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Old 19-06-2016, 08:58   #1
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Shortening the mast - thoughts?

Background

Currently sail a 40ft Jeanneau (fractional club)on the Chesapeake
Have sailed offshore a few times
Retiring and moving to Fl Panhandle
Wife and I sail often and want to be able to get under 50ft bridges in the area as well as occasional trips to Keys and Bahamas
Want to purchase newer (2005 ff) boat in the 34-35 ft size.
Probably will go with "production boat"
Will be our long term retirement boat so I am not really concerned about resale impact.
Plan to purchase in the next 6-12 months.

ISSUE
Most of the boats we like have mast heights around 50-53 feet.
I have read extensively and talked to people at the sailboat show in Annapolis and still don't have a good "feel" for the option of shortening the mast anywhere from 2ft (minimum) to 4ft (maximum).

Question
Is this doable from a practical standpoint?
Impact on performance (can I reduce the sail area at the top to reduce loss)? We are cruisers - not racers
Guesstimate of costs (both initial and long term if any)
Anyone with real world experience with doing this (greatly appreciate this) especially if in the Fl Panhandle area.

Thanks for taking your time. I hope I have given sufficient information for your reply.
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Old 19-06-2016, 09:51   #2
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

Get a ketch - or even a yawl.

For example, the Shannon 38 ketch mast height is 47' 6"

But if you want to go down a 2'-4' mast shortening route you can get back most of the performance loss with high quality new sails. A 150 genoa will be about the same area as a 130 with the full mast. Build a lot of roach into the mainsail. The skinny top of a mainsail gives little power. Dashew found that even a little batten contact with the backstay when tacking a big roach main caused no significant chafe or problems. There's a lot in his book.

SetSail » Blog Archive » Dashew Offshore: A Bit Of History Part 2 – The Big Roach Cruising Main

You'll want to cut the top off the mast not the bottom so the winches gooseneck etc. doesn't have to be moved. You should obviously have this done by a rigger who understands mast design. Having a marine architect look at it would be better. The spreaders might need to be moved but that's easy. Avoid a boat with a complicated rig like a B&R (Hunter) as it might have unexpected problems.

.
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Old 19-06-2016, 10:36   #3
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

If its a new boat you are after then buy a ketch.. Chopping an original mast and re-rigging with new sails etc would cost loads..
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Old 19-06-2016, 10:42   #4
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

Other than a pretty substantial performance hit there isn't a real issue with it. Do do it right you would need to buy a new set of sails, and new standing rigging, so figure about $10,000 or so. As mentioned cut from the top, leave the spreaders where they were, and your rig will actually be stronger than it was. The increased shroud angle will actually require less tension in the uppers, though the lowers will be pretty much the same (maybe a little bit less).

As mentioned when you have new sails made upsize the Jib to a 155, and have the mainsail made with the absolute maximum amount of roach the sailmaker can fit past the back stay. This will really help in light breeze, and since theboat is going to be under powered a lot of the time will help most of the time.
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Old 19-06-2016, 10:55   #5
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

IMHO you have picked a great area to retire if you are into cruising on a boat. The only area that is really off limits with a 50 ft+ mast is between Ft Walton and Navarre. Everything on both the East and West of that area can be accessed with anything below 65 ft.

If you visit Bluewater Bay Marina (Niceville) you will see a number of sailboats with shortened sticks. Before Hathaway Bridge in Panama City was replaced they were also trapped by the 50 ft limit so a bunch chopped their sticks. Once cut they don't grow back like a tree.

I cruised a lot of years in this area with a 49 ft stick. Scraped a lot of bridges with the VHF whip. When I started looking for the last hurrah ship, I decided on something with a lot to spare. So the 32 IP. We have made a couple of Bahamas trips (long way from here) and now old age has us pretty well confined to the local coast. At age 72 I have done my time in the GOM (52 years). We still enjoy the ICW connected bays in this area and don't even slow down for the bridges.

If you do cut the mast a fractional rig makes things a little simpler. As to how the boat performance is affected you will have to ask one that has actually chopped one. My 49 ft stick was a fractional Hunter (30 ft) and I mounted the wind instrument on the front of the mast about 4 ft from the tip. Worked fine there except for downwind.
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Old 19-06-2016, 11:12   #6
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

Do you have to have a new/newish boat. There are a ton of older boats out there that meet your need for mast height and probably way way way cheaper to buy than a new/almost new boat.

No problem shortening the mast but it will effect resale value of the boat plus be very expensive. Unless the masthead is a separate cap you'll have expensive machine/welding costs to put it back together. Buying new sails will be a big cost though you could recover some of it selling the old set if they aren't trashed. Rejigging the boat would probably be the cheap part as you could reuse the wire Norseman/StaLok terminals after cutting off the swaged ends to length.

Performance won't be effected that much unless you are going to chop the rig way down. Big hit will be in light air performance where a taller, higher aspect ratio sailplane has the most benefit. Larger overlap headsails, more roach in the main can add square footage back to the sailplan. But hey, you're a cruiser so ultimate performance isn't an issue. That's what iron Gennys are made for.
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Old 19-06-2016, 11:25   #7
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

It's doable, especially if you are buying new you could order the rig how you want it. If you are talking taking a couple feet off no big deal.
BUT, as long as your mast is under 65 ft or so you will have very little bridge problems anyway wont it? Or is the Panhandle fraught with short , non opening bridges?
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Old 20-06-2016, 09:48   #8
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

a friend in our club had his mast cut, for the same reasons, to look at the boat you would not know its mast as shorten,
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Old 20-06-2016, 09:49   #9
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

Yes, in fact many manufacturers had short or tall versions.
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Old 20-06-2016, 11:14   #10
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

Our last boat was a 30' Hunter. When we purchased it, the boat was stored well inland and had to go under several 45' bridges on the St Johns to get to the ICW. The original owner had the rig cut down from a 47' mast to a 43' 6" height. The original rig was fractional. They kept the jib pulley at the same height and cut off the top, so it was a little "less fractional" when they were done. The main had to be cut down as well. We talked to the original owner and the rigger. They said the factory had helped them determine the best configuration to keep it balanced.

In our new location, we were two slips away from sister boat with the original rig. No one ever noticed the difference unless we pointed it out. The boat handled well.
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Old 20-06-2016, 11:31   #11
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

Find a boat that fits your mast height criteria now. The high cost of mast shortening plus the diminished resale value makes no sense. Even if you say this is a "retirement boat" (ie you last boat) you limit your options dramatically. I am retired and now own my third "last boat". Save the heavy modifications for one off project boats, you will be happier.
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Old 20-06-2016, 12:22   #12
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

Try a Gemini - my Gem had a 44' mast with sufficient interior room and provisioning space for a two week trip most anywhere between reprovisioning stops.

Covered the GOM, the Bahamas and Caribbean with island routing.

Even the new Gem has a mast height of 47' "out of the box" so it should clear most bridges.
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Old 20-06-2016, 13:38   #13
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

I would agree with the suggestion of looking for a boat which suits the purpose. Surely there are 34-35' boats with masts under 50 feet.
Look at a few ketches, schooners, or gaff rigged boats which would have shorter masts without losing sail area.
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Old 20-06-2016, 15:00   #14
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

A refillable water bag hoisted on the main halyard and controlled outboard with a line will let you accurately control your angle of heel while under power.
For a 53' mast which is say 55' above water, an angle of heel of 30 will reduce that to 48.
So, depending on how often you have to negotiate those bridges this would seem the cheaper way to go and should be fairly simple to set up.
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Old 20-06-2016, 15:25   #15
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Re: Shortening the mast - thoughts?

I love Florida's west coast. We have about 53' airdraft. But, it's a quick offshore hop between Pensacola to Destin to Panama City to Apalichacola. I'd just work around your airdraft.

Definitely love the west coast of Florida!

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