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Mast Stepping - A Resource and Discussion (updated April 21, 2018)  

This is a subject that gets a lot of attention from Dolphin owners. Being a thrifty, love a challenge bunch, we are at the top end of the trailerable boat range - most boats are kept at moorings or at slips. I don't know of any owners who actually regularly trail and ramp launch their boats except to launch in the Spring, haul in the Fall, or the occasional long road trip. Related to this subject is another very important page in the Technical Section - Mast Tabernacles and Hinge Plates....

We have a heavy, 30' (29'7") mast. Marionette's mast, with with standing rigging - back stay, forestay and topping lift, only 2 lower shrouds, bronze turnbuckles and bronze adjustable backstay fitting, aluminum spreaders and mast hardware, a radio wire, no electrical cable or masthead light, and wind vane, weighs in at 107 lbs. The main, jib and spinnaker halyards, topping lift, masthead flag halyard and spreader flag halyard add another 20lbs. I can just barely lift this mast to position it on saw horses for maintenance - to move it around really is a 2 'man' job.

I always use the small boat crane at our club, and with a crew of 3 others step the mast on the boat while it is in the water laying up against the crane dock. On land one person runs the electric winch controls, one positions the crane boom, one on the boat hugs the lower part of the mast to keep it positioned on mast step plate, and one gingerly runs around the boat pinning the turnbuckles - trying to avoid excessive heeling. Make sure theres enough room below the crane block for the mast to fit vertically above the mast step on the boat's mast step (low tide!!!). We use long, soft cotter pins for the pinning process, easier to finger bend the pins, and later replace the soft pins with shorter 'hard' pins. Wakes from boats, wind, inexperienced volunteers, etc., add excitement to the process

The mast base plate on Marionette does not 'pin' to the boat's mating step plate. Instead, it simply rests on the cross pins, held there only by the downward pressure on the shrouds - like some dinghy masts do. Stan Secora (Jato), a marine architect once told me that this might be a good idea - if one ever had a rigging failure at sea and the mast went overboard it would not take a significant part of my wooden coach roof with it!

I have personally (once, 11 years ago) lowered Passage's mast with prior owner Gene Connolly, who did this regularly by himself. He used a wooden gin pole with a short A-Frame and the main halyard led to a block at the the backstay tang and then to a sheet winch. We did this in a slip, little wind or wake action, lowering it forward over the bow pulpit. It was an exciting, adrenaline pumping event. I vowed never to do this again - certainly not by myself. To this day, I am still in awe of Gene.

In addition to the problem of lifting an awkward, heavy 30' mast, a key, maybe THE key, issue is keeping the mast in line as it is being raised or lowered. There is a tremendous load on the mast base plate, and on the mating boat plate or tabernacle. Any side to side movement at the top of the mast while it is being lifted has the effect of trying to lever the plates apart, break the hinge pin, lift or break the fasteners holding the plates to the boat or mast, or tear off the cabin roof. All DIY mast stepping systems I know of use a hinge so all the fasteners and underlying strength of components need to be checked - and probably have a good safety factor.

Early Dolphins have only one set of lowers and these are in line with the upper shrouds. For these boats it is possible to pre rig the lower shrouds when the mast is horizontal with its hinge pinned to the base plate - provided the hinge pivot is approximately in line with the mast and chainplates. These are loosely tensioned and, in addition to pre rigged upper shrouds, do provide some side to side guidance. Yankee and Pacific Dolphins have double lowers positioned fore and aft and only their upper shrouds are in line. Making sure the 'gin pole' when loaded does not move side to side is also very important.

Our most valuable input is from Dolphin owners who have done it, and do it regularly. Here's a few:

> Fred Goguen has sent in his mast stepping system description, with sketches and photos, that he uses on Thankful. You can see it by clicking here.

> Jim Robinson (Aquila) has documented his solo mast stepping system. Click here to go to it.

> Harold Shomaker's (Sailing) Solace has a unique system featuring a pair of segmented shrouds. Click to go to it.

Most of the articles one finds searching the web and sailing magazines are really for lighter boats - even though they might be in the Dolphin length range. I have listed two below that I think are interesting.

Bob Schimmel wrote a Technical Tips article based on a San Juan 23 mast using using an A-Frame approach that is well written and has lots of photos. It can be reached by clicking here.

Good Old Boat Magazine had an interesting article in their May/June 2001 issue No Fear Mast Stepping by Ron Chappell. It can be reached by clicking here

August 16, 2013. Here's another - Mast Raising Magic, by Rob Mazza, by permission from Good Old Boat Magazine (May/June, 2013) Click here to go there

Hopefully, we can flesh out this subject with other resource articles and more input from Dolphin owners.


July 22, 2012. Duane Post, SISU, Yankee #184, describes her mast stepping system. Click here to go to her page.


July 23, 2012. Interesting comments and photos from Alden Harris, stepping Pacitic Dolphin #263's mast. Click here to go to that page.


November 10, 2014 - Kerry Lugo, Root Beer Float, Pacific Dolphin #294 describes his mast lowering system. Click here

December 24, 2014 - Jerry Slaughter describes ROWDY'S mast raising/lowering system. Click here

January 2, 2015 - Mike Friel, (Makarios) describes systems he has had on earlier boats. Click here

September 23, 2016 - Paul Lugin (Windswept too) describes his new mast raising/lowering system - Click here

November 5, 2016 - Mark Wagner (Dol Fyn) describes his mast raising/lowering system - Click here


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