Ask the Rigger: Sailboat Rigging Questions

alexcrowell Ask the Rigger: Sailboat Rigging Questions

By Alex Crowell

I need to replace my J-80 mast. How much will a new one cost me?

If you are replacing your J80 mast, there are a lot of variables that you have to consider. The reason most change between the Hall section and the Sparcraft section is the lighter weight and more streamlined section.

There is a ton of stuff to do to switch it over. None of the rigging switches over to the new mast; the mast step has to be modified for the shorter section, the furling unit has to be changed for the longer headstay and the spin halyard is longer on the Sparcraft section than the Hall section.

We have done three of these conversions, and the price of the section has increased every year. It was up by 20 percent in February. So if you are budgeting, beware of the price increase. A mast with no rigging and no shipping is an estimated $5,800. Delivery is around another $900 to $1,300. If we piggy back multiple masts on our mast trailer, you can get delivery as low as $500. Depending on what is needed and upgrades to increase stiffness and performance, the price starts as low as $8,000 using minimal labor, the old furling unit, standard rigging and old halyards.

It is an estimated $15,000 using maximum labor, a new furling unit, rod headstay, compact strand rigging, and new-performance type running rigging. You can always save money if you do the leg work on any job. We have all the dimensions for ordering the conversion for a plug and play installation.

I’m going to order a new mainsail for my 35 ft cruising boat. When I place the order should I go with two reefs or three?

I try to talk my customers out of three reefs 50’ and under. Installing the third reef adds a lot of line that you have to deal with every time you go sailing. Most sail makers go with what they call a “slab” reef. It is a much larger reef that reduces sail quicker and ends up with the same result of the third reef.

Just remember to tie the loose cloth with something that will give way if your reef breaks. Something to substantial could tear the sail in half if it lets loose.

Self-steering systems have come a long way in the past 10 years, in your opinion what is the best system on the market?

There are multiple electronic auto-pilot systems out there. What is the best is an argument I rather not get into; but, what we have found on all systems is that you want to install the larger system, not just the minimal system that fits your boat.

Also have plenty of power to run it, even if you go as far as to add an extra battery or two. Too many times I hear stories of people on delivery and the auto pilot runs the battery down and goes offline. In strong conditions people lose sight of how hard the unit is working; it can consume tons of power if the boat is trimmed wrong. Make sure you take the unit offline from time to time and trim or reduce sails yourself to help the auto pilot.

Our long-range and long-time cruisers prefer the wind-driven auto pilots, but that is a story for another time.

I’m a cruiser. I do not need a racing compass. Who makes a good compass and how much does it cost to install?

All cruising boats should have a magnetic compass somewhere on the boat. I want to say it is a requirement for all boats from the factory. If your boat is not equipped with one, the bulkhead-mount compass is the easiest one to install.

We install the Plastimo Contest most of the time. They cost between $260 to $350 depending on what you want on it. There are others on the market, but this is the one most readily available. What I look for is self-leveling with level marks, magnified-heading numbers with reciprocal numbers, and a light for night time.

Installation varies between the type of boat; around two hours for a basic install and five hours if you are installing wiring for lights. Cabinet modification is not included in these estimated times. That becomes a time and material type of job.

Stack pack or in-the-mast furling systems?

We always recommend “stack packs” or in-boom furling before in-mast furling.

With in-mast furling, you have a chance of the furling unit failing and the sail being stuck at full hoist, in or out of the mast at the worst possible time. It is tough to drop or raise an in-mast sail at the dock in perfect conditions, imagine what it would be like in the middle of the ocean. We actually repair an in-mast furling once a week in peak season.

With a “stack pack” or in-boom furling, you have the option to drop the main if you have trouble and deal with it on the deck. The in-mast adds a lot of weight aloft that hurts performance and makes the boats riding moment higher. The last thing is the in-mast sail has a lot less sail area then the standard sail. Standard battens project the leach of the main out adding sail area and  helps the way the boat sails. Consider this when purchasing a new boat.

By the way, if you get a standard mast you can add a roller boom for the same price as an in-mast furling. If you add it after market you can save more.

After a hard day of racing on the bay my headsails are covered with salt. Does it make sense to hose them down with fresh water?

You should absolutely hose down your sails and gear with fresh water after a hard sail. Even if you go out for a day sail around the bay you should give her a good rinse.

Salt accumulation in the bearings or on the thread of sails will eventually break these parts down. The stitching on the sail will start to deteriorate, causing weakening and patches.

If you look at furling sails, the threads rot faster at the bottom where it has been wet than up top where it stayed dry. All of the gear on your boat is expensive, so a fresh water rinse will save you thousands in the future and add time between replacement.

2 Commentss to “Ask the Rigger: Sailboat Rigging Questions”

  1. Jim says:

    I have a Pearson 26 that I would like to bring down to the Texas coast for a couple weeks. Is there anyplace I can raise the mast myself?

  2. I have a 23′ 1979 North American Spirit sloop. My 6 of my old 3/16 7 strand shrouds broke. Should I upgrade to 19 stand 3/16 or heavier 1/4 cables as I will be using it for ministry and not just pleasure and fair weather? Also thinking of using mechanical ends for DYI and better load distribution but 1/4 wire has much bigger ends and I will need to drill out chain plates. Finally is the new 19 strand wire more durable and stronger than my old 7 strand wire?
    Thanks and God Bless,

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