Aside from holes below the waterline of your hull, losing a mast is about the scariest thing that can happen to your boat. Did you see the dis-masting in the movie Master and Commander? This is the stuff of nightmares for a cruising sailor. Since the general advice is to replace wire rigging every ten years most of us have to confront this task at least once during our sailing lives. And even among sailors who take on many repair tasks on their boats, replacing the standing rigging is something many sailors would not consider doing themselves. We are now on our second re-rig (different boats) and can say that, with several caveats, it is a very doable task for most handy folks. In this article I walk you through what we do so you can decide if re-rigging is a DIY task or not for you.
In general, any situation requiring a redesign, whether total or partial, we feel should be done only after consulting with professionals. This includes any situations involving change of materials or geometry. For example if we were going from rod to wire rigging, or from wire to HMPE (High Modulus Polyethylene e.g. dyneema), we would consult professionals. Likewise if we were replacing a mast or spreaders we would involve professionals because these situations create different loads on the rigging and therefore may require resizing the wire or attachment points. And of course if you have any reason to feel that the current rig is not adequate you do not want to repeat those mistakes in the new rig and you will also need a redesign. Get a professional involved in these cases.
You also need a professional shop if you want swaged rigging. But if you want mechanical fittings you can do it yourself. If you currently have swaged fittings, as we did on both the boats we have rerigged, then you will need to research and buy some different terminals, but the design can remain the same. We will talk about what we used below.
However if you feel that your current rig is adequate, just aging, you may wonder what is involved in doing it yourself. Besides saving money on someone else’s labor, you would have the satisfaction of know how your rigging is put together.
Your boat may be quite different from ours, but here is our experience with re-rigging a boat with swaged fittings and converting to Sta-Lok mechanical fittings.
Eurybia is a ketch with one unusual feature – a solid triatic. A triatic is the stay connecting two masts. Usually this is a wire stay, but our boat was designed and rigged with a solid bar running from the mizzen mast to the split backstay of the mast. The solid triatic resists both pushing and pulling so that backstays or swept spreaders are not required on the mizzen. I will not talk much about this feature as most people do not have to worry about this. Everything else about our re-rigging applies to other Marconi / Bermuda rigged boats such as sloops, cutters, ketches and yawls since we are just talking about the wires and the attachments.
The Cap Shroud goes from the top of the mast to each spreader and then to the deck beside the mast.
The Aft Lower Shroud goes from the mast just under the lowest spreader to the deck aft of the mast. The Forward Lower Shroud goes from the mast just under the lowest spreader to the deck forward of the mast.
If you have more than one spreader each additional spreader will have its own shrouds that go from the mast just below the spreader above it, through the spreader end, to the deck beside the mast. These can be called the Upper Shroud or Intermediate Shroud.
The Forestay goes from the top of the mast to the bow of the boat – on Eurybia this is part of the jib furler and is not part of this re-rig
The Backstay goes from the top of the mast to the stern of the boat. On Eurybia there is an upper backstay about 20′ long, then a junction where two lower backstays proceed to a point on either side of the boat just aft of the mizzen mast. This junction is also where the solid triatic bar connects to the top of the mizzen mast.
Running backstays go from just under the top spreader to the deck aft of the mast ending with a rope tackle so it can be easily loosened or tightened.
Continuous / Discontinuous. Most boats have shrouds that are a continuous piece of wire as they go past the spreader, others are discontinuous at the spreader requiring additional attachments points here. Eurybia has continuous shrouds and our last boat had discontinuous. It is possible to convert a discontinuous rig to a continuous one but you will have some redesign of the spreader ends.
Eurybia’s main mast has two spreaders and therefore has port and starboard cap shrouds, port and starboard intermediate shrouds, port and starboard lower aft shrouds, and port and starboard lower forward shrouds for a total of eight. There is also a forestay as part of the furling jib and a split backstay. Finally there is a running backstay on either side. The mizzen mast has one spreader and therefore has two cap shrouds, two lower aft, and two lower forward shrouds. There is no backstay or running backstay on the mizzen. The equivalent of a mizzen forestay, the triatic connects the backstay of the main mast.
Rigging Tools And Supplies
Caliper for measuring shroud thickness. Eurybia has shrouds of 1/4″, 5/16″, and 3/8″. For an inexpensive digital caliper see Amazon. Harbor Freight also has inexpensive digital calipers.
Hacksaw for cutting wire. We recommend that you do this manually rather than using an angle grinder or other electrical saw because the speed of the electric saws can affect the strands, even melting them a bit so they are difficult to untangle.
Sawing jig for holding wire and preventing the strands from separating. (see image)
Vise and work table for cutting wire and installing terminals. The vise should have aluminum or brass jaws so as not to mar the stainless terminals.
50-100′ Measuring tape. We used a long cloth tape on a roller such as is used for landscaping. For our 45 foot boat the longest shrouds were 50′ but yours may be even longer.
6′-25′ Measuring tape for measuring the hardware.
A place to lay out and measure the wire. Here in Puerto Penasco, Mexico we are working in a very dusty yard and are using the mast (lying horizontally at working height on sawhorses) as our “table” for laying out wire. First we taped the zero end of the landscape tape to the top of the mast and taped it down every few feet to the foot of the mast. Eurybia is keel-stepped and the mast is longer than the longest shroud – if you have full backstays or are deck-stepped you might have to add another horizontal surface to have enough room to measure the longest wires. The mast track made an ideal place for capturing the wire rope while we measured and cut it.
Notebooks and pens. There are a lot of numbers to capture!
Painters tape and sharpies for labeling the wires.
Velcro Cable Straps or Electrical tape. This is to secure the long lengths of wire in loops so it is easier to handle. We didn’t have cable straps so we used ALOT of tape during the process.
The old shrouds for measuring from. Before unstepping the mast we marked with painters tape the location of the turnbuckles on each shroud so we would know the ideal length of each. While unstepping the mast these turnbuckles will be loosened but the tape allowed us to return to the design length. It is also essential to label each shroud with its position (cap shroud port, lower port fwd, etc) as well as its diameter (3/8″).
The new wire in all the appropriate diameters to match the old shrouds. I think all modern wire rope rigged sailboats use 1×19 stainless wire. Wire can be 304 stainless, or 316 which is a little less strong but more resistant to corrosion. Diameter of the wire MUST match the old wire but the 304 or 316 does not matter. Your preference.
Terminal ends for both ends of each shroud. You will need new mechanical terminal ends for a swaged rig. If your rig currently has mechanical ends, you can reuse these at least once and just replace the cones. If replacing the cones get some extras. Sta-Lok and Hayn still make these parts. Hayn is probably the best and most expensive. If your boat currently has Norseman fittings you will have to decide whether to continue with those parts as Norseman is no longer in business. You can still get the cones from Tylaska if you happen to already have a Norseman system.
We chose Sta-Lok.
Wrench for putting the terminal end on and the vise to hold the terminal eye end while turning the cone end of the terminal. We used a 12″ crescent wrench.
To replace your current eyes at top and bottom of the shrouds with Sta-Lok fittings, go to the Sta-Lok website.
We used Sta-Lok eyes at the top of each shroud. We replaced the swaged toggle on the end of each turnbuckle with a new toggle. Then the pin on these new toggles inserts through the Sta-Lok eye. (see image below)
Basic Steps for Rigging
Make Wire cutting Jig
Cut a square piece of wood about 3-4″ on each side. Hardwood would be best but we used epoxied plywood and it was adequate. For each diameter of rigging wire your boat requires drill a hole that size near the corner of the block. Write the diameter near the hole with sharpie. You will insert the wire through this hole in order to hold it for cutting and to prevent the strands from separating.
Using a skillsaw cut a slice in the middle of the block starting at the corner and continuing through the hole you just made. This is where your saw blade will go while cutting the wire.
Repeat at each corner of the block for the sizes of wire you require. (Eurybia used 1/4″ 5/16″, and 3/8″).
Before Unstepping the Mast: Document Existing Rig
Mark Turnbuckles. Assuming your existing rig is currently optimally tuned or close, use painter’s tape to mark the location of the turnbuckles. This will help you to return close to a tuned length.
Label shrouds and chainplates. Label every wire both at deck where it connects and the wire itself. Remember to indicate port or starboard, which mast, which shroud – so “Mizzen Cap Port” or “Main Upper Port” or “Main Lower Port Forward” etc. For the deck markings “Cap”, “Lower Fwd”, “Lower Aft” etc is sufficient.
Measure Old Shroud Assemblies
Unstep the mast.
If you are in a dirty yard like we currently are, using the mast as a place to lay out the wire is far preferable to laying the clean new wire in the dirt. Place the main mast with track facing up on horses at working height (if you wish to use the mast to measure and lay out the wires).
Tape a landscape measuring tape the entire length of the mast track. Secure it every 5 or 10′ down the length. See image.
Remove all the old shrouds. Return turnbuckles to the tension marked by the painter’s tape.
Measure each old shroud from center of the top eye to center of the bottom eye and enter the length and diameter into your notebook. This is the “assembly” length and is the total finished length.
Measure and Cut New Rigging
Gather the top and bottom terminals (including turnbuckles etc) that you will use for the this particular shroud, either removing them from the old rig if you are reusing, or the new hardware if you are replacing it. You need two numbers – one is the length of top hardware from the center of the eye to where the wire will start when inserted in the terminal – write this down. Then the second number is from the eye of the bottom hardware – including turnbuckles – up to where the wire will end when assembled. Add these two numbers together – top and bottom – this is the “hardware length” of the new rig. Subtract “Hardware length” from the “assembly length” to get “Cut Length” – the actual length of wire that you need. Write this down.
After you finish documenting the lengths and cut lengths of all the shrouds, you are ready to start cutting (and labeling!) wire. It is simplest if you do all wires of one diameter before moving to new wire.
Measure and Cut. Lay the new wire on the mast track and slide the jig you made onto the wire. Measure the cut length carefully and mark the wire with sharpie. You can cut it in place, but it would be best to move the wire to a workbench with a vise. Clamp the jig in the vise and slide the wire until the mark is centered in the block. Using a hacksaw cut the wire. Slide the block past the cut, ready for the next cut.
Tape both ends of the cut shroud so the strands don’t unravel.
Label the wire (“Lower Port Aft” or whatever). Roll, tape, and set aside.
Repeat for all the wires of this diameter and then repeat for each diameter wire.
Use the instructions for the type of terminal you are using. We used Sta-Lok terminals and these instructions . In most instances you will place a terminal eye at the top and the terminal eye connected to a turnbuckle at the bottom of the wire. Although many people put 5200 (NOT recommended) or Silicon sealant into the terminals before inserting the wires, Sta-Lok doesn’t actually recommend this. We did not use Silicon this time.
We spent approximately 2-3 days to cut the wires for our two masts and apply the terminals. The wire and terminals we bought at Fisheries Supply. Even including the extensive measuring and record-keeping this is straight-forward work that most people could handle.
I think I will measure in centimeters next time. Less risk of arithmetic and recording errors!
I would love to hear from any of you about your own re-rigging experience or questions you have about doing this yourself.