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Old 01-08-2004, 04:36   #1
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In the Event of Rig Failure

In the Event of a Rigging Failure:

What does one do if a piece of equipment breaks or is on the verge of breaking? This question is probably the least thought of problem a beginner or intermediate sailor ever thinks of but it is right up there with the MOB drill. As with the MOB drill, your response to a rig failure should be automatic.

There are 5 assemblies (including the associated fittings*) that can break:
- mast
- forestay
- backstay
- shrouds
- steering
* The most common failure mode involves the tangs, turnbuckles, and chainplates and the smaller, but no less significant, screws, bolts, terminal fittings, clevis and cotter pins that hold everything together, rather than the actual mast extrusion & wire (or rod) stays.

The first thing you want to do is remove any pressure from the part that is about to break or has broken.

IF THE MAST BREAKS - The most important thing to do is prevent it from puncturing the hull. You might have to cut the wires so a good set of bolt cutters is an important piece of safety equipment. Salvage the mast If you can, but some cases you may have to "deep six" it.

IF A SHROUD BREAKS - Tack immediately. The strain will now be on the opposite side of the rigging.

IF THE FORESTAY BREAKS - Immediately bear off to a broad reach or run. The pressure on the mast and sails is now forward and off the luff of the jib. Leave the jib up as it will temporarily support the mast while you rig a spare line. If you don't have a spare halyard (get one) drop the main, disconnect the main halyard and fasten that to whatever is handy on the bow.

IF THE BACKSTAY BREAKS - Sheet in the mainsheet as hard as possible. This causes the leech of the main to assume the support that was provides by the backstay. Head up wind to reduce pressure on the leech. Rig a halyard to some point on the stern. A topping lift would work nicely . The potential of the backstay breaking is another reason why you need that second halyard!!

STEERING FAILS - Steer with your sails. Under mainsail only, the boat want to head toward the wind. Under jib only, the boat wants to turn away from the wind. By balancing these two forces you can get the boat to travel in a straight line. You can practice steering with the sails very easily.
Try this:
1) Lock the wheel at center.
2) Release the jib and trim in the mainsheet. Boat will head up.
3) Release the mainsheet and trim in the jib sheet. Boat will fall off.
4) Now, working both sheets together, trim the mainsheet and ease the jib sheet until you get the boat going in a straight line.

Let's say you want to tack. What do you do? Simple, just trim in the mainsheet and release the jib sheet. Hold until the boat comes head to wind. Now trim in the jib on the other side to back the jib and the boat will sail away from the wind on the new tack. Balance your sheets again to get the boat sailing on a straight line

Checking Your Rig:

(a) Are the swaged fittings straight, or is distortion evident? Many rigs have slightly "banana'd" swages, which are the result of poorly set and worn dies in the swage machine, when the rig was initially made up.

(b) Is there adequate articulation, where the 'T' terminals fit into the mast, and are the backing plates showing signs of wear?

(c) Any signs of corrosion where the wire feeds into the lower swage could be a sign of trouble and if there is a single frayed strand, then the wire should be condemned.

(d) Are the rigging screws perfectly straight (no bends) and lubricated? Are the clevis pins the correct size for the chainplate holes and rigging screw toggles.

(e) Is there evidence of chain plate movement, especially with regard to the babystay and aft lowers, since these take heavy loads?

(f) Are moving parts in good condition, such as goose-neck, kicker and mainsheet connections?

(g) Are there any signs of dents, or chafe damage that could weaken the structure of the mast or boom?

(h) Is the Furling and headfoil system in good condition? Maybe needs a service.

(i) Is there any evidence that the 'T' base/mast post assembly has degraded through compression. Poorly fitted deck glands can result in water penetrating the structure immediately beneath the 'T' base under the mast.

(j) Are deck organizers, clutches and winch arrangements correctly positioned in terms of minimizing friction? Are they lubricated and do they function effectively?

RIG TUNE: A major cause of rig failure is when the mast has not been tuned correctly, thus inducing metal fatigue at rig terminals, in the wire itself and also the backing plates in the mast.

Key points to check with the standing rig and the mast itself are as follows:

(a) Check that the chain plates are in a direct line with the rigging, so that clevis pins are aligned in the hole

(b) Check that toggles are fitted below and above the rigging screw, so as to give adequate articulation

(c) Lubricate rigging screws, being especially important with the older all stainless steel versions, which used to "bind up". Modern rigging screws either have chromed bronze barrels, or bronze inserts.

(d) Check that the cap shrouds and lowers take up a correct line at the mast. It is important that the 'T' bars articulate properly on the backing plate, so that each swage is aligned with its shroud.

(e) Check wear in the sheave cages at masthead (spindles and sheaves) and that the sheaves are adequately lubricated at mast heel. A useful tip is to ensure that the main halyard is shackled into the forward hole of the headboard, rather than the aft one. Reason for this is that when running, if you shackle into the aft hole, the halyard will take up too great an angle over the shoulders of the sheave and wear it down. Ultimately, the halyard will jump off the sheave.

(f) Check that the no. 1 genoa halyard feeds through the bullseye fairlead situated some 6" to 9" below the halyard sheave. This will prevent an involuntary "wrap" of the halyard.

(g) When mast is unstepped, check security of rivets in heel fitting.

(h) At the end of each season, wash all spars and rigging to clear salt deposits and lubricate all moving parts. Take special care where stainless steel is in contact with aluminum and lubricate these fastenings. Squirt water down inside the boom, since this is where considerable corrosion takes place, since anodising is less effective in these areas. Ideally take all running rigging out and thoroughly wash and refit to mast in the spring. By sewing a small loop in the end of each rope tail, it will be possible to attach the messenger with more security.

Some On-line References:

BoatUS - Seaworthy Magazine:
Inspecting Your Boat's Mast and Rigging Surveying Your Rig:

From the “Sabre 30" Owner’s Manual:


E. & O. E.
Gord May
"If you didn't have the time or money to do it right in the first place, when will you get the time/$ to fix it?"

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