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Old 23-12-2012, 16:56   #1
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How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

I was always wondering what the performance penalties were with our mast steps: we have flat, nonfolding alum steps all the way up the mast with 2 steps at the very top.

I know that windward performance is affected due to windage...any ideas or opinions as to how much and if any on other points of sail?

Thanks
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Old 23-12-2012, 17:12   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by silverp40 View Post
I was always wondering what the performance penalties were with our mast steps: we have flat, nonfolding alum steps all the way up the mast with 2 steps at the very top.

I know that windward performance is affected due to windage...any ideas or opinions as to how much and if any on other points of sail?

Thanks
Windage? From mast steps? On a cruising boat?

That sort of windage would be the least of my worries.
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Old 23-12-2012, 18:06   #3
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

Well, some of us try to make our boats sail as well as we can by various means (not mast steps though).
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Old 23-12-2012, 18:15   #4
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

Quote:
Originally Posted by silverp40 View Post
I was always wondering what the performance penalties were with our mast steps: we have flat, nonfolding alum steps all the way up the mast with 2 steps at the very top.

I know that windward performance is affected due to windage...any ideas or opinions as to how much and if any on other points of sail?

Thanks
I would be extremely surprised if the effect was measurable (observable) on your boat or most other (cruising?) boats.
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Old 23-12-2012, 18:30   #5
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

A lot of little things can add up to a lot, though. In one of his books, Tom Cunliffe illustrates the windage caused by a half-inch line going aloft by likening it to a garbage-pail lid held into the wind. Not altogether scientific, but there are some numbers on it in "Hand, Reef and Steer". The take-away from that is that it makes sense even for cruising boats to remove windage and weight from aloft where practical and easy. I've avoided well over 100 pounds of excess weight aloft by making my mast shorter than if my sail were jib-headed, eschewing wires and antennas and radars aloft, and using synthetic standing rigging. So, taking the steps off might not make a huge difference, but added to not flying unneccesary flags and burgees underway, reeving the VHF antenna and Radar elsewhere (or losing them altogether), using hanked-on jibs instead of roller furling, little things here and there, can add up to a measureable difference.
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Old 23-12-2012, 18:59   #6
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

I put them on my motorsailor ketch, but she is not a windward demon anyway. Hard to tell how much difference they make. I sailed quite a bit before I put them on, and I can't say I can notice any difference. To me it is one of the many tradeoffs we make. I inherited mast steps on the previous boat I owned, and they saved my rig more than once when I was able to find damage before something let go, and I was also able to make emergency repairs while offshore. They are also fantastic in the clear waters of the Caribbean for popping up the mast to read the water. My daughter has spent many hours on the spreaders piloting us through coral waters. They just make so many routine maintenance chores so much easier. For example, I can easily examine every fitting up close before any offshore run.
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Old 23-12-2012, 19:50   #7
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

The steps by themselves are no big deal. But it is a sure sign of "a death by a thousand cuts." Mast steps, BBQ, fenders, two outboards on the rail, lazyjacks, awnings, solar panels, potted plants ....... just to take a look at my neighbors here.
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Old 23-12-2012, 21:19   #8
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

I have steps all the way to the first set of spreaders, wonderfull stuff, to check shallow reefs entrances , to replace the spreaders lights bulbs, that dam main halyhard flogging around , nice nice....
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Old 23-12-2012, 21:30   #9
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

On my boat bugger all worth mentioning......on the other hand though me loving standing on the top steps for lengthy periods, well that's a different matter entirely......
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Old 23-12-2012, 21:33   #10
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

In the manner of general performance when voyaging, mast steps will be of distinct benefit. Being able to go aloft to check the waters ahead, to change fused light bulbs, to replace the windvane which has just been broken by an exhausted booby, to free a wrap around the forestay, to retrieve a halyard which disappeared toward the heavens during the last blow, and to just be able to go to the speaders in a few small steps for a quick gander about. All of these things enhance both performance and quality of life.

I prefer the folding steps to the fixed, as the latter can present a chafing hazard...and, if my boat were of the right style, I would install rattings between the lower shrouds because they look wonderful and provide a nifty means for travel aloft.

As far as speed performance is concerned, perhaps the absence of mast steps may mean you can complete your circumnavigation yesterday instead of today...but, as I like to be at sea and think racing is generally the province of vehicles equipped with V8s, it matters to me not one whit!

(What the hell is a 'whit' anyway?)
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Old 24-12-2012, 00:29   #11
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

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Windage? From mast steps? On a cruising boat?

That sort of windage would be the least of my worries.


Regarding the OP's question about performance penalty with mast steps, windage isn't really the most important issue. Rather, disruption of the laminar airflow at the leading edge of the air foil (mainsail) and also parasitic drag induced by the mast steps at the crucial air flow entry point. Small things can actually have quite an effect on the above. This is one of the reasons smaller (and some larger) sailing cats have rotating masts - to keep the leading edge as clean as possible on different points of sail. Any disruption to the airflow as it 'splits' around the leading edge of a sail (or wing) will have performance penalties. How much of a penalty with mast steps would have to be wind tunnel tested to get accurate data.... which of course, no one is going to do .

For example, vibrating wires (stays & shrouds) although thin, produce a lot of parasitic drag because the oscillation (vibration) really magnifies the disrupted airflow. Again, one of the reasons many racing monos flirted with rod rigging in the late 90s and 00's.

Since you're a cruiser and your mast steps provide you with a big positive in accessing your mast & appendages easily and I assume, when you sail you're not in a big hurry - it's no big deal. Interesting question however and I would love to see some actual tested data......
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Old 24-12-2012, 02:58   #12
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

Do you stand up or sit down in the cockpit? I imagine that makes about the same amount of difference.

If your mast steps aren't a chafe hazard or tangle hazard, and if you actually use them or might need to use them to get up the mast in a hurry, then I think for a cruiser they are worth the small penalty.
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Old 24-12-2012, 05:27   #13
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

Thanks for all the good info!

There is no question that the benefits are great, especially getting up the mast quickly. Yes they probably outweigh the windage drag.

As to the statement sometimes made that "mast steps are there so you can climb up and untangle the halyards that wrap around them" I mitigated that by running 1mm line (more windage) around the outside steps above the upper spreaders and no more wraps!
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Old 24-12-2012, 05:37   #14
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

My guess would be more than you think for the folding steps and quite a bit for the non-folding ones.

I suspect windage is as much the issue as a disruption in air flow. The additional windage = that much less sail you can carry before having to reef. Since the sails (and not the mast steps) are the drive, that's a negative.
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Old 24-12-2012, 17:06   #15
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Re: How Much Do Mast Steps Affect Performance?

Hell...I'm going to put ratlines up my lowers and steps above the spreaders to the top. While cruising the advantage far outweighs the .01 kt. I'll loose. Also...I'm dragging a tree blade prop. I heard that I loose .1 of a knot with that...who cares. I want the option of clawing off a lee shore and going aloft quickly and safely when I loose a halyard aloft.
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