair. Very brave!

The halyard is now in good nick for another season or two, although we are wondering if the three strand 3/8 nylon line we are using couldn’t be improved by switching to a double braided (inner and outer) line of the same diameter.

I have to admit that I have not developed a fond relationship with the steel pole main mast which we dressed and stepped last year in Wales. It just feels too clunky and heavy and out of place. So I been having wooden main mast fantasies again and am currently seeking a good tree to fell this Autumn and season and shape for stepping next year some time. There’s a good stand of Sitka spruce not far from here I’m going to scout in a few days. There’s also some good old Larch stands around, which may make an even better grown mast, (depending on the knot arrangements). But for now, the steel pole will do. I’m such a fussy bugger!

The Bad and Ugly – Propellers & Engines

I’m not going to spend much time writing about this because 1. I have spent enough time on it already, and 2. it doesn’t really fit into the theme of this web-log, the Junk rig. Yes I’m talking about the devil himself – fossil fuel engines and related paraphernalia.

propeller shaft hole

The Bad – waiting for a new propeller and shaft

This winter a leak developed via the propeller shaft while I was 600 miles away at home in Wales. By the time harbour staff noticed it and pumped it out enough water had leaked in to submerge the engine.

We hauled the boat out in June to see what the problem was and indeed the whole shaft/propeller set up was clearly micky mouse and had to be replaced. So we’ve got a brand spanking new propeller and shaft … but the engine has yet to show a spark of life.

kubota v505

The Ugly – Kubota V1505

So I have been working on the engine for the past month. It takes so long here because we are a three hour drive from the nearest viable chandlery (stupid name for a place that stocks boat stuff) in Inverness and even then most parts have to be ordered in via mail. However, I’m confident that the engine will be up and running, complete with new controls, and ready to roll, before the end of the month.

There now that I’ve written it down I have a commitment and deadline. I needed that 😉 .

Next post will be a post-sailing post, I hope 🙂


Rest stop in Dunmore Ireland

lawrenny junk rig dry outGiven the enormous tides of the Bristol Channel, we decided to dry Ara’ Deg out and give her a clean up before heading off on our passage up north. The bottom was pleasantly clean with only a green slime that needed to be scrubbed off – not a big task.

Thankfully no mussel beds from the Maritimes were attached.

The lack of growth underneath is a testament to the less tenacious sea-life of the higher latitudes.

Lawrenny junk rigI remember hauling out in Trinidad after spending a month in the Caribbean and a month in west Africa before that. One could hardly see the bottom paint for the encrusted life forms clinging on. After much hard scraping we removed 6 or more 5 gallon buckets completely filled with barnacles – which makes me think there is no bottom paint poisonous enough for those latitudes.

alber 37 junk rig drying outThis time around a fast scrub did the trick. I decided not to give it yet another coat of bottom paint as giving it a scrub re-activates the old bottom paint and given these high latitudes and lack of voracious sea-life should prove sufficient for the rest of the summer / autumn (or I least I tell myself that saving me £100+ in bottom paint and mess :)).

Other improvements include a new main gallows with partial 45 degree sides built from the finest old-growth Yellow Cedar I brought myself from Vancouver Island British Columbia. It needs ‘finishing’ but is currently in use.

The foremast partner / boot is still causing us some grief allowing a small but irritating amount of water to find itself down into the fore cabin getting the cushions wet. Alison is going to attack it with a sealing gun this afternoon which will hopefully sort it out for good. Or so we tell ourselves ;).

The foresail topping lift has been re-rigged so as to make it running and also pull the cradle forward a little. No more getting the yard snagged on the wrong side of the lifts this time around – I hope.

I have also raised the foresail topping lifts and mast-lift a foot so that it can no longer get snagged the bow pulpit which resulted in a broken boom and batten last year when sailing to Ireland in some awful weather.

So …

dunmore east alberg junk

Moored in Dunmore East Ireland

After a 24 hour journey from Lawrenny Pembrokeshire Wales, we decided to take shelter in Dunmore East fishing harbour near Waterford Ireland.

Northerly winds and uncomfortable lumpy seas in St George’s channel convinced us it would be better to wait a spell in southern Ireland before catching southerlies to Scotland tomorrow.

So far her new mast is working as it should. The boat is not as tender as I had feared it would be and it handled 15+ knot headwinds without excessive heel – around 8 to 12%. It will be interesting to see how much it rolls when sailing downwind to Scotland over the next couple of days. Alison asks me how it compares to the previous mainmast and I honestly can’t recall much difference.

When I was sailing up the Avalon peninsula to St. John’s Newfoundland last year I recall the boat suffering (or me suffering) excessive roll when sailing downwind under foresail only and that it calmed down considerably when hoisting and employing the main.

The next few days are calling for 10 to 20 knot southerlies and it will be a good chance to test out the downwind sailing abilities of the new rig as well as scoot up to the west coast of Scotland in good time.

Although I will try different combinations I suspect that sailing under mainsail only may be the best approach for simplicity and carefree sailing.  I have tried goose-winging but given the shadowing effect of the mainsail along with the often fish-tailing effect when surfing down overtaking waves,  the foresail would often become blanketed and become unstable experiencing random gibes.

Still working towards that Junk-rig ideal of a completely carefree sailing experience where one never has to leave the cockpit to sort something out – like snagged lines, etc. Getting closer to that ideal all the time.

But the real question is, given the increased mass of the mainmast, will the downwind roll factor be increased or decreased. Theoretically, given the increased inertia against rolling that weight aloft should bring, the downwind roll should be dampened, not increased.

But then there’s theory and reality – not always compatible.  I’ll report my finding next time I catch an Internet connection in Scotland.

New mast, new adventure

In preparation for sailing the Western Isles of Scotland this summer, Ara’ Deg has now been fitted with a new mainmast at Lawrenny Wales after sailing her back from Cork Ireland last month.

Last trip with broken mast / jury rig across the Celtic Sea back to Wales clip below.

The replacement mainmast is a 45 foot galvanized steel tube 268 mm diameter at its base narrowing to 76 mm at the top.

I had ordered a 4 mm wall thickness weighing in at an estimated 220 kg but at the last minute the the company informed me that this was no longer available and only a 6 mm wall thickness pole weighing 350 kg (estimated) was available. After sleeping on it I decided to give it a go, partly because I felt committed to sailing north this summer (and to turn it down would likely mean scrapping that plan) and also the fact that a weightier mast would bring increased dynamic stability and more sea-kindly motion (see: for a more in depth discussion of weight distribution and stability).

For number crunchers, here’s the specs:

  • Overall displacement (with mast) – 17,750 lbs / 8,050 kg
  • ballast – 6,500 / 2,950 kg
  • ballast to overall displacement ratio 38%
  • main mast weight – 775 lbs / 350 kg (estimated)
  • main mast to overall displacement ratio – 4.4%
  • main mast to ballast ratio – 12%
  • mainmast centre of gravity – 18 feet from base or around 14 feet above central roll pivot.

The mast has been painted white with a bright orange top for increased visibility and a navigation and anchor light fitted to the top. Moving spirit behind the up-and-coming Scottish expedition is Alison, who has been helping me prepare and step the new mast and rigging.

main sail junk rig

Alison contemplates sail repairs

The proof is in the pudding as they say and when the main sail is rigged I’ll take her for sea trials to see how she handles. If it turns out to be too tender (i.e. heels too much given the strength of wind / sail area) then I will have to sail it with reduced sail until remedied. The remedies would be either replace the mast for a lighter one or increase the ballast. The latter solution would be preferred as it would be simpler, cheaper, and result in a more dynamically stable and sea-kindlier boat.

Of course I’m hoping it’ll be ‘just right’, without modification and it’ll be ‘full speed ahead’ for the west coast of Scotland.

junk mast crane

junk mast crane

main mast lifted into place

over he comes …

main mast junk stepping

steady, aim …

mainmast stepping junk rig

in he goes …

temporary wedges mainmast junk

temporary wedges

alberg 37 junk masts

her new look …

topping lifts

topping lifts

St. John’s to Crosshaven

drakes pool crosshaven eire

At rest in Drake’s Pool, Crosshaven

After 18 days of sea I arrived in Crosshaven, Eire on 10 September and am currently moored at Drake’s Pool – a secure spot I have visited twice before.

The good news is that we made it and I can now start to look for a replacement main mast this winter so we can be up and running again in the spring.

The not so good news is that it was a bit of a rough ride out there and had to pass through two gales and one storm. (A far as I’m concerned a gale is a minor storm and a storm is a major gale). Apart from being strangled by the sheets in an unexpected jibe I received no injuries (and the rope-burn scab on my neck should be gone in a few days 🙂 ).

The rig took a bit more of a bashing however. The list:

2 main battens broken

1 foresail batten broken

foresail boom broken

main gallows demolished

foresail pocket torn at leech

a few small holes in the sails here and there

one trashed main mast boot

main junk rig batten broken

A bad batten design 😦

The broken main battens was a design fault. They were both made of two aluminium tubes joined together with a wooden plug and then the join covered in a 10 foot PVC tube. The PVC tube had too much flex allowing the aluminium tubes to snap the wooden plugs. It was then only a matter of time before to two now separate tubes stressed the PVC to breaking point. After the second broken batten I replaced it with a single length of aluminium tube and had no more failure.

boom batten foresail junk rig sail

That’s a broken batten and boom tied together your looking at.

The broken foresail boom was snapped by …? … getting jammed in the bow pulpit I suspect. Now it should not have been able to get into that position but it must have slid forward under duress, got caught and snapped with a quick jibe. I tied the boom to the wooden batten above it and sailed with one less panel. A gale or two later I noticed that that batten had been cracked at the same place and tied them both up to the aluminium batten above sailing with two panels out of action. I have some clear ideas on how to prevent this in the future including reducing the sail balance, raising the mast lift height, and using a boom parrel as well as a boom/lower batten luff parrel.

junk rig main gallows

That’s pretty much all that’s left of the main gallows!

The main gallows were wiped out in the blink of an eye during an accidental jibe. Of course the boom should have cleared the gallows by a few inches but I can only suspect that the topping lifts had stretch a little allowing the sail to sag and the boom caught the top of the gallows at full force, cracking the boom and sending half my gallows into the Atlantic ocean. Not a big deal really cause gallows aren’t essential, just good to have around if you need to make repairs and need to secure the sail.

mast head crane junk jury rig

simple but effective 🙂

My one bolt crane solution worked remarkably well. On one end I hung the halyard block and hung the two sides of the topping lifts off the other. The mast lift was secured by a bowline slung over the top of the mast secured by the bolt from slipping down. So not all my designs are crap!

I took a few video clips of my journey from Charlottetown – St John’s –  Crosshaven and mashed them all together last night and uploaded them to MeTube. If nothing else it displays the fact that I am better sailor than a cameraman or video editor. But it’s just a bit of fun for me.

The “test pilot crew” in Charlottetown is photographer Astrid from Hamburg on the left, Bonnie from Charlottetown on the helm, and Rachael from the Welsh borderlands sitting on the right. Brave women! Thanks.


junk rig mast dis-masted st johns

Queens Cove St John’s. Broken section secured to gallows, mast and battens secured to the decks

Spent yesterday sorting out the tangled mess of running rigging, main sail and broken mast top. Amazingly, the only thing that suffered  damage (apart from the main mast itself) was the navigation lights that was bolted to the top of the mast (and I might be able to fix that).

There are no obvious signs of defect in the breakage – other than the fact that it broke where a series of knots were situated – making it a weaker spot from a structural point of view but not fatal – or one would think.

schooner junk rig broken main mast

the new look 🙂

The break occurred 20.5 feet from the top, leaving a 14.5 foot stump from the partners up. Add another 8 foot of bury and you have a break close to the center of the timber. At the break the diameter was 7 inches (18 cm).

I’m now looking for a secure place to tie up for the winter. I’ve heard that Quidi Vidi has a small secure cove where I might be able to negotiate a spot. It’s only a half an hour (that’s .5 hour for the metric minded) from here so I’ll go check it out this afternoon.

I will then start sourcing a suitable replacement mast. Steel or fibreglass tubes seem the best option. St John’s is a major industrial port now, thanks to the offshore oil boom and if I am not able find anything locally I should be able to get something shipped in.

A slight setback

main mast junk dismasted st john'sLast night I limped back into St. John’s harbour with the top half of my main mast strapped to the port deck. What surprised me most about this event is how easily it happened and how rapidly and unexpected I witnessed the mast and sail to come down, without warning, and end up sprawled along the deck and dragging in the water.

In retrospect I have to say I was very lucky to have suffered no injury to myself of the boat. And as far as I can tell, although I have yet to untangle the mess, no serious damage to the running rigging or main sale either. The main mast, however, is a total write off.

Here’s what actually happened: I departed St John’s on 14th August with a strategy to sail SE to keep under the current low pressure system coming down from northern Newfoundland. By the 16th I had made it approx. 200 nautical miles to the SE edge of the Grand Banks but the system moved south far more rapidly than me and I realized that I was to be trapped in possibly a week’s length of strong easterly headwinds. Not having made it off the Grand Banks in time the sea was particularly lumpy and seasickness took hold of me – worse than I have experienced in a previous 23,000 nautical miles of deep sea sailing. On top of that, my new sheet / sheet span system using swivels was not behaving as I planed and the main sheets were becoming frustratingly twisted and operating very poorly.

Taking all those factors into account I made the decision that morning (16th) to return to St. John’s, wait for a better wind system and improve the main sheeting arrangement. I turned around and started to run back under a fresh easterly of a variable 10 to 20 knots. The relief was immediate and I could eat again. The shallow depth of the Grand Banks (100 to 150 feet I believe) make a very lumpy sea and uncomfortable boat motion when sailing into a strong breeze against steep waves. But running with the system was was a charm in comparison.

I sailed approximately170 nautical miles under fully hoisted main and fore sail back the route I had come. Heading directly to the St. John’s port entrance I was running under fully hoisted main only (because when running directly downwind the main causes too much air turbulence for the fore sail to set properly). The breeze was fresh (say between 15 and 20 knots) and progress was good, averaging 6.5 knots, accelerating to 8+ knots surfing down the waves.

main mast junk rig brokenAbout 10 miles east of the port entrance I was standing in the cockpit watching progress when I suddenly heard a large crack. Before I had even time to look up, the top half of the mast including the bundle of mainsail, battens and assorted running rigging was lying on the port deck beside me with the mast top and part of the mainsail dragging in the water. I spent the next 20 minutes getting lines around the mast head and winching them up out of the water. I then hoisted the foresail, which was unaffected by the event, and contained to sail to port.

I arrived back in port at 8:30 pm and tied up to an available floating dock there. A strong easterly makes St. John’s harbour rather unsettled and it was a bumpy night at the dock but we both (me and the boat) managed to make it through the night.

So why did the mast break so suddenly? It wasn’t do to any traumatic event like a knock down or a violent motion in rough seas or a sneaky rogue wave attack. I was sailing downwind with the usual motion of speeding and slowing as the waves overtake me, and the usual fishtail motion as the wind vane steering continuously brings the boat back on course. I felt under no peril or concern and was standing calmly in the cockpit when the mast broke. I guessing that the point of break was a defective weak point in the timber I had been unaware of. It was probably already serious stressed and cracked and the motion of the boat, or a gust wind, was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

So now what? I need a new mast. That’s beyond a doubt. No amount of crazy glue is going to fix this one.  Newfoundland suffers from poor climate and soil resulting straggly stunted trees unsuitable for a grown mast. I think my best option is to seek a conical steel tube like the ones used in street lighting. As a bonus, there’s no need to install a lightning rod with a steel mast :).

As for the foremast, it seems sound enough – stiffer with straighter grain than the now defunct main mast (which I always had nagging doubts about). I may replace the foremast too but for now I’m not going to worry about it.

What seems evident is that I won’t be sailing back to Europe this season. Fortunately, St. John’s harbour doesn’t freeze over in the winter (so I’m told) and should be able to keep my boat here until I’m ready to roll again. If I’m correct in my initial assessment, I only need a new mast and everything else (main sail, rigging and battens) is in good working order The job is simply to fabricate and install a new mast. Easier said than done, I admit, but once a suitable pole has been sourced the job is largely strait forward.

So should I stay here with the boat or fly home for the winter? If only I had two bodies (or three would be better). To be continued …