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Replacing standing rigging

2012 February 6

Work with a good rigger to get valuable peace of mind

Replacing standing rigging is something that needs to be done from time to time, and it's certainly something you want to do as a preventative measure rather than after something bad happens.

When replacing standing rigging, you essentially replace what is there, assuming it fits, but you'd be surprised how much rigging doesn't fit. Pins can be too small, wire too short or too long, toggles added where they aren't needed, and no toggles where they are. A re-rig starts with a good survey, at least the size and design aspects. In general, condition doesn't really make a difference since you are replacing everything, but you should understand any wear that you see.

You can do much of the early work on a re-rigging job yourself. Your survey should start with getting the clevis pin dimensions of the top and bottom of each wire, the wire diameter, and a rough pin-to-pin length. Take clear digital photographs of the top and bottom of each wire. Then pass these measurements and photos on to a rigger who can specify what's needed for your re-rig. Your rigger may also have other questions for you.

Choose your end fittings
There are a few approaches you can take in replacing standing rigging wire. You can pull off each wire, note its unloaded length and dimensions, and order a replacement with swaged ends top and bottom. You can also buy a spool of wire and a handful of mechanical fittings like Sta-Loks (www.stalok.com, (910) 259-3394) and build the wire right on the dock. For most re-rigging jobs I take a hybrid approach, getting the top ends of all wire swaged and then applying mechanical fittings on site. You get the performance of Sta-Loks on deck where the greatest risk for corrosion exists, and you save weight aloft. Better yet, this approach saves a bit of time and money, and, most importantly, you don't need to know the exact length beforehand.

Given the choice, I prefer to do a re-rig with the spar down as it's much safer and faster. You can do a much better job when your feet are planted on terra firma than if you're spending a lot of time in an uncomfortable bo'sun's chair. This clears the mast step for inspection and any work, and allows you to easily service any electrical bits; it's a great time to replace the masthead light with an LED bulb, for instance. It doesn't cost a lot to have the rig pulled, and the benefits are worth it. Still, it's not always possible to pull the rig, so sometimes a re-rig must be done with the mast standing.

Once you have all your parts, it's time to start the re-rigging. I like to do a pair of side opposing wires at a time, and I tend to work from the bottom up: aft lowers, forward lowers, intermediates, uppers, backstay, forestay. The goal is to support the mast at the point you are removing the wire, loosen and remove the wires that you are working on, fabricate replacements, hang them and move to the next.
Start with a well-tuned rig

Before you start, take a look at the whole rig. Is it tuned correctly? Is it properly tensioned in the correct position? Check the athwartship position, rake and bend. You want to start with a decently tuned rig, so you can be assured all the rigging is the right length. You don't want to repeat any mistakes that are in the current rig. This is where it can be helpful to bring in your rigger to work alongside you on the project.

The masthead can be supported by using halyards but I like to make my own supports for the lowers and intermediates. An argument could be made that a stout mast on a big boat can self-support a bit, but there's no need to take chances, especially if you're the guy in the bo'sun's chair. Take a length of Dacron double braid with an eye splice on one end and lash it securely around the spar at the point you are supporting. Use the eye splice to shackle on a length of Spectra that will reach the deck. Tie a bowline at the end of the Spectra about three feet above deck, and finally tie a piece of double braid to the Spectra to lash it to the deck. I like to use a trucker's hitch to lash it to the deck, as it gives a natural two-part purchase.

Before you remove a wire, note the position of the turnbuckle adjustment, and the exact distance between the end of the wire terminal stud and the end of the deck toggle stud. A turnbuckle should be about 50% to 60% engaged to ensure a good range of adjustment. You'll often see turnbuckles tightened down to the point of being fully closed ("two-blocked" in salty nautical parlance), just engaged ("Oops, I cut the wire too short, but it'll do"), and anywhere in between. If the turnbuckle is not where I want it, I just note the length delta and use it on the new wire.

Typically removing the old, tortured cotter pins is the hardest part. A good tip is to use bronze cotter pins and only bend them open 10 to 20 degrees. Bronze cotter pins are strong enough and much each easier to work with. As a bonus they are soft enough to cut, so you can make them the proper length: two and a half clevis pin diameters is just about right.

Factor in a bit for stretch
With the old wire on the ground, straighten it out, reset the turnbuckle to the length you noted, and measure the pin-to-pin distance. This is the length you want the new wire to be, almost. New wire has a bit of stretch, called constructional elasticity, that will take up when it is first tensioned. Essentially, the lay of the wire tightens up a bit and the whole wire becomes longer. When building the new wire you need to deduct a little bit for this stretch. The amount is expressed as a percentage of length; in 1x19 stainless steel it is 0.021% of length. In a cap shroud that is 60 feet long, this is a bit over 1/8th inch. It doesn't add up to much, especially in shorter wire, but you should always pay attention to it. Note that the working elasticity (the amount it stretches when tensioned) of the wire is already allowed for because you are duplicating existing rigging. If you were building a new rig based on dimension of the mast and deck you'd need to allow for this stretch as well.

Now cut the wire to length and install the Sta-Lok. Sta-Lok installation is beyond the scope of this article, but it is an easy process that you can do anywhere with just a couple of hand tools. If you search online for "Sta-Lok installation" you'll find good written information. If you are more of a visual learner, Brion Toss (www.briontoss.com, 360.385.1080) produced a video some years ago that you can purchase through his website. And, speaking of cutting the wire, nothing works better than a good old hacksaw. Get a top-quality frame and a handful of fine tool bi-metal blades, and be sure to tape the wire on both sides of the cut.

All that is left is to hang the wire, and I generally hold my breath until it comes up tight. I feel good when the gleaming new rigging snugs up right where I expected it to. But I don't rest for too long, I have a lot more wires to build.

The only other detail to be concerned about is replacing the wire inside the roller-furling units. This process is more complicated than replacing the rest of the standing rigging and is generally best left to professional riggers, but you can typically remove the old wire and push a new one in from the top. Be sure to cut the wire very cleanly, and be patient when pushing it through. It sometimes helps to have a helper shake the extrusion a bit as you are pushing the new wire in.

Re-rigging is not the easiest job on the boat, and it's not one to take on lightly, but this gives you an idea of how to go about the process. There is a great feeling knowing you have new, secure standing rigging holding up the mast.