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Old 24-12-2016, 18:00   #16
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Honokohau, Big Island, Hawaii
Posts: 91
Re: Bees in Mast

How many "bees" can you see at any one time? If you can count the number coming or going from the mast per minute, this "traffic rate" can give you some idea of how large the colony is.

Around here the most common problem are paper wasps (Polistes species). They build paper nests and a very large colony would number a couple dozen at most.

If you watch them with binocs and can see the yellow/black critters with their legs dangling down, they're most likely Polistes.

There are non-toxic sprays such as EcoSmart wasp and hornet killer that can be effective. I'd try first to spray up through a hole at the base of the mast, seal any hole you can with tape and repeat the procedure over several days. It might not kill them, but they may abandon their nest (at least that has been my experience with nests in the cabin). It may have the same effect on honeybees.

If you have to go up the mast to treat the nest, use someone's "bee suit" with a hood, facial screen, gloves and shoes all taped to protect you from stings. If the traffic rate at the entrance hole is zero, you probably have nothing to fear, but wear the suit just in case.

A paper wasp nest (including yellow jackets- The southern yellowjacket, Vespula squamosa would be my bet for a nest in a mast) will decompose by itself over time. There are moths and other critters that will actually help it breakdown. A waxy honeybee colony will be more of a challenge and stinkier to deal with.

You may be able to free the halyards by working them from bottom and top over time as the nest breaks down. The active ingredient in EcoSmart is peppermint oil, so you'll have some of the nicest smelling halyards of any of us.

These are just some things to consider before you go to the expense of having the mast dropped, opened and cleaned out.
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Old 14-01-2017, 10:21   #17
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Lake Worth, FL
Boat: Irwin 38 Mark III center cockpit
Posts: 7
Re: Bees in Mast

Thank you all for your posts. Those who said it was, indeed, a serious problem were correct. It was honeybees. Beekeepers are not at all interested in hives that are 50' in the air with no access. I did not find one with a vacuum system. No amount of force on the halyards budged them--even when left overnight with on winches.

Took it into the yard & hired a crane to take it down. Couldn't sleep the night before for fear a swarm of bees would terrorize the marina. But no one was stung. There were some bees flying in & out but I guess they were busy salvaging honey.

The top of the mast was welded shut so we had only access through halyard & wiring openings. The bottom was open but a long way from the hive(s). Rented a large pressure washer with a diesel-fired hot water heater and ran hot water through for a full day. Gallons of honey flowed out mixed with debris & water. A plumber's sewer inspection video camera showed some debris left but couldn't see any active hive. The halyards melted loose about midday.

We rewired the mast, repainted it, and replaced & repaired instruments & lights which added value to the whole operation. But all in it was a $2000+ learning experience.

Lessons learned:
Bees in the mast is a big problem. Don't listen to people who haven't actually been through it.
There's a plumbing tool called a "jetter" that I'll use if it happens again. It might have cleaned it out. But I found out abut it too late and couldn't find anyone who would let me use it with hot water. It would probably destroy the halyards & maybe the wiring so it would be necesary to send up some kind of sturdy wire messenger unless an electrician's snake worked work on yours. Mine had separate channels for wire & halyards but they weren't accessible from the bottom.
From all I've read, the bees will be back. I soaked the halyards in mothball water and put a bag of mothballs in the mast. We'll see.
People think it's funny. My brother wants to know if it's now an "oat".
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