Free Yacht Chapter 13: Raise the New Mast!




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

We've sailed Solara with giant kites all summer. It's been a hoot. Now we're going to put a new (to us) mast on it. We'll rig it so we can use either kites or sails.

Episode 13 - how perfect? We're all scared to death about this task.

Many thanks to Pete, Gus, Victor, Kenny, Joanna, Effie, and everyone else who helped -
you should all be collaborators on this instructable if you aren't already. please add photos and add/edit the text.

continues the Free Yacht saga
Here's the table of contents of the whole thing:
Chapter 1: How to Get a Free Yacht
Chapter 2: Maiden Voyage of the Free Yacht
Chapter 3: Fix Broken Stix and other Trix
Chapter 4: Outboard Motor Mutilates Foot
Chapter 5: It's sinking and it's on Fire.
Chapter 6: How To Give Away a Free Yacht
Chapter 7: Get an Even Better One and Fabulize it.
Chapter 8: Celebrate Freedom
Chapter 9: Technicolor Dreamboat
Chapter 10: Privateer Knot
Chapter 11: Dismasted!
Chapter 12: Kiteboat!
Chapter 13: Mast Raising

photo note: This first photo is mirrored so the "featured" banner won't obscure the mast it in case this ible gets featured.

Step 1: Dig for Hardware and Pre Rig

Here's the hinged pivoting step for the mast. I thought we'd have to make one from scratch, but digging in the junkpile, there was a gizmo that had some of the the parts we needed.. all of them.. In fact, we could actually just use it... because oh yeah, it must have come off this mast and is the missing part. Big relief - but what do I do with all this caffeine and gumption in my bloodstream? Proceed, I guess.
I went to the chandlery to buy some hardware to connect them to the mast. That last photo is how the three stays connect to the rotating mast on a hobie 18. What we have is  a scaled-up version of that.
Victor measured Solara, I measured the mast and the boat it came off of. I dug through the pile of rigging to find three stainless cables that were about right.

We've been collecting gear for the re-masting ever since the night the old one fell. Most important is the excellent mast itself, a gift from a friend. Our dock neighbor Alex gave us a nice pile of stainless cables.

Fiday night Victor, Kenny, Brie, Gus, Rebecca and I got together to prepare stuff. We burned scrapwood in Mr.Fireface and had a good time. Trigonometry ensued. What length of cables would we need? Victor and Kenny waterjetted chainplates.

Step 2: From Yard to Marina

The saturday of the raising came. Gus was there bright and early to help load the ugly truckling.
What could we possibly need? A lot of stuff.
We filled the truck with everything we could think of.

The mast overhung fore and aft a long way. I felt like I was driving a tank.
There were some tricky freeways and bad traffic between here and the marina.
Surprisingly I had no trouble merging in. It's as if the other vehicles didn't want to be anywhere near me.

Step 3: From Truck to Boat

Victor met me at the Marina. We pretended we could lift the mast all by ourselves. It's 40 feet long and weighs a lot. We picked it up and carried it to Solara. Going around the corners on the crowded docks was tricky, but we got help from people who didn't want us to hurt their boats.

We lugged the other might-be-usefuls to the boat in a couple of wheelbarrows.

Step 4: A Big Step

The other captains started showing up with food, drink, and a festive mood.
We used a drill with a hole saw to make the initial incision. But guess what we found under the first layer of stainless steel? A layer of wood. And under that? More wood. And more wood under that.
Pete and Joanna put a lot of work and ingenuity into carving into the old mast step and fitting the new one into it.

Step 5: Competing With China

The plan is to attach a mast rest bracket on the mizzen mast.
When we lean the mainmast back it will rest on this bracket. First we need a ladder up the mizzen mast. We don't have a ladder long enough so we lash a couple of ladders together with innertube.

Pretty impressive you say? Awesome ingenuity and industrial competence?
Check out this photo I shot in Putien City, Fujian province China. Three bamboo ladders lashed together so a guy can weld over his head with one hand hanging on.

Wake up America. If you want to compete with China, you're going to have to try really hard.

Step 6: Testing the Mast Bracket

Eric Makes sure the bracket is strong enough for unintended uses. Science says that at the moment it appears to be strong enough for this use...
Don't worry instructables users, he's a lot more careful with your data than he is with his life.

Step 7: Iwo Jima!

Gus and Victor sorted out halyards and blocks and threaded new halyards through the mast without losing any ends. We have three new halyards. A mainsail halyard, a jib halyard and a spinnaker halyard.
After a lot of other hassling and preparations it was time to step the mast. We carried the mast onto the boat and fit the new mast step into the socket we'd just carved in the old step. "IWO JIMA!" we yelled. "MOUNT SURIBACHI!!!" We raised the mast up onto the bracket on the mizzenmast.
Eric tied it in place with an innertube.

Step 8: Raising!

A committee of captains devised an ingenious system of running stays using the three new halyards. Pete pulled the trucker's hitch on the forestay and stood on the base to keep it from popping out of the step. Kenny and Victor manned the running side stays, and the rest of us labored and scampered and did what was necessary.
The mast rose up, nothing bad happened, and Solara has a new mast, standing tall!

The halyard "stays" hold it up so we can keep the steel stays slack and work on attaching them to the hull. As you can see in the 2nd photo, there are six lines holding up the mast. The outer lines are the three halyards which actually hold the mast up. The three inner ones are the stainless steel cable stays that are slack so we can work on them. There are also two diamond stays, one on each side of the mast. They rotate with the mast and need no further work or adjustment.

The new mast rotates very freely on the step. That pivoting step is a very good design.
The mast looks and feels so excellent we feel like we should upgrade everything else. We spontaneously start cleaning up the rest of the boat. Maybe time to get a haircut and maybe some white pants...



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    36 Discussions


    3 years ago

    "Eric tied it in place with an innertube." Oh lol lol lol!


    4 years ago on Step 8

    Hey, what happened to the updates? This is a great story. Come on guys@!


    4 years ago

    I don't know a damn thing about sailing, or boats, but after reading through all this I'm at the very least impressed with all the bodgering you guys have managed to pull off! Nice work


    7 years ago on Step 2

    ..everybody gives way for the Datsun..


    7 years ago on Introduction

    the setup process is so incredibly rigged, but it turned out beautifully!


    8 years ago on Step 8

    What an inspiring story, have spent the last couple of hours being entertained! Cant wait till I cant get a big boat of my own.

    I have been meaning to get my last build up on here for ages, a folding plywood boat with hinges made of cable ties and sealed with duct tape and rubble sacks.......

    Boats make us do daft things, look forward to the next installment!


    8 years ago on Step 8

    I'm amazed about 3 things :
    1) how much is the mast's weight : it seems very light as compared to the boat's size. Is it a little bit too fragile … or undersized ?
    2) What material did you use to treat the new mast step to be efficient in less tan a day (as I understand) ? Fast curing epoxy ?… I suppose of course that the wood was in good condition…
    3) Why did you have the crew support the mast at the risk of a slippery handling causing bad injuries to the people below ?… Instead why didn't you use the principle of the tabernacle which works quite effectively with the English. The foot of the mast is set between two flanges that support a pivot that slide into the mast ; a boom or any other spar is set vertically at 2 to 3 foot over the pivot therefore at right angle with the (still) lying mast. The boom keeps the relative position to the mast by two halyards tied to the side of the boat at the same level and on the same plane as the tabernacle so that when moving the whole triangle will remain the same. The main's halyard goes from the top of the mast to the top of the boom then though a (strong !) block at the fore end of the boat which leads it to a winch. With precaution and a safe hand on the winch you can slowly raise the mast to its vertical position with crew handling tight (or giving some slack, depending on the situation) long halyards by the side of the boat or even from the shore (or pontoon / catway) or even from other boats, thus lessening the risk of injury if anything wrong happens. When it happens, it happens fast !… I saw one mast being raised wrongly collapse on 2 other boats with the end result of 3 masts to be repaired 2 weeks before the season started !!!… Owners of the two other boats were not so happy, so were the insurers !!!…
    Try to find back issues from Practical Boat Owner : 10 years or so ago they were excellent in giving these tips !…
    Your method worked ok, so who am I to put the blame on an obvious success ?But I'm afraid it could be more secured for the next time…

    Bon voyage for your next plans : please tell us ! … 

    Petty soon I'll try fix my boat (and my bad heart condition !…) to make at least a small trip along the Normandy coast this summer. This limitation makes me think more of you !…
    Be safe, be happy.

    PS. Sorry for my broken english … its pretty bad when I try to explain something practical as I feel I lack the proper and specific technical vocabulary (it someone has any idea posting an instructable on this matter will be more than welcomed !! …  LOL)


    8 years ago on Step 5

    That guy in China has *balls* i'm surprised the ladders didn't break under the weight of them


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Love the story! Excellent fun.
    If you ever need (or choose to) change the mast again, you may consider balanced lug sails. They can be done very low budget and the mast can be unstepped so there is no compression force applied to the deck and virtually no stress to the hull. You don't require expensive stainless steel cables and hardware either. They have been used successfully for 1000s of years, long before bermudan sails were ever conceived.
    Yo ho happy sailing! (and enjoy that bottle of rum)


    9 years ago on Introduction

     Might I suggest a coast guard boating course. Might save your life some day, all these adventures could have been avoided, a lot of work too. I used to raise and lower my 27 foot mast twice every time I went sailing to get under a bridge. It was a whole lot easier than what you all went through.

    3 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    That class would result in avoiding all of these adventures?

    If avoidance of adventure is what this class brings... I'm not so sold :p

    (I really hope you've caught the sarcasm, but just in case, that was me being explicit).


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     Just so there is no misunderstanding to anybody, I was not referring to the adventures of sailing, but the adventures of falling off the mast, the mast falling on you, dying, broken bones etc. THIS IS NOTHING TO JOKE ABOUT. Would you tie two step ladders together with rags and then use them to climb on your roof? If you fall off your roof you fall on soft dirt and bushes. If you fall off of a mast you fall on stainless steel deck fittings, sharp cabin edges, pipe and wire rope rails solid decks etc.

    Look at the fool hanging by one hand from the spreaders.  Look at the pilings by his left foot. Think about falling on that piling from a mast or the two ladders tied together. Can you imagine living through that? How long will it take the rescue squad to arrive, cut it off and take you to the hospital. Take x-rays and decide the course of action before rendering you unconscious to remove it. Then you have to heal. All the time and pain.  

    sailing can be a safe sport or a deadly one. There is no fine gray line between the two. It only takes one mistake or a second of inattentiveness to kill you.

    I wouldn't even get on this boat with these people, much less leave the dock with them.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I think one of "those people" started this website... Shouldn't insult the king... That being said, all this is only funny because no one but the outboard salesman got hurt through all the adventures. Be careful, folks!


    8 years ago on Step 2

    lol thats one big toothpick awesome job well done thats what they call a big endevour


    8 years ago on Introduction

    These Instructables inspired my brother and I to procure our own 27' free yacht last July. It's taken 10 months of weekends doing woodwork, learning diesel repair and figuring out rigging, but we're finally launching this weekend.
    And somehow in all the parts trading we got into with the locals, we ended up trading a dead Westerbeke inboard for a working British Seagull as our backup/dinghy propulsion.

    We've had a great time. Thanks for your articles, and I hope you'll write more.



    8 years ago on Step 8

    nice work!

    I've owned two motorless sail boats and have had to remast both of them.

    the first I took the mast down to trailer it, put it in the water, punted out, anchored went to sleep (it had been a long day). in the morning it was 25 knots. I had no way to move the boat, and couldn't row to shore in my tiny inflatable.

    this was with a 20 foot mast. it was too heavy to raise without a mechanical advantage. I made a stub-mast crane with the boom. using spare rope and trucker's-hitches for guy-wires. Then, tied the foot of the mast to the mast-step and put the jib halyard over the crane. using two ratchet-strap tie downs to guide the mast i winched the jib halyard until the mast was back up.

    the other time, I brought a boat that had dis-masted at it's mooring in a storm. this time I rowed some bamboo over to make a tripod and just winch the mast up.

    the kite sailboat looked good. why did you choose to go back to the masted sailing?

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 8

    good remasting!
    We went back to using a big stick to hold the kite I mean sail up because in light/nonexistent winds it's easier. Also variety is the spice of life.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    You, sir, are a king amongst men. I have read all of The Free Yacht Saga and have come to a conclusion that you and your wonderful crew of friends are on top of the world and aren't looking back. You are what I aspire to be but never shall be (unless I move to the bay area from all the way over in Australia?), and I thank you for posting such a wonderful series of events.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    thanks for the encouragement!
    I bet there are a lot of free yachts and like-minded captains in Australia!


    how about starting a grass tree farm? I get really impressed with what the aborigines did with grass tree resin. Modern technology hasn't produced anything like it. Make a spear by gluing a pointy rock to the end of a stick? There's nothing like it. And now I hear the grass trees are endangered.