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Why is my halyard block hitting the headstay?

2010 July 1
Dear Boat Doctor,
I just bought a 1981 Catalina 30 Tall Rig. I have sailed the boat a bit and I'm having some problems with the masthead. The spinnaker halyard block seems to get tangled up in the headstay, especially when dousing and jibing. The block hangs from a bail that mounts right outside the headstay fitting. Also, my masthead sheaves seem worn and there seems to be a lot of friction.
Jack Austin
Kenosha, Wisconsin

Dear Jack,
The Catalina 30 is a great boat and the tall rig gives the extra horsepower that the boat needs in most conditions. I think I can help with your masthead problems.

The problem with the spinnaker halyard is fairly simple to resolve. The original design of the spinnaker bail placed it far too close to the headstay. As the sail bounces around, the block can easily tangle in the headstay and fitting. Catalina realized this problem and produced an add-on spinnaker crane. The crane slips over the top of the masthead and is held in place with the forward sheave pin, the headstay pin and the existing spinnaker bail pin (or bolt). It is robustly fabricated from stainless steel and only costs about $50. I would recommend that you drop the mast to install the crane, but a creative experienced rigger could do it in place. The difficult part is that the sheave pins and headstay pin needs to be removed in order to install the crane.

The sheave problem is fairly simple too. Catalina used phenolic masthead sheaves on many boats. These sheaves are an early composite material, a material composed of a resin and fabric pressed together at high pressure. The sheaves work fine, but tend to wear over time. The center bore tends to get larger and out of round and the rope surface tends to wear deeper-especially with the wire rope halyards used on the boat. The phenolic sheaves are available as replacements for about $18 each.

Both the sheaves and crane are available from Catalina Direct (www.catalinadirect.com, 800-959-7245).

Custom sheaves would be more expensive, about $35 each, but would give a bit more flexibility and better performance. I have used Zephyrwerks (www.zephyrwerks.com, 360-385-2720) in Port Townsend, Washington, to build sheaves many times. The sheaves are built from Delrin with pressed-in, self-lubricating bronze bushings. Delrin would perform better than phenolic with wire halyards. You will need to specify all the details about the sheaves you need, the old sheaves will be worn so you need to pass the measurements on the sheave pin and the masthead itself. You can do some good estimating from the old sheaves, especially if some are more lightly used. You can find a lot of good sizing information on the Zephyrwerks website.

The Catalina 30 used wire and rope halyards for the main and jib halyards. At the time the boat was built, wire halyards were the way to go as the rope of the day was far too elastic. These days, rope technology has surpassed that of wire-it is lighter, stronger and less elastic. You can replace the wire jib halyards with a cordage halyard, but there is not enough clearance to replace the main halyard. A good rigger or marine store should be able to specify a good-quality, low-stretch cordage to use for a halyard. If you choose custom sheaves, be sure to specify your halyard material first as the sheaves will be customized to best handle the material you choose.