Posted by: yachtcrewsing | September 13, 2011

Removing the Mast

   On Saturday at 5:30 in the morning you were probably sleeping. I, on the other hand, was preparing for the take down of our yacht’s mast- the sailboat equivalent to castration (if not too brutal a metaphor). Unfortunately, this wildly inconvenient undertaking is one that insurance companies require of yachts every eight years. This million-dollar venture takes many months and hands in order to re-paint the 180 foot mast and replace the plethora of stays radiating from it. No mean feat.

    There we were, huddled on deck in the gradually diminishing night sky, awaiting the proclamation from wind gauge atop the massive crane hovering above us. The previous day we had been fully ready to haul out the mast, before the wind gauge register had risen to 16 knots- one more than the requisite 15 or under. “Stop!” our rigger in charge had bellowed, “I’m calling it off!” We heaved a collective sigh, knowing that his meant yet another very early morning wakeup.

    On Saturday, at such an ungodly hour, the wind proved to be in our favour. Armed with a bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived team of 6 riggers, 2 crane operators and 8 full time crew, we set up a multitude of lines to steady and hoist the mast. When we were finished, the tall carbon-fiber rig looked like the fabled Gulliver. In turn, we were the minuscule Lilliputians, attempting to control a beast much heavier and stronger than ourselves. Thank goodness for the help of the crane. Slowly, painstakingly, over a period of half an hour, the rig was carefully hoisted through it’s resting place below decks and into the open ocean air. At this point, we threw off the lines and reversed out of our morning slip- a majestic sailboat converted into a motor yacht. De-masted. Emasculated.

    I thought that would be the end of ‘the hard part’, but I had not accounted for the fact that the rig now needed to be put somewhere. Still suspended in the air, the mast then required all of its stays and various appendages to be fully bound to its body. This required 6 men, a large cheery picker and the (strangely) rapt attention of a multitude of onlookers.

   A few hours later, they were only just beginning to think about lowering the mast into its awaiting cradle, and I was bored out of my tree. I had been appointed the task of official photographer for this august event, and had been taking photos throughout the entire process. By this point I was relieved (in more than one sense) of my duties by the request that I help the chef prepare a celebratory brunch for all people involved.

   An hour after my departure from the mast, the boys tricked into the galley to feast on the  array of muffins, quiche, yoghurt, berries, mincemeat pies (specially for the Britts), smoked salmon and bagels. Everyone ate, drank tea, laughed and rejoiced at a job well done. This however, is only just the beginning of a a much larger job for the poor riggers…


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