Vet­eran DIYer Phil Gu­towski up­grades his rig for sail­ing down­wind

SAIL - - Features - Boat sys­tems spe­cial­ist Phil Gu­towski lives aboard Eclipse in Bos­ton Har­bor and cruises ex­ten­sively

Re­plac­ing a whisker pole for bet­ter per­for­mance sail­ing down­wind

If you own an older boat, you’re likely fa­mil­iar with the quirks that come with ag­ing rig­ging and equip­ment. Many bud­get sailors like my­self make do with th­ese im­per­fec­tions on their boats by find­ing work­arounds or per­haps liv­ing in ig­no­rance of how well their boat could sail if ev­ery­thing was run­ning cor­rectly. Per­haps it’s that squeal­ing mast­head sheave that you haven’t yet found the time to re­place. Or maybe the out­haul car is stuck, but it never re­ally both­ered you any­way. In my case, it was a whisker pole with seized jaws, jammed tele­scopic tubes and a dam­aged cast-alu­minum car that wouldn’t slide up and down the mast any­more.

My boat, Eclipse, a 1984 Tayana Van­cou­ver 42, doesn’t yet have a spin­naker in her ar­se­nal, so for now, sail­ing down­wind has in­volved a main and genoa. Still, I have spent many long hours run­ning dead down­wind in this con­fig­u­ra­tion, sans whisker pole, watch­ing the genoa dance and col­lapse in the shadow of the main. My sails were suf­fer­ing, my boat­speed was suf­fer­ing and my frus­tra­tion was climb­ing. Hav­ing known for some time now that a pole was a crit­i­cal, it was time for the project to move to the top of my pri­or­ity list. RE­PAIR OR RE­PLACE? Re­pair­ing my ex­ist­ing pole was an op­tion. I could have cut off the seized ends and re­placed them with new fit­tings. How­ever, that would have just been the start of the project. I would also need to re­pair the tele­scopic fea­ture of the pole with a num­ber of small cus­tom­ized parts. In ad­di­tion, a new car that fit the ex­ist­ing mast track would need to be pur­chased, at no small ex­pense since Iso­mat, the orig­i­nal builder, is not around any­more. Fi­nally—and what re­ally led me to my fi­nal de­ci­sion—was the fact that by re­plac­ing my ex­ist­ing gear I could go with some­thing much bet­ter. Even if I brought the pole and track back to their orig­i­nal con­di­tion, it would never work as well as a more modern sys­tem with things like a ball-bear­ing car and 2:1 pole lift con­trols.


I chose to work with equip­ment from Seldén Mast sim­ply be­cause I had found its equip­ment to be of high qual­ity but not overly ex­pen­sive. Flip through some man­u­fac­turer web­sites or cat­a­logs to see what suits your boat best. Af­ter that you’ll want to find a rig­ger (or a boat­yard) who is a dealer and can help you through the de­sign and pur­chas­ing process. Even if you are a vet­eran DIYer, you’ll still want to have some­one fa­mil­iar with the equip­ment to check over your or­der and help you pro­cure the parts.

Be warned that, a fair bit of plan­ning and de­ci­sion mak­ing will also go into the to or­der­ing process. In my case, for ex­am­ple, one of the first things I had to do was de­ter­mine the length of track that would be re­quired. If your pole is go­ing to be stowed ver­ti­cally on the mast (like mine) it will be quite long. If you have a deck light or radar on the front of the mast, don’t for­get to be sure to check it won’t in­ter­fere.

Th­ese tracks are also not your stan­dard deck T-track. In­stead, they have a curved mount­ing sur­face de­signed to be riv­eted to the for­ward side of your mast. Not all mast shapes are com­pat­i­ble, with the mast tracks from Seldén, for ex­am­ple, com­ing with two dif­fer­ent ra­dius op­tions, 38mm and 54mm. Us­ing a draft­ing com­pass, I there­fore traced out a 54mm half cir­cle on a sheet of pa­per and then cut out the in­side of the cir­cle and held it up to my mast to en­sure it would, in­deed, fit.

Would you like a tele­scopic pole or a fixedlength pole? Te­le­scop­ing poles are great when work­ing with large genoas, but they are heav­ier and can be more prone to fail­ure. My own boat was close to ex­ceed­ing the max­i­mum rec­om­mended size for a te­le­scop­ing pole, so I chose to go with fixed.

That done, the next step was to cal­cu­late my boat’s right­ing mo­ment to de­ter­mine pole sec­tion size. To do so I vis­ited selden­mast.com pulled up its on­line right­ing mo­ment (RM) cal­cu­la­tor. This sim­ple tool takes your boat’s beam, draft, dis­place­ment and bal­last and re­turns you your RM, a fig­ure that is crit­i­cal for de­ter­min­ing how strong the pole needs to be for your boat. This, in turn, de­ter­mines the pole di­am­e­ter, af­ter which you can con­sult a ta­ble in the Seldén cat­a­log to de­ter­mine the max­i­mum length for this type of pole. In the

end, I chose a pole length slightly longer than the “J” di­men­sion of my boat, or about 18ft.

Of course, at some point you’re go­ing to want to gybe with your pole up—us­ing ei­ther the end-for-end tech­nique, by go­ing a dip gybe, the pre­ferred method aboard larger boats—which will, in turn, de­ter­mine the types of ends you’ll be go­ing with. Specif­i­cally, an end-for-end pole gets jaws on ei­ther end with a bri­dle for the top­ping lift; while a dip pole has jaws on the out­board end and a socket fit­ting in­board end that clips into a bay­o­net-type of fit­ting. I even­tu­ally chose to use a dip pole for greater con­trol given its large size.

Fi­nally, you need to se­lect the hard­ware you want to use to con­trol the in­board end of the pole. I chose to go with a ball-bear­ing type of car with two small blocks on it that al­lowed me to set up a 2:1 ad­van­tage con­trol­line sys­tem. By con­sult­ing the cat­a­log again, I looked over the stan­dard lay­outs and worked with my dealer to se­lect the ex­act size and model. I also pur­chased two op­pos­ing cam cleats to in­stall on the mast, thereby mak­ing the ad­just­ment of the in­board end a piece of cake, even when un­der load.

While you’re at it, don’t for­get to spec­ify lines for a top­ping lift and foreguy if you don’t al­ready have them. I had snap shack­les spliced onto some new polyester line for this pur­pose. Your dealer will also help you make sure you have all of the nec­es­sary mount­ing hard­ware. When my kit fi­nally ar­rived, I was pleased to find a sur­plus of riv­ets and match­ing ma­chine screws for each piece of hard­ware that re­quired them.


One of the nice things about the pole in­stal­la­tion on my boat was the lack of any se­ri­ous re­moval. Of­ten a big rig­ging up­grade in­cludes some dif- fi­cult ex­trac­tions. How­ever, aside from re­mov­ing the ex­ist­ing pole, its car and ver­ti­cal stowage mast mounts, there was lit­tle to pre­vent us from be­gin­ning the in­stal­la­tion right away.

The most la­bor-in­ten­sive part of the project was the in­stal­la­tion of the alu­minum track, which had to be riv­eted to the front of the mast. The track was sup­plied in two sec­tions and at 16ft was just a bit shorter than the to­tal length of the pole. Of course, be­cause the top of the track needed to end up more than 18ft above the deck, it was nec­es­sary to go aloft.

As al­ways when work­ing on a ma­jor boat project, start with a plan, but be ready to change and adapt. It’s also a good idea to in­ven­tory all of the parts and gather all the nec­es­sary tools be­fore you get started. In my case, th­ese tools in­cluded a cou­ple of cord­less drills, ex­tra bat­ter­ies, sharp drill bits of the right size for the zinc-coated monel riv­ets, a pow­er­ful rivet gun, Tef-Gel, elec­tri­cal tape, a thread tap set, screw­drivers, climb­ing har­nesses, teth­ers and a big lad­der.

We started with the lower track sec­tion and care­fully mea­sured for the cor­rect dis­tance from the deck be­fore we be­gan fas­ten­ing. Us­ing some elec­tri­cal tape, we tem­po­rar­ily se­cured the track to the mast and with a care­ful eye made sure to hold the track in a ver­ti­cally cen­tered po­si­tion as we drilled holes for the first riv­ets. Af­ter that, with the track se­curely af­fixed at a cou­ple of points with real hard­ware, we got busy. Work­ing side by side with two drills, a friend and I would drill each hole through the track and then squash each rivet un­til the track sec­tion was com­pletely se­cured.

Of course, as we worked our way to­ward the up­per sec­tion of track, we also needed to get up the spar. There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways do­ing this, of which hang­ing in a bo­sun’s chair is prob­a­bly the safest. How­ever, in or­der to con­tinue work­ing in tan­dem, one of us used a lad­der lashed to the mast while wear­ing a har­ness and tether for safety. It was hard work, but in the end the two of us man­aged to drill and rivet the tracks into place in about four hours.

Af­ter that it was time to add the blocks, eye straps, cam cleats and fair­leads mak­ing up the pole’s in­board con­trols. This in­volved drilling and tap­ping the alu­minum mast to ac­cept a num­ber of stain­less steel ma­chine screws, which I coated with Tef-Gel to re­duce the like­li­hood of cor­ro­sion be­tween the dis­sim­i­lar met­als.

Care­ful place­ment and ac­cu­racy with the drill is crit­i­cal here. If a piece of hard­ware has mul­ti­ple fas­ten­ing points, I never mark and drill all of them at once. In­stead, I drill a hole and in­stall the first fas­tener. Af­ter that I be­gin drilling the next hole through the hard­ware to mark its lo­ca­tion and then re­move the hard­ware and fin­ish drilling the hole. I then re­in­stall both of th­ese two fas­ten­ers be­fore con­tin­u­ing to the next one. This process en­sures you don’t end up with a hole that is off cen­ter.

Fi­nally, with all the nec­es­sary hard­ware in­stalled, I slid the car onto the track and af­fixed the track stop­pers to hold it in place. I also mounted the becket and rub­ber bumper to ac­com­mo­date the ver­ti­cal stowage of the pole and threaded the car con­trol line and a new pole top­ping lift into place. Af­ter that I clipped the socket end of the pole to the bay­o­net fit­ting on the car and we were ready to go.

Us­ing the new gear on the first down­wind sail was a real joy. Ev­ery­thing ran smoothly and af­ter a few prac­tice gybes, I found that I could han­dle the op­er­a­tion by my­self on the fore­deck. s

From left: check­ing the cur­va­ture of the mast ex­tru­sion; fit­ting the car on the track; tap­ping an­other hole for the track end pieces; drilling holes for one of the cheek blocks used to help ad­just the in­board pole height

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