Friday, May 16, 2008

Mast Rails and Their Installation

When I was young, say, last year or so, I never had a use for mast rails. I could prance about the deck with nary a worry in the worst of the worst weather. I was, for all practical purposes, the mountain goat of deckdom. I'm sure you'll believe that.

My efforts since purchasing Pelican (nee Pelicano) have been to make her an ocean going vessel that I can single hand.

Towards that end, I decided that since I couldn't run all my sail control lines to the cockpit, that I'd keep them at the mast. These lines include the main and jib halyards and the main reefing lines. It doesn't make sense to have to run back and forth from the cockpit to manage sails, especially if you're trying to get it down quickly.

I know you'll say, "Hey, wait! Didn't you move all your lines aft to the cabin roof on Inertia? I mean, you went to such trouble!" You'd be correct - the difference was that Inertia had a clear route for all the lines that wouldn't result in me tripping every time I went forward. Pelican's layout is not the same and since I can't run that many lines, I won't - actually, the only three will be the staysail sheet, the boom vang, and the main sheet. Everything else is at the mast.

Now doing all this work at the mast could be easy-peasy if the weather's nice. If it isn't, not only will I be hanging on for dear life, I'll be trying to get something done. Tada! Here enter's the mast pulpits (or mast rails, or sissy bars depending on your proclivites).

Mast pulpits are sturdy bars that give you a place to lean when working on the sail handling gear. They should wrap around you so that pitching won't fling you from your perch and they should be sturdy enough and well enough attached that you can hook your tether to them or to their base, in my case.

The Pearson 424 Owner's group got together to order a mess of these things - One member spent considerable time measuring and making pricing requests and finding Railmakers, Inc. to make 16 pairs for a deep discount. Dave at Railmakers was very helpful and patient, too.

Anyway, a month or so later, the rails arrived and I waited for a nice weekend to install them. Here's how that went and lessons learned.

When you get these things, you have to figure out where they're going. We measured for a certain location that most people wanted. In my case, because I have a staysail, I didn't want it banging on the rails all the time so I moved mine aft and outboard so that the feet still fit the contours of the deck. They must also clear all the lines that may be near, and they must be comfortable to lean against and work the various controls on the mast.

In this case, I measured the front and rear legs for the port side mast pulpit from all sorts of fixed points, such as the mast, a hatch edge, the shrouds and wrote them down - 4 or 5 measurements for each of the two legs. I then took those and placed the starboard pulpit in the identical place. With a Sharpie, I marked one hole for each footpad. There is a lesson to be learned here: Use some kind of tape to hold the things in place while you mark. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

The next step was to drill placement holes - I knew I'd have to remove the outside overhead panels to mount these things, but I still needed to know where to clear away interference inside. So I drilled one hole in each leg in the most limiting direction - inboard for the inboard legs, outboard for the outboard, forward for the forwardmost... and you get the rest. Actually, when marking them I chose the hole. Then I took a picture. You can see that the inboard legs fall right next to the trim for the overhead. That means some work for the chisel. Note the little whitish lines - those are the long bolts I used for location.

Railmakers, Inc. provided backing plates with the rails - very nice ones, I might add. I needed to clear enough room in those strips to put the plates. With the rails in place and being held with the locator bolts, I used the trusty Sharpie once again to mark the rest of the holes. Then I removed the rails and drilled them babies out.

The next step usually is to take a bent nail and scrape out the inner core. I went one better - I took a 1" hole saw and sawed the inner liner and core out. This gave me a great big place to fill with epoxy for strength and compression resistance. Each hole got taped over with duct tape. Make sure the duct tape is well bonded. Also make sure you don't cut the outer skin. Once drilled, the core pops out with a little persuasion from a screwdriver (like making wood plugs).

Now comes one of the hard parts. Here's what I learned. You need to use a syringe to fill the holes from the top. The West System has them pretty cheaply. You will be tempted to use 5 minute epoxy. Resist the temptation. 5 minute epoxy doesn't give you enough time to mix, put in syringe, squirt in hole, clean up mess, and self-level. Trust me on this. There are two ways of proceeding - one, use regular epoxy, West System or whatever and get that whole mess going.

Or, for a bit more money, Devcon makes self mixing injectors for 30 second, 5 minute and 30 minute mixes. They're about $4.00 a pop, but buying even the smallest amount of the West Epoxy with pumps and mixers and blah, blah, blah will cost you more and then you'll have to store the stuff until the cans get rusty and leaky and you throw the whole mess out. Ok, so, I purchased about 6 of the 30 minute injectors - each one will do one and a half of the holes or so.

Remember how I knew not to use 5 minute epoxy? Yup, the other holes. The 30 minute stuff is also much stronger, being a 2500 lb mix. Since I have other repairs, I'd probably get the West stuff if I had to do it over. I'm older, wiser, and stickier... If you look closely at the adjoining picture you'll see the three wrinkly areas on the tape patch - that's from the heat of the epoxy curing. You'll need to go around the holes several times as they self level. Also, keep checking below that the epoxy isn't leaking out all over your whatever.

When you're done with this part, take a break. The epoxy is supposed to cure in 30 minutes. Wait. Wait a little longer. It gets harder as time goes by. In fact, unless you're like me with almost zero patience, put your stuff away, have a cocktail, go have dinner. Tomorrow's another day.

Ok, epoxy's cured. Remove the tape. You're ready to drill holes. Here's what I did: I drilled one hole from the top through where they were before. Don't drill them all - just one per leg. Place the rail and run a bolt through, put on a backing plate and tighten it down so the holes remaining line up with the spots of light you'll see through the epoxy. It's easier to drill into the light then the other way, and the bit will find the hole in the feet, at least close enough so that you can remove the rail and drill down from the top. Trust me, this is the best way to do it because if you do it the other way, I guarantee the bolts won't line up with the backing plates.

Dude and dudettes! You are ready to mount the rails! Ok, here's the next hard part. You can do it yourself. If you stand on the table you can work the screwdriver outside and a socket wrench inside. But it's easier with help. So offer a mate a beer and give him/her the screwdriver and go to town.

I used 4200 UV as the bedding material. I like it alot because it's really sticky (but not as bad as 5200) and it doesn't turn chalky from the sun. Slather that stuff on, making sure you get a good seal around all the holes. Carefully place the rail in place and start running the bolts through. With your assistant outside, run the nuts up until the goop starts oozing out or until the plates are almost all the way down. Don't tighten them tight. Now's a good time to quit for the day.

4200 UV takes 24 hours to cure properly. Wait. Really. And for God's sake, don't try to clean up the excess unless it's dripping down the sides of the cabin top! Let it cure. Tomorrow, you'll be taking a knife or razor and slicing the excess clean away. Really. Don't get impatient. Wait. Replace the overhead you removed, clean up the boat, and you're on your way!

When you're done (tomorrow) you'll have a lovely set of pulpits installed that will keep your ass in place when you most need your ass in place. Your friends that call them the pejorative 'sissy bars' isn't someone who's been out in a blow wrestling with lines and sails and so happy they have a secure place to park themselves to get the job done.

See you on the water real soon now!


windartist said...

they're still called 'sissy bars'!

A.C. Lou
Almost Captain)

Zen said...

Just catching up on your posts Captain. Smashing as always. Fair Winds to ya and a pint of grog!

Capt. Zen

Zen said...

oh yeah,



Kurt Grimm said...

Thanks for creating this resource, just discovered today. I am a new owner of a Cal 3-46, aiming to cruise with my two sons, 10 and 12. Mast pulpit including belay pins for making lines fast is my goal. You are showing me how I can accomplish the installation. Thanks! Kurt R/V TrinitySeas, San Carlos, Mexico