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How do I inspect my 42-year old rig?

2012 April 2

Dear Boat Doctor,
My wife and I just bought a 1970 Olson 38. It has been a great boat so far and we intend to do some long-term cruising on it. It is a good quality boat, in good shape, but it is 42-years-old and I am concerned about the condition of the rig. What should I inspect or replace to make sure it does its job?

Bruce Bishop
Wilmington, North Carolina

Dear Olson,
The Olson is a very nice boat, pretty and a good performer too. I am glad to see you want to take care of her. The rig should be thoroughly inspected, digging into the structure as needed.

I'd start with pulling the rig and inspecting everything up close. Start with the masthead and tangs, looking for any cracks or corrosion, I'd pull the throughbolts on the tangs and take a look at those, too. Look carefully at the maststep, it can corrode and degrade. The spreader tips are cast aluminum and they can corrode after years of interface with the stainless rigging.

The Olson used a wire main halyard and over the years the wire can chew up the sheaves. Be aware of this, especially if you are considering switching to a rope halyard. If you are sticking with a wire halyard you should be able to file and polish the old sheaves. If you go with rope you are best off getting new sheaves, with the proper profile, fabricated in Delrin.

Down on deck, remove and inspect the chainplate as well as the cap shrouds, lowers and backstay. Polish up the old chainplates and inspect thoroughly in the area that passes through the deck, as this is a prime area for crevice corrosion. If you see anything that makes you nervous, please replace them. The boat uses simple strap-style chainplates; they are easy to work with and inexpensive to replace. When you reinstall the chainplates, new or old, thoroughly bed them in 3M 4000UV sealant.

Unless you know the history and quality of the wire, I would replace it all. Properly applied, good quality wire and swages will last five to eight years in an actively sailed boat in saltwater. When you spec out a replacement rig make sure everything fits properly, rather than taking the chance of duplicating someone else's mistake. Any competent rigger should be able to help with this process.

In theory, the turnbuckles, could likely be used again, but I would vote for a redesign. I would use a swage stud on the wire and thread that directly into the turnbuckle body, and a toggle jaw on the bottom end of the turnbuckle directly to deck. This will be much cleaner, with only one clevis pin to worry about.