Dropping/Raising the Mast - Notes..

For "whisker poles" read "A frame"
The following assumes a mast with a foot that is either bolted at the back (in some way), or in a tabernacle, but either way, something which allows the mast to swivel at the foot...

My current and previous boat were both 19-20ft (Fantasie 19 and a Hurley 20) with masts that were in the 25' range - I've used this method literally dozens of times to drop and raise the mast, while on the water/afloat, so the method is tried and tested...

I've done this on my own in the past, but I recommend 2 or 3 people do it (that's including yourself) to take the stress out of the operation.

A Frame:

I use an A frame for mast lift/drop - I made mine from two seven-foot lengths of 2" x 3" timber that set me back a fiver at the time (they were on special), then a 10mm eye bolt which was about the same. Drill the two lengths of wood about a couple of inches from the end and bolt them together with the eye bolt and a couple of washers to protect the wood. Drill the same holes at the other end (but don’t bolt them together 😏) and thread a length of 6 or 8mm rope through each hole - you need about a foot or so.

On my boat(s) the seven-foot length was perfect, as it reached from the anchor points I used on the side decks to the anchor roller perfectly - the anchor point is where you’ll attach each leg of the frame (with those ropes) and is the pivot point for the frame... Use anchor points as close to being in line with the base of the mast as you can... slightly forward of it better than slightly behind. If your boat requires it, then shorten or lengthen the timbers to meet the anchor point requirement.

Tie the ends of the frame legs relatively tightly to the anchor point you’ve chosen (my F19 had some mid-cleats but on my H20 I use the forward lowers chain plate).

...the frame flat on the deck with the eye bolt eye facing downwards and just above the bow roller..

The A frame acts as a fulcrum/lever - increasing the "angle of dangle" (😏) to maximize directional pull - I don't have the physics to explain it, but it's a matter of improving force applied to the lift/drop of the mast by increasing the angle 'outwards':

A frame deployed - in this case for a mast drop - note: forestay/roller inside the frame

Lifting the mast:

The following assumes you have already attached the mast to the mast base and it is resting in a mast support/crutch at the back of the boat.

Starting point on my H20 - in this case mast resting in crutch and at the other end on a timber attached/tied to the pulpit - when my lift team arrive the first thing we do is slide the mast back in the crutch, and attach the mast foot to the tabernacle

  • unwrap everything on the mast - as you can see in the picture above - when I drop the mast at the end of the previous season, I secure everything with a long length of line using a 'blanket stitch' to tie all the standing rigging, running rigging and most importantly the roller furler to the mast - most important thing is that it supports the furler foil and avoids it bending or getting damaged.
  • with everything freed up make sure all the halyards and rigging wires run straight, 
  • now attach the back stay(s) remembering on mine to run them 
    • under the back board (lesson learnt previously 😁) and 
    • outside the arms of the crutch (another lesson learnt previously 😁) 

...leaving them loose - bottom line - the mast is still down, but when it goes up make sure there is nothing to stop the back stays impeding the lift, or getting in the way, or getting jammed somewhere...

  • then I attach the cap/upper shrouds leaving them slightly loose (another lesson learnt previously), 
  • attach the A frame feet per guidance above
  • your choice, but I leave the lower shrouds off until after the lift
  • now we come to the meat/force of the lift - I use my main sheet (which is 4:1), as a minimum you need a double block and pulley, attached from a fixed point at the front of the boat (I use the bow roller or stem fitting) to the A frame peak/eyebolt - ensure it's made fast and then check again - the pressures are high when you lift. I really recommend using the mainsheet for this as on mine the bottom block also has a jammer which can be useful if you need to stop halfway up (or indeed down)
  • to complete the lifting effort - attach your jib or main halyard to the eyebolt at the top of A frame - ensure it's made fast and then check again - the pressures are high. I use the jib halyard as it has a clean run to the top of the mast at the front - if you have a spinnaker halyard that would also be an option - but basically, use any halyard that that attaches to the top of the mast at the front. I also attach a second halyard (topping lift on mine) slightly looser to act as a failsafe in the event of an issue with the primary/jib halyard. 
  • adjust mainsheet and the jib halyard (and failsafe) so that the A frame sits at about 10-20' off vertical ie. slightly inclined towards cockpit/rear of boat, as that means when the mast is up, the A frame is not flat on the foredeck, and you have room to work underneath it (ideally what you want is for the A frame to be angled about a foot off the deck when the mast is upright). Secure the other end of the lifting halyard(s) to cleats/secure points - I use the cleats on the side of the mast. 

See following - on the left you can just see the main sheet, A frame is upright/vertical and slightly inclined to rear - jib halyard leading to top of frame - ignore the two black lines they came off before the lift

  • Pull on a bit of pressure to the mainsheet and you now have a continuous linkage between foredeck and masthead - with the frame providing the fulcrum/lever in the middle. Now's the time to do one last check of all fastening's/knots, and runs of stays as you're now ready to go/lift
    • With two people I have one person in charge of the main sheet (me) facing forward and I put the second person on the cabin top facing backwards, and straddling the mast - his/her job is to Mk1 eyeball the raise of the mast to ensure nothing catches or jams as it goes up, but their main job is that by straddling the mast they stop it swinging side to side (the mast swinging side to side is a mast foot killer if ever there was one) if they are strong enough they can also help start the lift of the mast - even lifting it a bit will overcome the initial inertia and get it going up quicker. 
    • With three people, the third person goes in the cockpit and his/her job is also to help start the lift, and Mk1 eyeball the raise of the mast to ensure nothing catches or jams as it goes up - if you give them a pole/broom/mop etc that can help them push it up further. 
    • Standing instructions for lift crew - keep an eye open for any issues and don't move around as you want to keep the boat as steady as possible
  • On the count of three - cockpit and cabin roof team heave upwards, and the foredeck person starts hauling in on mainsheet slow and steady - once the mast goes over 45' it will gather pace as the pressures are lessening. If you have a roller furler, the foredeck person needs to feed it forward over their shoulder as the mast goes up.
  • Once it is upright it's supported by back stay(s), cap shrouds and the A frame with jib/primary halyard acting as a forestay - the stays are loose but will provide the necessary support. Cabin roof guy can then brace the mast, while you connect up the bottom of the forestay/furler to the stem fitting - this is always the most awkward bit for me as the area is cramped due to main sheet/A frame - but
    • if you have enough room, you can use the mainsheet to crank down enough pressure via the A frame to attach the forestay/furler. 
    • if you don't have enough room, then with the cabin roof guy still bracing the mast, disconnect the mainsheet from the A frame and just lift it up out of the way so you can attach the forestay. Alternatively - take one of the lifting halyards off the top of the A frame to provide a temporary 'forestay' (I tie it off to the pulpit) while you do it (or do as I did and do both!)
  • With forestay attached - 
    1. attach the lower stay(s)
    2. tighten up the back stay(s)
    3. tighten up cap shrouds
    4. tighten up the lower stays
    5. lie on deck with head at bottom of mast looking up and check for any bends and correct by tightening the relevant (opposite) stay
(Not going to give guidance on how tight the side shrouds should be as it varies boat to boat, but don't overtighten them or leave them too loose - on mine I tighten them to a point where I can pull them 2 or 3" either way, and then go out for a sail - the shrouds shouldn't be loose on the opposite side to the tack you're on)
    1. Once that's all done the A frame/mainsheet and any halyards can be tidied up - job done, beer and pork pie time!!

    Dropping the mast:

    Note - block of wood to rest mast on at pulpit, central mast support, mast crutch/support

    Not surprisingly the procedure is basically the opposite of the above - but there's a few hints and tips

    • Get/make an X frame (mast crutch) at the back of the cockpit to rest the mast in when lowering helps considerably... here's mine...

    Since the first version, I've made modifications based on experience - an extra cleat for tying support lines off to, and one of the issues we always had before was that the upper arms of the crutch extended up to the point where lifting the spreaders up and over them when moving the mast forward/backwards before/after the drop was a major PITA. This year I sawed them off shorter, but to allow for the upper arms of the crutch still to guide the mast, had put on new swivelling/swinging arms held in place by a bolt at the swivel end and a peg at the other end. Once the mast was dropped and the arms had done their job, you could then just slip the pegs out and swivel the arms down allowing for a much smaller arm to lift the spreaders over - and it worked exactly as designed (for once! 😀)

    After that - the reverse of the above - detail above - this assumes that you have already removed sails and boom
    1. fit the X fame/mast crutch - back of the cockpit, or on the back deck to ensure as much of the bottom of the mast is supported as possible - when you detach the mast from the mast base, having dropped it, you want as little mast length as possible out board of the crutch.
    2. loosen and detach the forward lower stays (I use the chain plates for these for the next step)
    3. attach the A frame feet per guidance above - furler/forestay inside the A frame
    4. attach jib/primary halyard you are using to support mast to top of A frame - haul in enough halyard so frame sits high enough off of the deck to get the mainsheet at minimum length between it and the stem fitting
    5. attach mainsheet between stem fitting and A frame
    6. loosen and detach the rear lower stays
    7. loosen up the back stay(s) - leave attached
    8. loosen up cap shrouds - leave attached
    9. now crank on some pressure on the main sheet - forestay/furler needs to go slack enough that you can undo it - if it doesn't, loosen off the back stay(s) some more and repeat until you can undo the forestay
    10. deploy people as per lift/raising the mast  
    11. hint/tip: loop a length of line round the back stay and hand both ends to the cabin roof person - pulling on that is sometimes required just to get the mast off the vertical/start dropping - the mast wants to stay upright so you need to encourage it sometimes...
    12. count of three - foredeck person lets out 6-9" of main sheet at the same time as the cabin top person pulls that length of line, when the mast starts to drop let out more mainsheet slowly and steadily, all team keep an eye for snags/issues. Cockpit person ensures the mast goes into the arms of the crutch. Foredeck person supports the furler on their shoulder and slides it back as the mast drops.
    13. once it's down safely, detach the A frame/mainsheet and also any halyards
    14. detach cap shrouds
    15. detach back stay(s)
    16. tie everything to mast - furler/shrouds/halyards
    17. tie a block of wood to the pulpit to rest mast foot on - leave it until this time so it is not in the way when you are dropping the mast
    18. foredeck guy undoes mast foot keeping a hand/weight on it, so it doesn't just flip off the back of the boat (how much weight depends on position of crutch in relation to balance point of mast)
    19. count of three whole team lift the mast and slide it forwards a foot at a time until the foot sits on the block of wood on the pulpit
    20. bolt a block of wood to the tabernacle/mast foot that I use as a central mast support
    21. triple tie everything down - job done, beer and pork pie time!!

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