plugged 1

Preface: This story dives into an area that people rarely visit. When sailors lose a rig, they go to a rig manufacturer and get a quote. What happens behind closed doors is the numbers come from the original players: naval architect, rig engineers and rigging suppliers. A replacement is calculated and priced.

In my case I was not after a replacement. I was after an economic and very safe solution to sail out of Puerto Williams, Chile (south shore of the Beagle Channel, 118km from Cape Horn) and finish what we started. The plan: depart the Beagle Channel into the Southern Ocean to meet the SE trades, then rise up to the equator and circle the North Atlantic high to Lorient, France. All this with “precious cargo” aboard – my family – my wife and 3 young sailors. Enough said about the obvious risk.

To make this happen we needed to search out used, donated or discounted parts.

The situation is complicated only by one thing: the lack of funding for a replacement carbon rig. My old carbon rig was super strong and withstood high compression loading in very demanding conditions. My boat is not a cruising boat, not even a cruiser racer, but instead a thoroughbred machine. She is 1 ton lighter than a Class 40 with more than 2 times the water ballast per side (750l vs. 1750l). She also sported a 92sqm mainsail on a boat that weighed 5.2T in Auckland (fully loaded for a 60 day non-stop passage between our “home ports” Auckland & Lorient).

Every one of my team knew the reality. I was uninsured, broke and injured both physically and mentally. We were going for it big time when we got caught by “the wave” with my name on it. Throughout this series I will take you along for this rebuild adventure, behind the scenes. Remember I am a climber that went sailing. I have put in the miles but I am still learning. One day I hope to be able to call myself a real Sailor Man.

The acceptance of not sailing out of here with the “voilure de fortune” was not easy. There was no way I was going to battle with the Armada de Chile after they saved my boat and my family. A classic keel stepped rig became the new focus. I started looking for a used mast to step on the keel beam. The issues became: acquiring mast foot and attaching it; fabricating partners and sealing the deck hole and making a custom gooseneck to hold the boom on; meanwhile finding the largest diameter to fit in the existing round hole.

I pushed aside the technical complications of doing all of this and searched for a column as I needed the dimensions of this to make the installation parts. As with every boat project you think it will take this amount of time and cost this much but the reality is always more than your estimate. Isn’t this why we love boats? I tried hard to be focused on the reality of the time/cost issue.

I first queried old friend Alex Simonis about the strength of the column I needed and sent him some numbers. He told me he was in the middle of a big project but could give me a ballpark figure. He requested that I send him the RM Max and he would get a closer figure when he had some time. Somehow I did not follow up on this. I continued to look for a rig, assuming a used mast from of a 50 ft cruising boat would do just fine. I dropped the ball. Big mistake.

“Is he dumber than a post?” I had heard that expression in rural Wyoming many times and here I was one of “thems”, uh-huh, acting dumber than a post. I proceeded down the wrong road of discovery. I dove in, wasting time – both mine and industry pros – looking for a used mast section in Chile, Argentina, USA, France, NZ, Australia, and Sweden. I wrote to everyone and his brother and their cousins. I really did not know what I needed and neither did they.

I even spent time calculating the possibility of constructing a wood-epoxy wing-mast with help from Gary Baigent and Eric Sponberg. The lack of tools, materials, and a workshop space on the island of 2900 inhabitants closed the door on this idea.  Gary Patten and Chris Bowman sent many drawings for alternative rigs. Joe Mckeown hooked me up with a friend of his in the Chilean lakes district with a woodworking shop capable of doing a wooden rig.

Countless people suggested using a power pole, lamp-post, tree-trunk, any old mast (“shove it in the hole and go, what are you waiting for?”) that it was over the top. It made me feel like I was really on an island of my own.

plugged 2My goal was to find a solution that cost less than a deck cargo ride to a proper port where she could get fixed. Our remote location prohibited this action. At first it seemed logical to ship out of Ushuaia – the IMOCA 60s ship out of there – but this required the keel to come out of the boat, which was a major destructive process as the keel was permanently fixed. It got to the point where I was going to spend a huge amount of money and just have a broken boat in the next port. If I was going to go into debt again (which has happened), at least I could go sailing one more time. One more voyage. One more experience that had more value than money. Decisions, decisions, decisions…

Once again I was back to searching for rigs. I still did this without the most important number: The RM max. As it turned out this figure was so large we would have broken every potential column I found worldwide. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

I also did not consider carefully where I needed to start building. It was not at the keel like the former mast. Deck stepped was not an option either as I knew it would be complicated to fill the deck hole and build a compression post in winter in my location. I was just in denial about the reality of a keel stepped solution, concluding that I would just deal with it. Some pills I just swallow hard.

One close friend from NZ, Craig McDonald reminded me, “James you don’t do easy, that is not you.” These words helped me. Oh to the left that is Spiderman on the boom, inspecting the mast stiump – Club Naval de Yates Micalvi, Puerto Williams., Isla Navarino – CHILE / XII Región de Magallanes y de la Antártica Chilena!

The turning point for this project came in one e-mail in the middle of the night (which is the only time the island’s satellite internet has enough speed to work relatively well, as the users are all asleep, except for me).

Uwe Jasperson at Jaz Marine (Cape Town) came up with an alternative suggestion. This man had previous history with me and my rig. I first met him in 2007 on arrival from Bermuda, then again in 2008 upon arrival from Auckland, then again in 2011 from Cape Verde (the third time with my family aboard). I departed South Africa in February 2007, trying to break the 38-day record (Derek Hatfield) to Tauranga. I was 5 days ahead of the record pace in the middle of nowhere when the base of this same mast exploded during a force 11 blow. Yes it was a gybe and I did a poor job of keeping my speed up. Lesson Learned.

I was 1200nm South of Cape Leeuwin, Australia. Uwe was one of the people I called to discuss ideas via sat phone. I worked with Uwe along with Pascal Conq to get my sorry ass into port unassisted. With the mast still in the boat wobbling around like a drunken sailor, I used all my mountain climbing rigging trickery to keep the rig upright in the boat.  After 9 days, flying only a storm jib, I made it into Albany, WA. I got a mail from my weather forecaster Ken Campbell (Commander’s Weather) introducing me to Peter Gilmour. Peter recommended Brett Burville at Windrush Yachts, saying he was the guy for the rebuild job. Brett re-engineered and repaired the mast in Freo, and off I went back into the Southern Ocean, around the world to Freo once again and on to Cape Horn where I cut it free into the deep. This experience created my bond for a lifetime with all these men.

In this situation, Uwe realized the complications of stepping a new mast on the deck were a non-issue. He proposed a solution that should have been obvious to me.

“I would prefer to keep your existing gooseneck. I would step the mast on the cut-down stump just above the gooseneck. At the moment you have a perfectly sealed mast gate. With a keel stepped mast you will have all the waterproofing issues etc.”

He wanted me to cut a 1 inch cross-section off my existing mast stump (above the gooseneck) and send it to Cape Town. He then would make a carbon composite mast plug to be glued in. The new column would mount on this.

All of a sudden I was having a party excited about my future. It took me back to my house construction days, to the moment when we finally were finished with the foundation and the plywood sub floor was on. We were out of the dirt. Now we could build the structure. We always had a party – music, dancing, and beers – to celebrate.

This was a big deal. The composite “plug” would solve all of the following: water integrity, mast step, goose neck and compression issues. Thank you, Uwe and Brett. I could safely use the stump as they both knew the history of the section.

This was the work of Brett Burville. This section was re-engineered then rebuilt at his shop (Windrush Yachts) in Fremantle. This repair job was super. I remember quite well Brett finished in May and I was itching to get going. The locals tried to keep me around as winter was here and they told me, “Just stay we can go racing here in the winter series.” They told me about “The Bight” – The Great Australian Bight. I had never even heard of this piece of water. I was just worried about Bass Straight and the Tasman. They said I would have some breeze in the Bight. Well I did. I had 65 knots over the deck 2 times and did a double back to back uncontrolled gybe in one of these. I remember I called the Windrush shop on the sat phone after these events and we had a good laugh. She passed the test.

How stupid and lucky did I feel? Feeling foolish among friends who have respect for what you can and cannot do creates teamwork. I threw both drawings into my circle of knowledge. Having a team means reaching out to them no matter how much you think you know. Check, check, double-check. Andy Kensington (Pure Design + Engineering), Bobby Kleinschmit (Morelli + Melvin), Kevin Dibley (Dibley Marine Yacht Design), & Vincent Marsaudon (Lorima). Everyone confirmed that this was a brilliant solution. I was relieved to be out of the dirt and standing solid.

At this point Kevin Dibley kindly and sensitively suggested I might want to contact someone I never even heard of – Mike Elley at Nosaka Applied Technology. Soft spoken as Kevin is, I listen to every word he says. He explained to me the niche in the industry that I did not fully understand:  Rig Engineering. He said it again, with a little more force. “Talk to him.  I discussed your project with him and he offered to help.”

What I eventually learned was akin to this “You do not go to a M.D. to have your teeth worked on.” I assumed that naval architects designed rigs. Wrong again. Who are these rig engineering guys?  I found out. The few that I now know hang out behind the scenes and are into heavy metal concerts and stock car racing. They are also responsible for rigs in the fastest boats in the world today. Mike is a well-respected “rig ninja” flown in around the world to sort out high stakes complications with not enough time. A “miracle worker.” The depth of New Zealand marine industry pros is staggering.

This is one of the many super clear mails from Mike Elley:

“Hi James

plugged 5I have a better idea what you are looking at now I have seen some pictures. With the stump cut short, right above the gooseneck I am happy with the lateral stability. I gather that the whole stump rotates through the deck so I am less concerned with the rotation now so long as the section is adequate to be rigged spreader less as per the old rig. The critical panel will be panel 1 given the change to a pin joint at the bottom so this should be looked at for buckling stability. Regards your question at the junction of stump and new section I will give all my thoughts as terminology is confusing things a bit.

 From top to bottom:

What I would call the mast “shoe” normally (the alloy part at the bottom of the section which will mate with the “tongue” on the new “step” on top of the stump) is commonly made from a thick aluminium plate with a fore/aft slot in the middle for the tongue. Often fabricated to the alloy plate is an upstand of shaped plate that fits inside your section closely (often welded to the shoe internally). This only needs to extend as far into the section as required to get fasteners into it around the base of the section (I think this is what you are asking?). There is a lot of compression here and not much moment so the internal upstand does not require a lot of length, say 75mm would be plenty and more than typical. The bottom of the shoe is usually curved for/aft to allow the rig to deal with different bends in that plane but is flat sideways. For this reason the shoe is usually quite thick as the mast is mainly sitting on the middle of it. In your case you want the load to distribute around the wall of the stump as well as possible so you might have a flat shoe and a thick step plate.

Now the tongue in this case doesn’t need to insert all that far into the shoe to do its job but it would be common to insert about 100mm and to have a bit of a taper on the top of it to make it easier to engage when stepping. If, as I will suggest, it’s made of alloy then it will have a weld cove around the bottom of it. This weld needs a corresponding radius around the slot in the shoe so the shoe can sit down without fouling the weld. The tongue might typically be about 20mm thick in this scale and is usually keyed through the step plate and welded top and bottom. It has to deal with any torque applied. 

For the “step” you have the option of making a composite version like Uwe drew or an alloy one. Either way it is important to support the wall of the old stump so it is constrained and cannot act like a free edge. It may be quite a good idea to increase the wall thickness at the edge by wrapping externally carbon fibre around the stump in the 90deg direction (around the hoop of the stump).

If you make a composite version it is important that the step with the tongue spans out to the edges rather than sitting in the middle.

For simplicity I would fabricate the step all in alloy. Just have a thick plate with the tongue and have an internal shaped plate like the shoe that fits inside the stump and also one that fits down outside over your extra 90deg wrap. Have these extend about 100mm if possible so some fasteners can be incorporated like Uwe drew. Fill the gap between the plates with glue when you fit it to the stump so there is no void and that will support the walls of the stump and transmit the compression efficiently.

 I hope that covers your questions about the junction.  Am sure more questions will arise about the section and panel 1 as you go forward.



I had offers from Uwe in SA, Brett in WA and Ronald Klingenberg Frey at Alwoplast in Valdivia, Chile to make this plug. I let my rig engineer Mike Elley decide.

A mast step, tongue, and shoe has been fabricated by Buzz Ballenger in Watsonville, CA. The plug has both inner and outer contact. It was made out of alloy then anodized. The installation will provide isolation between the carbon and the alloy with Spa bond 345. One layer of blue tape will be applied on the carbon surfaces. The plug will be dry fit. I will drill and tap 5mm holes and place machine screws. The plug will come out. The tape will come off, Spa bond 345 applied, then the plug slipped on. I will located the screw holes and insert the fasteners. This procedure will isolate the two materials as well as bond them.

Rewind… This discussion started with the line I had forgotten from Alex Simonis. “Get me the RM Max.” When I did get this figure, for the first time I understood why Anasazi Girl is such a great boat and why my project was even more complicated to solve.

More to follow: The search for a column and the design of the rig is up next. Read full mast project HERE. To help us get up and sailing again, please SUPPORT US. – James Burwick.