The Forestay

Up the mast, forestay reconnected, and ready to come down.

Up the mast, forestay reconnected, and ready to come down.

February 8.

I paused (again) to catch my breath, and looked around. I was past the spreaders, almost to the top of the mast. The view up here is nice. On a calm day like this you can see the fort at Key West, the cruise ships docked near Mallory Square, the Frankfort Bank, and the bay on the other side of Fleming Key. Why am I up here? To re-attach the forestay we dropped in our last blog post

Here’s how we’ve supported the mast since the forestay came down. Two halyards run from the top of the mast to the bow. (The shoes are stuffed between them to dampen vibration. Without the shoes, when the wind kicks up they sound like a helicopter hovering over the boat.) On the right you can see the base of the forestay lashed to the bow pulpit.

Here’s how we’ve supported the mast since the forestay came down. Two halyards run from the top of the mast to the bow. (The shoes are stuffed between them to dampen vibration. Without the shoes, when the wind kicks up they sound like a helicopter hovering over the boat.) On the right you can see the base of the forestay lashed to the bow pulpit.

The forestay has been tied to the side of the boat since it came down.

The forestay has been tied to the side of the boat since it came down.

Here is the backstay-to-mast connection. The forestay has a similar pin.

Here is the backstay-to-mast connection. The forestay has a similar pin.

Usually I winch Duwan up the mast. She went up six days ago. She took lots of pictures and measurements, and determined that we just needed a pin to secure our forestay to the top of the mast. But she didn’t feel good about trying to reconnect the forestay itself.

We ordered a pin (3’’ long, 1/2” in diameter) to replace the one we’d lost. Then we tried to decide how to go about hiring someone strong enough to winch me up.

Thank goodness for FaceBook’s Women Who Sail group. Women can pose questions there without fear of being belittled for their ignorance. Duwan started asking questions, and relayed the answers to me. (As a guy, I’m not allowed to look.) We got several good suggestions, one on how I could climb a halyard myself.

We decided to use the climbing technique, Prusiking. Prusik knots are loops around the rope you wish to climb. Friction holds them while they are under tension. When the pressure is off they can be slid along the climbing rope. Using two Prusiks you can raise yourself with a foot loop, slide a second chest loop up. Then, hanging from the chest loop, slide the foot loop up. Simple!

Tying a prussic knot.

Tying a prussic knot.

Tying up to bosun’s chair.

Tying up to bosun’s chair.

Finished Prusik knot.

Finished Prusik knot.

It helps to have a bosun’s chair. And for added safety use another line which your sweetheart can tighten after each “step”.

Moving about 12 inches each step, it took me a while to get to the top of the mast. This is an activity for younger, lighter, stronger people. But I finally made it.

Sitting in bosun’s chair hanging from Prusik knots.

Sitting in bosun’s chair hanging from Prusik knots.

Making the climb.

Making the climb.

Almost to the spreaders.

Almost to the spreaders.

Next I hauled up the forestay while Duwan used a boat hook to try and keep it out of the wind generator and shrouds. I tied off the end of the forestay and carefully pulled out the replacement pin and tools. Don’t want to drop anything at this point.

Getting the forestay in place required a lot of effort. Even with the heavy swivels resting on the deck it was difficult to lift. I finally got the pin in. Then I inserted a cotter pin and bent it to secure the large pin.

At the top. Forestay is hauled up. Trying to attach it. Swivel is in bottom foreground.

At the top. Forestay is hauled up. Trying to attach it. Swivel is in bottom foreground.

Big pin is in. Bending cotter pin.

Big pin is in. Bending cotter pin.

I didn’t want to climb down, but my climbing halyard was too short for Duwan to lower me. (Lowering is much easier than raising.) So I hung from the backup line and loosened both of my Prusik knots. Duwan hauled on the climbing halyard until the bottom end was close to my feet. Then I tightened the Prusiks, and she lowered me on the climbing halyard.

Back on deck we loosened the backstay and connected the bottom of the forestay to the bow. Then I retightened the backstay. Yay. The forestay was in place. The mast was secure.

Loosening the backstay turnbuckle to relax rearward tension on the mast.

Loosening the backstay turnbuckle to relax rearward tension on the mast.

Attach forestay to bow. (The small knots are temporarily holding it in place.)

Attach forestay to bow. (The small knots are temporarily holding it in place.)

Bend on the cotter pin.

Bend on the cotter pin.

The forestay itself is just a stainless steel cable. To support our roller furling headsail there are swivels for the top and bottom of the sail. Also, the cable runs through a set of hollow foils. The foils run the full length of the forestay. They are screwed down to it. They form a long slot which houses the leading edge of the sail. Each foil is 7’ long. There are special connectors holding them together.

We had temporarily reinforced the foil connections with plastic sleeves. A rope ran inside the sleeves. My plan was to tug on the rope when we finished. The sleeves should slide down. The plan didn’t work. The topmost sleeve wouldn’t give.

Here is one of the plastic sleeves supporting a foil connection.

Here is one of the plastic sleeves supporting a foil connection.

After a lunch break it was Duwan’s turn to go up the mast. I winched her high enough to work on the topmost sleeve. When she freed it the rest came down easily.

Bad news. The foil connections are dinged up pretty badly. We can’t raise a headsail. We will probably need to replace the whole forestay assembly. If so, we may even pull the mast and do some other maintenance. These are land jobs, not to be done at anchor.

Looking down the forestay. You can see slot for the headsail. The bent foils are visible too.

Looking down the forestay. You can see slot for the headsail. The bent foils are visible too.

Topmost foil connection is so bad you can see the forestay cable.

Topmost foil connection is so bad you can see the forestay cable.

We can still sail with the mainsail only. If the wind is abeam or behind us we can make progress. If the wind is ahead of us the progress is very slow.

But we’re healthy, and all our new gear is working. I replaced a fuel filer and tightened all the fuel line connections. Blue Wing’s engine is running well now. The adventure continues.

7 thoughts on “The Forestay

  1. Terry Landis said:

    wow great article great blog I wish I would have been there to help you guys. I know you were probably saying where is Terry where is Terry. but it’s nice and warm over here in Thailand I wish you could be here to to get lots of foot massages. Sounds like pretty soon you’re going to be ready to go to get Her to a nice safe harbor. Cheers

  2. Thanks for a great how-to and excellent pics to ‘splain the techniques! Good job!

  3. Suzanne said:

    I’m exhausted!

  4. Craig said:

    This is awesome Greg and Duwan. My boating knowledge is a drop in the bucket compared to you all. Here’s to smooth sailing ahead for you. -Craig

  5. Capt. robert said:

    Glad you both made it up and down ok.

  6. Great description and pictures of that climbing technique! I’ll file that one away for future reference in case we ever need to use it.

  7. jo said:

    Duwan, I don’t know where you find the reserve to take great shots in the middle of a crisis!

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