home photos letters maps world view links search boats poems updates
Previous Letter Later Letter

New Rigging, New Boom, New Mainsail & New Sailcovers, Sept 2007

In Phuket's Boat Lagoon we got our rigging changed, eliminated our rolling boom, replaced our worn-out mainsail and got a lazy jack mainsail cover. It was a busy and expensive month, but everything went reasonably well and we believe the long-term benefits will be well worth the troubles and costs. Here are the details:

Rigging

We had rigging concerns ever since buying our catamaran in 2001. When we acquired the boat from its second owner, the mast was considerably bent backwards. We soon noticed that the mast tended to pump when we were at anchor in winds of about 25 knots. Our sister ships all seemed to have fairly straight masts, and none reported mast pumping. We tried adjusting shroud tension a little, but that didn't fix the problem. When we arrived in New Zealand in 2003 we discovered five of our rigging wires had broken strands, so we had all our swaged wires replaced. To reduce mast bend, the rigger reduced the length of the forestay four and one-half inches. The mast still had a significant bend, and still pumped at anchor in strong winds. While sailing from Pohnpei towards the Eastern Solomons in 2004, the upper fitting of our starboard lower shroud broke. We diverted to Kiribati and had a replacement shroud made by a different New Zealand rigger. In 2005 in Brisbane, Fastback creator John Gross came aboard to look at the rigging. He suggested replacing the forestay chainplate with a shorter one. This produced the same effect as reducing the length of the forestay wire by two more inches, and made our mast much straighter it still had a little bend. While sailing towards Banda Island in Indonesia later that year the upper fitting of the port lower shroud broke. We had a new shroud shipped to Banda from New Zealand. The mast still pumped at anchor in strong winds, but the winds were almost always light as we cruised through Indonesia and Malaysia up to Thailand. Because we were staying in a light wind area, and usually were in sheltered waters, we did not worry too much. However, we are planning to cross the Indian Ocean where strong winds are expected. We wanted to make our rigging as strong as possible before leaving Southeast Asia.

From all reports, the best rigger in the area is David Samuelson at Precision Shipwright Services in Boat Lagoon, Phuket, Thailand. David replaced our standing rigging with new wires and Sta-Loc terminals. Sta-Locs are extremely strong, reliable and reusable, and allow us to make future rigging repairs by ourselves rather than waiting for swaged replacements to be made in a rigging shop and shipped to wherever we are. We also requested wires slightly stronger than the original specifications. Our old lower and cap shrouds were 3/8 inch while our intermediate shrouds and inner forestay were 5/16 inch. David replaced all of these with 10mm wires. The old backstays were 1/4 inch and were replaced by 8mm wires. The old backstays joined to the bottom of a "strop" several feet long which was attached to the top of the mast, while the new backstays both run all the way to the top of the mast. Our old forestay was 12mm, already stronger than the designer's specification of 10mm, and we replaced it with a new 12mm wire. The forestay is incorporated into our Furlex roller furler at the bottom with a Sta-Loc type fitting but has a swaged fitting at the top to suit the furling system.

The attachments of our old shrouds to the mast were either "T" fittings (lower and cap shrouds) or "ball" fittings (intermediate shrouds). All of these are now replaced by large bolts through the mast, steel plate supports on both sides, and steel tangs with toggles. This is a much stronger and more flexible method. When the old support plates inside the mast were removed, one of the lower plates was broken and the other was cracked, so more failures might have occurred if we had not changed them. We replaced all the original turnbuckles with new ones, and replaced all shroud chainplates. The old chainplates for the lower shrouds were short, having only two bolts connecting to the hull compared to the long chainplates for the intermediate and cap shrouds which had ten connecting bolts. All the new chainplates are long with ten connecting bolts. David also checked for proper sizing of all connecting pins, and a few holes were enlarged to take pins of appropriate sizes.

The mast is now quite straight, and David has carefully adjusted the tension of all our standing rigging. There will be some stretching of new wires, and the boat may adjust its shape a little due to the changed forces of the new rigging. We will retension the rig slightly if it seems necessary. However, we are very pleased with our new rig and will feel more confident of its reliability in rough weather.

Boom

The boom which came with the boat was a Hood "Stoway" roller furler, though the box which normally encloses the furled sail was removed before we acquired it. Hood no longer manufactures this type of boom. Our experience was that the sail could be furled reasonably well as long as the boom was level, the boat was pointing into the wind, and some tension was kept on the halyard while reefing. The major shortcoming of this system is poor sail shape when reefed, and that is primarily due to the lack of any "outhaul" for reefs. That is, there is no way to pull the bottom of the reefed sail towards the back end of the boom, so the sail tends to creep towards the mast. When reefed we usually had big wrinkles in the mainsail and the tail of the boom drooped so low it sometimes hit our cockpit roof. We wanted to have good sail shapes even when reefed, so sailing performance could be maintained even in strong winds. The best way of achieving this was replacing the boom with a "slab-reefing" type, which is the standard system on most yachts.

We ordered a new boom from Allyacht Spars in Australia. They made our mast, and we believe they have supplied masts and booms for all of our sister ships. They shipped the boom to Phuket. We were surprised that they said the total cost of shipping to Phuket, including Customs fees, was less than for shipping to the closer duty-free port of Langkawi. The boom is apparently like those on other Fastback 43s. There are four sheaves in the back end, three large and one smaller, for three reefing lines and one outhaul. In the front of the boom are three sheaves for reefing lines. We had PSS cut a slot in the side of the boom and install a cleat for the outhaul. We use 8mm Spectra for the outhaul - expensive but very strong. We use 12mm braided polyester for our reefing lines.

Our new mainsail has three reef points, with a cringle at the back edge of the sail for each reef. Each reefing line is tied around the boom, then goes up through its cringle, down to a sheave at the back end of the boom, through the boom to a sheave at the front, and then through a rope clutch. There are three rope clutches mounted under the boom, one for each reefing line, and they can maintain tension on their lines. To tension a line, it is run through a snatch block further back on the boom and then forward to a halyard winch mounted on the mast. We used to have just one halyard winch, on the starboard side of the mast. Here we bought a matching winch for the port side. Now we can use a winch on all of our halyards, whereas before there was no winch for the spinnaker halyard. No matter which side of the boat the boom tends toward while reefing, we will have a winch aligned well for the reefing lines. When one of these reefing lines is tightened, the back edge of the sail at its cringle is pulled down to the boom and back too. This gives the reefed sail its proper shape.

To connect our new boom to our mast and allow the boom to turn horizontally the steelworkers at PSS made a "gooseneck." This is a substantial stainless steel construction which is simple and extremely strong. On the top of the gooseneck are two steel hooks to hold reef cringles in the front edge of the mainsail. The first step of reefing is to lower the sail until the appropriate cringle can be slipped onto a hook, after which the halyard is pulled until the front edge of the sail is tight. Then the corresponding reefing line is used to tighten the bottom and back edges of the reefed sail as described above.

Mainsail

Our old mainsail was made by Hood, and had been modified for use on the rolling boom. That is, the batten pockets had been removed and then restitched so the battens were parallel to the boom and could be furled in the sail. This mainsail was probably the original one on the boat, and its cloth and stitching had deteriorated. We were due for a new mainsail, and the right time to get it was when we changed booms. We considered "Rolly Tasker," a famous sailmaking company with the world's largest sail loft located in Phuket. However, we heard many stories of sails made incorrectly without apologies, corrections or cost adjustments. They do not visit boats to make measurements or to fit the resulting sails.

We chose Ket of "Local Sails" who was happy to visit "Arctracer", make measurements, and listen to our requirements. He produced a mainsail with three reefs which uses almost all of the space available between our boom, mast and backstays. The new sail has 384 square feet of 9oz (heavy) Dacron (polyester) sailcloth. The Fastback 43 design calls for a mainsail of 315 square feet, so we may get a little better performance in light winds with our larger sail. Many catamarans have a big roach in their mainsail, but that is incompatible with our fixed backstays. Without a large roach, and without a racing requirement for perfect sail shape, we did not ask for full-length battens. We believe our new mainsail will prove to be "bulletproof" and perfect for cruising in all conditions. Ket is a sailor with many years of sailmaking experience. We found him very competent and his sails are reasonably priced. He is also a very likeable person who went out of his way several times to give us additional help unrelated to sailmaking. We recommend him highly.

Sailcover

We decided to get a "stackpack" type of cover for our mainsail and incorporate "lazy jacks." We never used this system before, but it is very popular. The mainsail is "loose-footed," which means it is attached to the boom only at the very front and at the outhaul in back. The boom came with a track, and that is used with slugs to secure the bottom of the sailcover. The sailcover comes up both sides of the sail and has a zipper on top which can close over the sail when it is lowered onto the top of the boom. The bottom of the sailcover has slots on both sides through which reefing lines can be tied around the boom. There are three loops on each side at the top of the sailcover for lazy jack lines. The lazy jacks are a network of small ropes on both sides of the sail which attach to the mast at the second spreaders. The lazy jack lines also hold the top of the sailcover up. When the sail is lowered, the lazy jacks keep it from blowing away and help it to fold nicely on top of the boom inside the sailcover.

Muzza of "Canvas Creations" made our new sailcover. His shop is literally a stone's throw from the dock where "Arctracer" stayed in the Boat Lagoon Marina. Nina bought the Sunbrella (acrylic) cloth from "Phuket Awnings" to be sure of the right color ("aquamarine") and to have extra material for other projects. Muzza talked to the sailmaker and measured our boom and sail to get the sailcover dimensions. However, the resulting stackpack is too small. It does not cover the entire mainsail except when the track stopper is removed and all the slides are moved as far as possible down towards the boom. Some slides fall out of the track when this is done, making it more difficult to raise the sail again. Without the track stopper in place it is still difficult to get the zipper closed on top of the sail, and there are gaps next to the mast where sailcloth is exposed to the sun. We would like a stackpack large enough to protect the whole sail even with the track stopper holding all the slides in the track. The existing stackpack is not good enough. Muzza also sewed covers on closed cell foam Nina bought for cockpit cushions, and made new back awnings to replace the faded red ones we have been using since we bought the boat.

Boat Lagoon

Boat Lagoon is a man-made harbor in an old tin mining site about halfway along the east side of Phuket Island. It was Phuket's first marina. Around the marina basin is a substantial real estate development, probably the primary interest of the original developers. There is a hotel, many blocks of attached houses, and four-story buildings next to the marina which have businesses on the first floor and apartments above. Construction is continuing, and we watched pile-drivers, cranes, and a dredge (backhoe on a raft) working along the waterway. There are several restaurants in the complex, and less expensive eateries just outside. We often bought good bread at the bakery between 4:00 and 5:00 when it was on sale at half-price. The marina access road is off a main highway where we caught songthaews to downtown Phuket.

Boat access is via a long channel dredged from a shallow bay into the original small estuary. The channel starts at 7 degrees 58.7N and 98 degrees 24.9E and takes about 45 minutes to navigate at 4 knots. The channel is narrow, twisting, and so shallow that most yachts can use it only at high tide. Some friends whose boat needs seven feet of water chose not to attempt entry, but we saw one boat with draft over ten feet which did manage to enter on a very high tide. Royal Phuket Marina uses the same entrance channel, and its depth frustrates their attempts to attract "superyachts." The water is shallow even inside the marina, and at low tides our catamaran was often resting partly on the bottom. One of our entertainments was watching the speedboats which carry tourists on daily excursions. These outboard-powered boats generally have shallow draft, but at low tide even they had to tilt their motors and plow furrows in the mud. The marina will send a dinghy to guide boats in and out, but we did not request this service.

Because we have a multihull our rent was one and one-half times the charge for a monohull of the same length. This surcharge is not unusual at marinas, but seems unfair when we are not occupying two regular slips but are tied on the end of a dock as we were here. We expected to pay a daily rent, but after about three weeks it was cheaper to pay the monthly rate. Water and electricity were metered and wi-fi access to the Internet was available by pre-paying for blocks of time. We were entitled to use the "Boat Club" pool, gym, showers and saunas (with free towels) but it was a long walk from our dock so we didn't use it often.

There are Travelifts and a hardstand area beside the marina docks. Many boats were hauled out for repairs and painting. Local workers are relatively inexpensive and usually hardworking, and specialized services are not difficult to obtain. There are a few chandleries nearby. It is not uncommon for boats to get new teak decks, very fancy paint jobs, and other major work done here. Many boats were on the hardstand while their crews were away. Hardstand rental is apparently at the same rates as marina space in the water, with the additional costs of getting lifted out and back in. Some cruisers rent apartments in the marina complex while work is being done on their boats. We moved from our dock to the Travelift bay twice - to get our mast removed and to have it re-stepped. The Travelift bay has cement sides and seemed very narrow when Jerry steered into it with Arctracer's 7 meter width, but we did have a few feet to spare on either side. A crane was hired to lift our mast, and those operations were done very competently by a crew which had experience and was led by David, our rigger.

The enjoyment of our stay was greatly improved by David and Dorine, friendly fellow-cruisers who have stopped here to work for a while. We had not seen them since our schooner was tied next to their "Swan II" in Coffs Harbour in 2000. In Boat Lagoon their 1969 classic Swan was newly painted, had new teak decks, and was being varnished to perfection. The meticulous maintenance of their own boat is a powerful advertisement for their work on other boats. They took us shopping and to restaurants away from the marina, and provided good advice on many subjects.

Weather

We entered Boat Lagoon on August 20 and stayed nearly a month. This is the season of the southwest monsoon in Thailand, the wet season. We got some rain on most days, but it did not interfere much with the work that we had to do. Boats being painted had more problems. We used umbrellas many times, and frequently waited under cover until a shower passed.

The weather became worse when we were ready to leave. We had a period of more rain and many squalls. When Nina went to pay our marina bill so we could depart, the Harbourmaster told her the weather was dangerous and we should stay until it moderated. A few days later Jerry started towards the office to pay our bill when a thunderstorm again brought heavy rain and strong gusty winds. The marina gave us a copy of the weather forecast, which showed bad weather continuing. During a strong squall on September 16 an airliner crashed while attempting to land at Phuket airport, with more than eighty people killed. It would be easy to get stuck in the entrance channel during a period of poor visibility or gusty wind. This kind of weather would not normally worry us in open water, but since we had new and untested rigging, a new mainsail, a new boom and new reefing system, we considered it prudent to wait for better weather. We finally escaped in light winds and had a trouble-free trip down to Langkawi, Malaysia.

Previous Letter Later Letter