A Fistful of Foibles

IMG_2948 (1280x634)

March 19

“Where you gonna put the rig?” asks Erin.

“The what?” I ask.

I’ve returned to Homer to ready Gjoa for a sandblasting and bottom painting job whose list of preparatory tasks unfamiliar to me, all of which must be completed in two days, extends to the floor. What started as a simple idea (Hey, let’s sandblast the hull while we’re in Homer) has become a cascade of complications.

Here’s the progression: the epoxy paint used on the hull will only cure in temperatures not usually found at this latitude until June. Thus, to complete the project in March means Gjoa must be trucked to a heated shed at the Homer Boatyard, a facility two miles from her current berth at Northern Enterprises. To fit into the shed, not to mention under the electric wires that cross the road in nine places, the boat must be below sixteen feet of height once aboard the flatbed trailer. To get her below sixteen feet of height requires removing Gjoa’s 62 foot tall mast and lowering the highly decorated electronics arch that sits on her stern rail.

That there is a crane large enough to pull the mast, a truck and flatbed long enough, and a qualified blaster with a heated shed whose prices are reasonable and schedule open, and all gathered up and ready at this end of town, is cause for amazement and nearly reason enough to make a start. The real reason for the work, however, is that both bottom and primer paints on Gjoa are tired, and the primer has worn away to bare metal at the foot of the keel.

But I digress. Back to the complications.

Pulling the mast requires removing the main sail and boom, disassembling the genoa furlers, dropping the genoa poles to the deck, removing the HAM radio tuner connection, pulling stuck cotter pins and loosening twelve turnbuckles of such heft that the wrench required for leverage can’t be held in place with one hand.

No task is difficult, but each comes with a twist for Gjoa’s new master, like having to learn the inner workings of a brand of furler unknown to me, or singlehandedly removing a mainsail from her mast cars, a job meant for two people, one of whom has the delicate touch of a brain surgeon, or risk spilling a near infinity of bearings onto the deck, over the side, and gone forever.

Lowering the electronics arch proves a special challenge, for though it is designed for just such an eventuality, the wires leading to its eight antennas are not always long enough to allow the descent without being disconnected, or worse, cut.

I am finished a scant two hours before Erin arrives with the crane, pleased at the thought that I can now sit back and let the yard crew hustle out the stick.

I fail to note as they approach that Erin and his rather diminutive crane are not accompanied by anything resembling crew.

“Where you gonna put the rig?” asks Erin.

“The what?” I ask.

“The rig, the line from the mast to that hook on the crane.”

It’s a brisk day. I’m in jacket, hat and gloves and am on the verge of shivering. Erin, a bear of a man, wears black overalls and a t-shirt.

“I thought I’d let you do that.” I say to his jest.

“Not me. I only supply the crane and the hook. Didn’t Mike explain? Yard policy says the owner supplies the rig, puts it on the mast, and attaches the rig to the hook.”

I say that Mike did not mention anything of the kind; that I’ve never rigged a mast to be pulled before—in the lower 48 I’m not allowed anywhere near that job–wouldn’t even know what line to use.

“Simple,” says Erin. “Most any line will do. Just put in a couple clove hitches on each end. You know how to tie a clove hitch, right? Heck, these masts don’t weigh anything. Two of us could pick it if it weren’t so tall. How you gonna get up there?”

I’m thinking hard now. No vision of this project has included my having to rig the mast, much less supervise the operation.

“You could lift me with the crane. I’ve got a boatswain’s chair,” I say, grasping at the first thing that comes to mind. This, at least, I have done before.

“No can do,” says Erin. “Yard policy says cranes don’t lift people. What about those little mast steps?”

“For emergencies,” I say. “I’m afraid of heights.”

“Me too. I’ll get the Snorkelift while you find a line.”

Suddenly this job is going sideways. Pull Gjoa’s great mast with a piece of spare line? I rummage up three such lines of varying size while Erin brings the lift around to Gjoa’s port side bow.

“That one’ll do,” says Erin, pointing to the smallest of the three I produce. “Last week I towed a car with a piece like that, and it only parted when I tried to pull a dozer. Dozer was stuck in the mud though.”

Up we go in the Snorkelift with me pointing hesitantly at a spot half way between Gjoa’s two sets of spreaders. Arriving there I straddle the basket, hooking a foot before leaning out, and commence to tie a rolling hitch, my improvement to Erin’s suggested clove. Over once, over twice, under and through. Not right. Try again. Over once, over twice, under and through. Not right. On the third try, I get it, but the rolls of the hitch are binding in the wrong direction. Start again. Nope. Again.

Bowline, half hitch, clove hitch, rolling hitch, reef knot. With these five a man can secure the world to its poles. I’ve tied each so often the tying is like spreading butter on toast. But this morning I am fifty feet off the ground, hanging none too securely from a Snorkelift basket, and engaging my boat’s mast in a hug that is still illegal in 27 states. A rolling hitch simply will not materialize from my efforts.

“Like this,” says Erin. I look over to see he’s tied a rolling hitch to the basket’s rail by way of instruction.

I resume, each attempt failing. Apparently, I don’t know how to tie the knot. Frankly, I realize, I don’t want to tie the knot because I don’t know what will happen next.

I climb back in the basket to take a breather.

“You pulled any masts before?” I ask by way of distracting Erin from my incompetence.

“Lots,” he says. “Once the owner had put the rig too low and when I lifted the mast it went end for end. The head dug a three foot hole in the ground as it swung and then the thing broke in half. This one’s lots bigger though.”

I sigh. Within minutes the line defending my idea of manageable risk from that of stupidity has dissolved. A mast in pieces is not a fair exchange for new hull paint. I’m not doing this.

“We have another option,” Erin finally interjects. Across the street is a rigging shop. I can have one of their guys rig the mast if you like.

“You’re just mentioning that now?”

“Well, they work mostly on fiberglass boats.” says Erin.

Next morning a man from Sloth Boatworks arrives carrying a proper mast strap (seat belt type material three inches wide and an inch thick). Within an hour Gjoa’s mast is laid gently on the ground. The flatbed arrives, and the boat heads to her temporary home in a heated shed and me to a rented room east of town.

The sandblast job has begun.

IMG_2960 (960x1280)

From up here, I find a rolling hitch is impossible.

IMG_2964 (960x1280)

The Snorkelift.


A rather diminutive crane for such a tall mast.


The strap in place and ready to lift. Note the very small space between masthead and end of crane boom. The crane is at full extension.


The lift begins. Note now there’s no space between masthead and crane boom end. We did not damage the mast or its aerials, but it was touch and go.

IMG_2979 (960x1280)

She has come down cleanly.


Positioning the boat onto the flatbed.


Erin, in typical uniform regardless of the weather, is chewing the fat with the truck operator.


Departing Northern Enterprises boatyard.


Short drive with low wires. Notice cant of aft trailer tires.


Into the shed.


Door down, heat turned on, the sandblasting begins.

IMG_2976 (1280x960)

One casualty alone: the outer genoa furler drum caught on the rail as the mast went slowly skyward and was only noticed when it popped off with a bang. Rail bent. Drum bent very slightly but so far no noticeable defect to furler operations.



2 Comments on “A Fistful of Foibles

  1. You made the right call, it might have worked with a tiny line but if the mast fell and bent or broke I doubt insurance would have covered it and that’d be one expensive mistake! It takes a real man to admit when it’s time to bring in the pros.

  2. Pingback: REFIT UPDATE #5: A Lesson in Complaint – The Figure 8 Voyage

Leave a Reply