By Ingrid Sapona
It’s that time of year – time to begin preparing boats for
hauling out. Of all the chores associated with owning a boat, putting up and
taking down (de-stepping) the mast is my least favourite. I find it stressful
The club has a small crane that’s used for masts and on a
couple of fall weekends, a volunteer crew is on hand to help members de-step
their masts. The mast crew is efficient, but they expect members to sign up in
advance and to show up on time and ready.
My anxiety around de-stepping goes back to the very first
year I had the boat. Because the boat was rigged when I got it, I had no idea
what was involved in de-stepping the mast. Turns out that besides taking the
sails off, before you head over to the mast crane you have to take the boom
off, tie off all the mast lines, and loosen the wires (shrouds) that laterally
support the mast.
Each step is comprised of a series of steps, many of which
have to be done in a certain order. Take the sails, for example. There are
lines and various pieces of hardware that have to be removed in order to get
the sails off. Over time I realized that labelling the different bits carefully
as you take them off in the fall makes rigging the boat in the spring that much
Tying down the mast lines (ropes) is easy, once you figure
out a good system for doing it. If you’re sloppy about it, as I was that first
year, the lines can get in the mast crew’s way and slow them down. And, complications
the crew runs into translates into guff they heap on the skipper. Needless to
say, the second year I got the help of a seasoned sailor who taught me his method,
which I’ve used ever since.
Loosening off the shrouds involves removing many split rings
and untwisting the turnbuckles that connect the shrouds to the boat. I hate working
with split rings. If you’ve ever taken a key off a key ring, you know what a
split ring is and you know they’re not fingernail friendly. A surprising number
of things are kept in place on a sailboat with good old split rings. Fingernail
sacrifices aside, the difficulty with the split rings used for rigging is that
they’re positioned in ways that make opening them and turning them to remove
them nearly impossible.
Turnbuckles present their own challenges. First, you have to
figure out which direction loosens them. Then, if they’re tight (which they
generally are, since the shrouds are meant to hold the mast in place), you need
a plier to hold the stay while you use a screwdriver to leverage turning the
buckle. Two hands – and determination – are usually enough, but not if your
frustration level is still high from fiddling with the damned split rings.
Another mistake I made that first year I had the boat was thinking
that my job was done when the mast was off the boat. A month later, however, I
got a curt message from the club telling me I had to “strip” my mast. I had no
idea what that meant – much less how to do it. Naturally, I went to the club
office to beg forgiveness and to ask for help. Lucky for me, a member was there
– with tools – and he helped me do it. (FYI, stripping a mast means
disassembling parts to make it easier to store.)
With haul out just a couple weeks away, mast de-stepping has
begun. So, on Saturday I decided to stop putting the mast preparation work off.
I calmed my churning stomach by telling myself that I’d take each step as it
came and if (when?) I got too frustrated or tired, I could stop for the day, as
I still had a few days before the mast would be taken off.
Well, Saturday the weather was perfect – sunny but cool and
no wind. As I completed each step, I took a breath and took stock before
starting the next step. Before I knew it, three hours had passed, but I was
done. I couldn’t believe how smoothly it had gone. My initial thought on
completion was that I must have done something wrong, or forgotten something! I
went back through my mental checklist and soon it was clear I hadn’t forgotten
anything and all truly was well.
On the way home I was thinking about all the dread and
anxiety I had about it. I know it goes back to the mistakes I made that first year
or two. But, I’ve learned from those mistakes and, to my surprise, every year
it truly seems to get easier. The other thing I realized on my way home is that
maybe it’s time for me to get over my negative outlook toward the whole process.
After all, the rational part of me knows that until I do, I’ll continue to be
stricken with anxiety about it.
Well, if admitting a self-defeating attitude (not to mention
the sound in my head of all of you impatiently muttering, “Oh, for heaven sake
– get over it!”) is the first step toward changing ones behavior – then I guess
I’m on my way to a future of an anxiety-free mast preparation. Gosh, I hope
that’s the case. (But, I’m not putting money on it just yet. After all, I won’t
know until this time next year whether my change of outlook has stuck. Here’s
© 2015 Ingrid Sapona