Winterizing your sailboat can prevent costly -- and dangerous -- problems


January 03, 1993|By NANCY NOYES

Most Chesapeake Bay sailors probably would rather not think about the potential consequences of a poor maintenance program for the rigging of their sailboats, but it's a fact that a small problem suddenly can become a large and expensive -- not to mention dangerous -- one.

To help area sailors prevent big problems, Chesapeake Rigging/Annapolis Spars' Tom Wohlgemuth recently shared his insights on winterization tasks that can prolong a sailboat's rigging longevity and help prevent the nightmare of a dismasting.

One of the first steps is to ease the tension in the shrouds, Wohlgemuth explained.

"You should slack off the tension a bit, especially if it's a racing boat which is under fairly high tension, because it's really hard on the boat," he said. "Things have to contract some in the cold, and that can cause excessive pressure on the boat which can lead to cracks in the gelcoat and other problems which cause long-term damage."

Wohlgemuth warned that if a rig is under high tension great care is needed to detune it off at the dock, because the screw threads in the turnbuckles and on the shrouds can be badly damaged if they're turned under too much stress.

"If you have a double- or triple-spreader rig, or generally if the boat's 40 feet or bigger, you have to be very careful slacking it off at the dock, and you should probably do it under sail," he said. "A good general rule is, if you have to use a breaker bar on the wrench [to loosen a turnbuckle], you really shouldn't do it yourself."

For smaller race boats, and many cruising boats, a do-it-yourselfer can use a little of the metal lubricant Boeshield T-9 so as not to turn the gear on dry threads, he said, and then take just a couple of turns off each shroud.

The lessened tension should be even to keep the mast relatively straight and centered, so count the turns and match them on the other side -- then note how many turns you made to make retuning easier in the spring.

"You want it fairly snug and secure, even though it's eased," he said. "It shouldn't be sloppy-loose, because if it flaps around in the wind all winter, you'll add years of wear and fatigue to your fittings."

Even a complex-looking discontinuous rig can be detuned without going up the mast, he explained, because a little loosening of the cap shrouds automatically will ease the rest of the rig.

Those with headfoil and roller-furling systems also should take up on the backstay to put some tension on the headstay system, he said, "especially if the boat's on land, because the wind whipping a headfoil around can cause vibration which makes the jackstands move, and then the boat falls down."

Once the shrouds and stays are eased a little, put the locking pins back in to keep the rig from loosening up any more, Wohlgemuth said, and then go on to the running rigging.

"The sheets, the foreguy, the furling lines, all the rope on the boat you can take off that doesn't leave things swinging around loose, you should take off," Wohlgemuth said. "You can even take off the vang and the whole mainsheet assembly -- just replace it with a piece of junk line you can tighten up with a trucker's hitch."

Wohlgemuth said removing the whole assembly from boom and traveler and leaving it rigged up during winter storage makes putting it back on a lot easier: you only have to reconnect the blocks rather than remember how to run the line through them.

"If you're savvy enough to run your halyards out, you should do that, too," he said, "but it's just not cost-effective to hire someone to do it for you because by the time you've paid for that a couple of times, you could have bought new halyards."

Swivels and drums on furling systems should be sealed up in pTC plastic wrapping and taped, Wohlgemuth explained, because their real enemy is the dust that blows around in boatyards and clogs up the bearings.

Winches can be serviced in the spring, serviced now and covered up, or just covered, Wohlgemuth said. The main thing is not to over-grease the pawls that keep the drum from turning back the wrong way.

New England sailors routinely pull their rigs for winter dry storage, but the practice is not common on our relatively sheltered shores, away from the brunt of Atlantic Ocean nor'easters.

Generally, masthead work or anything else that requires climbing the rig should not be done in dry storage, because most yards won't permit it, and it can be very unsafe, particularly on smaller boats, or those with deep keels.

But pulling the mast is not inexpensive, Wohlgemuth explained, because in addition to the boatyard fee for pulling the rig out, riggers must be paid for undoing everything that's connected to the boat, and for reinstalling it all and retuning when the mast goes back in.

He estimated that for an average 30-footer, the bill would range up from $600 for that total package.

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