No fear mast stepping!

By Ron Chappell

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 3, May/June 2001.

No trained elephants? Here’s an alternative

Terrell Chappell Single-handing the mast

In an article in November 2000, I touched upon the use of a quick
and easy way for the lone sailor to raise or lower the mast on the
small cruiser. Ensuing months brought a number of inquiries clamoring
for more details regarding rigging. In truth, ponder as I might, I
could never come up with a suitable mast-raising method on my own.
I have a good friend, Gerry Catha, who is an airline pilot, aircraft
builder, and fellow Com-Pac 23 sailor. He grew tired of my whining
and worked out the following solution. I am grateful to him for redefining
and perfecting the hardware involved and generously passing along the
method to be adapted by his fellow sailors.

The instability of the stand-alone
gin-pole has long made its use fraught with many of the same safety
concerns associated with the use of trained
elephants in mast stepping. The greatest fear factor involved in the
process has always been the tendency of the mast-gin-pole combination
to sway out of control during the lift. I can’t tell you the
number of “wrecks” I have heard of, or been personally
involved in (read, responsible for) over the years, due to a moment’s
inattention, insecure footing, or errant gust of wind at some critical
moment. All
of this becomes a thing of the past with Gerry’s no-nonsense
bridle arrangement.

While systems
may differ slightly as far as materials and fittings go, the basic
tackle remains the same: a six-foot length of 1 1/2-inch
tubing, two 2-inch stainless steel rings, enough low-stretch 3/16-inch
yacht braid for the bridle runs, a few stainless steel eyebolts,
some snaps and, of course, a boom vang to take the place of the elephants.

Eyebolt installed

Eyebolt installed

My own gin-pole has a large eyebolt installed in one end, which can
be attached by a through-bolt (with a nylon spool cover) into a matching
eye at the base of the mast’s leading edge and secured by a
large wingnut. This is the pivoting point for the gin-pole, which,
of course,
supplies the leverage. On the upper end of the gin-pole, two smaller,
opposing eyebolts provide attachment points for bridles, halyard, and
boom vang. Again, I must say that I have already heard of a number
of different variations regarding attachments, hardware, and so on,
as each
individual adapts the idea to his particular boat, budget, and attention

The critical thing to understand about this mast-raising technique
is that in order for the mast and gin-pole lines to stay tight and
the mast and gin-pole centered over the boat, the bridles must have
their pivot points located on an imaginary line running through the
mast pivot
bolt. If the bridle pivot points are located anywhere else, the supporting
lines will be too tight and/or too loose at some points during the

Terre; Chappell attracting help with the mast

Terrel Chappell used to attract sympathetic onlookers to help with mast raising by appearing to struggle with the problem alone. These days she and Ron can raise the stick without help, and they prefer it that way.

There are two
bridles. Each bridle consists of four runs of line, one
end of each terminating in the same stainless steel ring, which forms
the central pivot point of that particular bridle. In operation,
this ring must be centered directly across from the mast step pivot
The longest of the four lines will go to a point as high as you can
reach on the mast (secured to a padeye using a stainless snap). The
longest run attaches to the top of the gin-pole, snapped to an eyebolt.
The two bottom runs, your shorter lines, are attached fore and aft
to stanchion bases, though a toerail will work as well. It is imperative
that the steel ring be centered directly in line with the mast pivot
point when all lines are taut. This is accomplished by the location
lengths of the two bottom lines.

Clip the jib halyard
to the uppermost eye on the gin-pole and bring it to an approximate
90-degree angle
to the mast and tie it off.
Next, secure
one end of the boom vang (cleat end) to a point as far forward
on the deck as possible and the remaining end to the top of the gin-pole
the jib halyard.

At your leisure

With all bridle lines taut and the mechanical advantage of the boom
vang facilitating the lifting, you can slowly raise the spar at your
Since the mast and gin-pole are equally restrained port and starboard,
they will go straight up or down without wandering from side to side.
Using the auto-cleat on the boom vang, you can halt the process any
time shrouds or lines need straightening or become caught up. This
the stress factor tremendously and allows for a calm, orderly evaluation
and fix of the problem.

Ron's mast-stepping process

This photo, printed in the November 2000 issue of Good Old Boat, drew dozens of requests for more information about Ron’s mast-stepping process.

I might note that, due to variations in shroud adjustment and slight
hull distortions, you may find the port and starboard bridle will
be of slightly different dimensions, making it necessary to devise
sort of visual distinction between the two sides. I spray-painted
the ends of the lines on each side, red or green, for instant identification.
Stainless steel snaps on the rigging end of these lines make for
and easy setup. I find that it takes us about 15 minutes to deploy
the entire system and only 10 minutes or so to take it down and put
it away.
Each bridle rolls up into a bundle about the size of a tennis ball
for storage. The bridles go into a locker, and the gin-pole attaches
to the
trailer until next it is needed.

Granted, launch time is extended by a
few minutes, but the safety factor gained is immeasurable, especially
for sailors who must perform
the entire operation by themselves. I have used this method on masts up to 25 feet long and in quite strong side winds with no problem and have
found it to be the most expeditious way to raise or lower a mast should trained elephants not be readily available.

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