Wednesday, April 25

Rod Rigging

By Andrew Spaulding, Crowley's Yacht Yard

Rod rigging was invented in the 1970s as a high-strength, low-stretch alternative to wire rigging. As is typical with new products in the marine industry, rod rigging got its start on the race course. Less stretch and weight aloft was the key to rod riggings success. Navtec invented rod rigging and the cold-formed distinctive rod head and continues to lead the world in rod rigging systems. Here at Crowley’s Yacht Yard, we have Navtec factory trained technicians to do our rod heading. We have a Navtec rod heading press on site and regularly service the rod rigging needs of riggers from around the Great Lakes.
When you are ready to consider re-rigging your boat with rod we choose the rod sizes based on equivalent strengths. This will give you the same safety factor that the boat was designed to have. Often, if your goal is to increase the safety factor, we can use the same pin sizes (no changes to the chainplates) and give you stronger rigging.

Typically, the safety factor in rigging is quite high. Most cruising boat have rigging with design loads that are 15% to 25% of the design breaking strength. A race boat might push this ratio to 50%. These safety factors in cruising boats should give the rod rigging a life of about 20 years and yet we are seeing boats go twice that. In my mind this means that boat owners don’t subject their rigging to its design loads. I think this makes sense, since most people don’t pound to windward in 30 knots of wind and 6 foot seas as a matter of choice even though their boats are designed to take it.

Unfortunately for the boat owner this means we can’t really tell when your rod rigging is going to fail. For sure, some day it will fail because failure is merely a function of cycles; meaning that after enough cycles of loading and unloading the rigging it will fail. Whether this happens in 20 years or 40 years is the question that is tough to answer. There are inspections, but without a full disassembly of each fitting and a dye-penetrant test of the rod heads, the inspection isn’t complete. This inspection is a lot of labor (and in some cases requires at least some new fittings since fittings can be peened to permanently lock the threads, this is typical in headstays) and will only tell you that there are no cracks now which doesn’t mean that there won’t be cracks tomorrow.

Since this level of inspection is so labor intensive (read expensive), typically our recommendation after 20 years is to just replace the rigging. To follow manufacture’s recommendations you would to the dye-penetrant inspections as part of a Level C rigging inspection (full service inspection and refurbishment) once every 2 to 4 years in light to ultra-light displacement cruiser/racer to pure racers and once every 4 to 10 years in a mid to heavy displacement cruiser/motor sailor. Unfortunately, most people don’t conduct this level of inspection this often which makes the inspection take longer. Many of you well know that taking apart something that has been together for 20 years is a much different experience than it would be if those parts were together 4 years.

Depending on the results of the inspection the full service refurbishment may include the re-heading of the rod. The rod can be re-headed once in its service life. There is some loss of length when the old rod head is cut off and the new head cold formed. In a continuous rod rig, this is easily remedied by using over-length turnbuckle screws. Using re-headed rod in a discontinuous rig requires rods to be moved to a location in the rigging where the same size rod (but shorter length) is used. For example it is typical in a three spreader rig to move the second diagonal to the third diagonal location after re-heading. In this case, we would have to make a new second diagonal, but we would plan to re-use as much of the rod as possible.

So what does this all mean for you? My personal recommendation is to have your rod or wire rigging (main and genoa roller furling gear also) fully disassembled, cleaned, serviced, lubricated and dye-penetrant test swages and/or rod heads once every 5 years, MINIMUM. For those of you that store your boat inside, taking the mast out of the boat and putting in the storage rack does not count as an Level C rigging inspection. If you stick to this inspection schedule, in most cases your mast rigging system will perform beyond its life expectancy and you will know of any issues long before they cause a problem.

Thursday, April 19

Basic Rig Tune

By Andrew Spaulding, Editor - Lakeside Story

Ahh, springtime in the boatyard – in the rush to get ready for launch date we often forget those promises we made to ourselves last fall. If it was in your thoughts to tune your rig and now you are thinking the better of it because you don’t have a ton of time to get the rest of your spring chores complete, read isn’t that tough to get your rig better than it was last season. I’m not saying that you’ll have it tuned perfect to the trained eye of the local sailmakers, but it will be better.

Step One: Make sure your rigging is ready to be tuned. Most rigs could use a good turnbuckle cleaning and re-lubricating. Clean the surface of all of your standing rigging. Dirt, old grease, and rust stains (we know stainless isn’t always stainless!) make it difficult for you to see cracks and other defects. This often is the longest part of the job since unscrewing the turnbuckles to clean the threads will take time. NOTE: If the mast is up during this process, loosen all the shrouds to hand tight and only disconnect one shroud at a time to disassemble and clean the turnbuckle. Lubricate the threads with a dry moly lube (molybdenum disulfide). Dry moly is made by multiple manufactures (CRC and Loctite being two) and is available at industrial suppliers such as Grainger, Fastenal or Dry moly is great for rigging because it resists galling and most solvents so it won’t come off easy. Also, its dry formula doesn’t attract dirt. Be sure to wipe off any excess dry moly as it is black and will stain your clothes and sails. Now you are ready to tune your rig. Start with all of the shrouds just less than hand tight. If you mast is deck stepped, be careful that your shrouds don’t get any looser than this during the whole rig tune operation.

Step Two: The forestay length will set your mast rake (distance fore and aft that the mast head is relative to the mast step with the mast straight). If the mast were to have zero rake the mast head would be directly over the mast step. Positive mast rake is when the mast head is aft of the mast step. More rake adds weather helm (tendency for the boat to round up to windward when the boat is close hauled). If you struggled with weather helm last season, shorten your headstay turnbuckle a couple of turns or vice versa. Most boats are designed to have some rake, so if you are looking for a starting point, I’d try a couple of degrees positive rake.

Step Three: Start at the top of the mast with all of the shrouds just less than hand tight. Since most mast steps are fixed athwartships, we must take it for granted that the mast step is in the center of the boat.  And since we aren’t getting involved in fiberglass work, we must take it for granted that the partner (hole where the mast comes through the cabintop) is centered between the chainplates. Believe me there are cases where these “givens” are not true! So, start the tune by getting the top of the mast centered between the chainplates. Pull a tape measure up the mast with your main halyard. Don’t pull too hard or let the tape run free because the main halyard shackle can jam in the sheave box at the top of the mast if it runs to fast. Measure from the top of the mast to the port and starboard chainplates. Loosen/tighten the cap shrouds as necessary until the measurements are equal. Likely this will take several tries. Tighten the cap shrouds evenly until the shrouds are taut. In most cases, this will be at least 5 whole turns past hand tight.

Step Four: Begin to tighten the rest of the shrouds working from top to bottom if your rig has intermediate shrouds. Once the shrouds are hand tight, tighten each side a couple of turns and then tighten the opposite side. As you cross the boat to tension the other side’s shrouds, sight up the mainsail track to see if the mast it straight (also referred to as being “in column”). Pic 1 shows a mast sight where the mast has a slight bend to port at the spreader. Assuming the top of the mast is centered; tightening the starboard lower shroud will fix this situation. You should see a bend in the mast if you’ve just tightened one side but haven’t done the other yet and when both are done to the same number of turns the mast should be straight. It is important to check each time for two reasons: when the shrouds are unevenly tensioned you will see bend in the mast and the amount you see will be an indication of how much each turn affects the bend. Secondly, if during even tensioning, you find mast bend you can adjust the number of turns to get it straight. While you are tensioning the rig make sure that you maintain some prebend. Prebend is the fore and aft bend of the mast. There should be a slight curve in the mast, so that the middle of the mast is forward. The amount of prebend that you should have depends on your rig and sail design. A small boat with a deck stepped rig should have about 1 inch of prebend. If the mast bends the other way (center of the mast aft of the top), we say that the mast is inverted…this is very bad in almost every case.

Step Five: Go Sailing. Check the straightness of the rig while sailing up wind. Adjust as necessary. It may take several tries to get the right combination of tensioning the different shrouds. If you have the feeling that perhaps you are tightening too much, remember that the rig is a system. Once the whole rig is tight, loosening the opposite side will often do the trick of making the mast look as if you tightened the offending shroud. Upwind if your leeward shrouds are slack they are too loose. The whole time check your mast column to maintain prebend. Take notes while sailing in different conditions so that you can fine tune your rig for next season.

As always, give us a call if you have any questions or send an email to

Wednesday, April 11

Crowley's Rigging Shop Profile

Oddly enough (to us anyway) one of the regular questions that we get in the customer service department is “Can you do this rigging job?  In every sense of the word, we are a full service rigging operation. Where appropriate we have factory trained personnel. We have years and many miles of practical racing experience. All of this gives us the expertise to advise you with rigging – maintenance, care and choices.

Mitch works on a deck layout
 job over the winter
In this day of computer controlled everything, yacht rigging is still a journey(wo)man trade. A rigger gains experience by rigging. Rigging experience is crucial since almost every mast and boat rigging combination is different. As production boats were built, some manufacturers changed rigging suppliers and other lines lasted so long that rigging manufacturing improvements changed the gear installed. Add to this one-off boats and grand prix racers that have to have the latest widget. All of these situations have left us an interesting mix of rigging where a rigger has to learn the fundamentals of rigging and then add enough experience to figure out what each different boat needs.

We take great pains to teach our riggers as much as they can absorb. There is so much to learn, a rigger can be in the business 10 years and still not be considered a master rigger. One of our advantages at Crowley’s is the depth of the rigging experience that we have out of the rigging department. Even though we don’t work in the rigging department, many of us have worked hands-on in various rigging fields over the years.

We are Navtec factory trained in rod rigging and hydraulic repair. We have the only heading press on Lake Michigan so we can manufacture and re-head rod rigging up to -40 size (1/2”).  We also have wire swaging machines for making wire rigging up to 1/2 inch diameter and lifeline jobs. We do all the splicing onsite for the rigging that we sell through the store. We also have the only Lewmar windlass repair center on the Great Lakes. We haven’t yet met a winch that we are afraid to service and since we are a Lewmar Master Part Distributor we have had plenty of practice searching for old winch parts. We are also the regional service center for Selden Masts.

As Jon explained in last week’s newsletter, many rigging questions don’t have easy, simple answers. Each situation can be unique to the owner-boat combination. We have tens of thousands of open ocean and offshore lake sailing and racing miles between us, so when you need advice we’ve got plenty to go around.

Navtec, Lewmar, Ronstan, Harken, Sta-Lok, Sailtec, Wichard, New England Ropes, Selden Mast, Furlex, Profurl, Schaefer, Tylaska, Sparcraft, US Spars, CS Johnson, Loos, Hayn, Forespar, Edson, and Tuff-Luff are all brands that we deal with on a regular basis.

Thursday, April 5

2012 Chicago Park District Marine Sanitation Program

This year there have been some changes to the CPD Marine Sanitation Program. A letter from Westrec Management describes the changes. Certain boat owners will be able to certify their own boats. To view the letter from Westrec Marina Management click here. We included the inspection form for your reference; however, the CPD will only accept an original. Crowley's Yacht Yard will continue to perform the marine sanitation inspection for our customers. Please let us know if we can help answer any questions.

Wednesday, April 4

When Should I Replace My Standing Rigging?

By Jon Paige, Rigging Manager, Crowley's Yacht Yard

As a Yacht Rigger, one of the most common questions I get asked is “When should I replace my standing rigging?”.  There is actually a simple answer which is:  “It depends”.  Navtec, makers of rigging and hydraulics recommend that 316-grade stainless steel wire standing rigging has a lifespan of between 15 and 20 years in freshwater sailing environments, less in saltwater, and even less in warm saltwater, year around locations such as the Caribbean.  But that doesn’t mean your standing rigging is going to explode in a fireball exactly 20 years to the day after it was made.  Indeed, here at Crowley’s and in many other boatyards in the Great Lakes region, you will find sailboats with standing rigging that is approaching 30, and even 40 years of age, with no visible signs of imminent failure. Why is this? Because it turns out that the life of the rigging has a lot to do with the safety factor with which it was originally designed.

But that still doesn’t answer the question about your rigging. What type of sailing do you do?  Racing, cruising, or a mixture of both?  How often do you sail?  In what wind strengths?  How do you store your rig over the winter?  Was your boat built for performance or comfort and safety? Was your boat designed and built for offshore waters? Coastal waters? Inland waters?

All of the these factors will affect the lifespan of your rigging.  Boats that are raced will experience more loading on the standing rigging, due to the fact that the boat will probably be used more often and in conditions where the cruising sailor may decide not to venture out of their slip.   Winter storage is also a determining factor; if the mast is unstepped and tucked away for five months of the year, the rigging is effectively unloaded.  If the mast is stepped over the winter the rigging is tensioned and being loaded and unloaded (known as cycling) continuously as the wind causes the mast to oscillate while the boat sits in the cradle.  This continues to fatigue the rigging even in the off season.

The type of boat you are sailing is also an important consideration.  A custom designed and built, carbon fiber, Grand Prix racing yacht is going to have rigging with a lower factor of safety built into the rigging specifications.  It was probably also expected that the rigging would be replaced more often due to the higher loads (and therefore higher percentage of the breaking load) that would be placed on the rig.  In contrast, a blue-water cruising yacht will have a much higher safety factor so the rigging tension will be at a smaller percentage of the breaking load.  Due to this, it will last longer.

A thorough mast and rigging inspection is a good idea and should be performed once a year by a professional rigger after the rigging reaches the 15 to 20 year mark. The obvious things to look for are broken wire strands, cracked swages and anywhere there is a lot of rust staining.

Broken strands (pic 1) are normally found where the wire enters the swaged terminal.  The strand may be obvious and pop out of the terminal or you may have check each strand with a small flat-blade screwdriver (be careful not to damage the strands!).

Clean and polish the swaged part of the terminal to make it easier to spot any cracks (picture 2).  Terminals which have a lot of rust staining pouring out should be checked very closely.  If the rigging is over 15 years old, this can indicate problems occurring inside the swaged part and replacement should be considered.

As always, give us a call if you have any questions or send an email to