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Ignore Rigging at Your Own Peril

When rigging expert Mike Meer, of Southbound Yacht Rigging in Annapolis, Maryland, points to a photograph and says: "That was the scariest thing I have ever seen in my entire career as a professional rigger," then you had better take note. Mike had taken the picture while at the masthead of a 37-foof Pacific Seacraft, and was using the image during a seminar at the Annapolis Sailboat Show to illustrate the dangers of not checking your rigging. The Seacraft had no cotter pins in its headstay. It was, quite literally, one puff away from catastrophic failure.

Recently my fiancée Mia and I took our 35-foot yawl Arcturus out sailing for the first time after re-stepping the mast. Four months earlier, our rig had been lying on sawhorses. We disassembled it bit by bit, removing everything and leaving a bare aluminum extrusion. The old rig was at least 30 years old, and way beyond time for a refit.

I began working for Mike Meer in the spring, learning how to become a rigger from a guy who's been doing it for years – first in San Diego and lately in Annapolis. Southbound is one of the smaller shops in town, yet Mike likes to think of us as one of the area's best, focusing on custom design, advanced materials and classy traditional work.

Mia and I gained access to the Southbound shop, and we had experienced teachers offering us advice. To top it off, through Southbound I met Brion Toss, the guru of the yacht rigging world and the author of the Rigger's Apprentice, the DIY rigger's bible. By the time Annapolis Boat Show came around, I had gained enough experience as a rigger, particularly with cutting edge synthetic systems, to join Mike as a speaker at the seminar.

The Pacific Seacraft had sailed all the way from New York, making it to Annapolis, miraculously, with no cotter pins in their headstay. The day Mike found the problem, he sent an 'all caps' email to the Seacraft's owner, practically begging him not to sail the boat until it was fixed. As it turned out, we found several other problems almost as scary … no cotter pins in the turnbuckle threads; undersized clevis pins; bent and cracked swage fittings.

Incredibly, we find this stuff almost daily by simply walking around the boatyard.

Many boat owners ignore the rigging issue, taking the startling attitude that if it's held up for 30 years it's probably just fine. When I met Brion Toss, he told me something that struck a chord, he said: "If you're going to put rigging in the hands of the sailor, that privilege comes with the responsibility of understanding the boat's rig and making sure it's in top condition."

Mike's speech touched on a myriad other rigging problems, from crevis corrosion and metal fatigue, which will destroy stainless steel (check your chain plates where they pass through the deck), to wire rigging lifespan (usually seven to ten years in the tropics), and even lightning strikes.

He concluded his speech by urging boat owners to take responsibility for their rigging.

He touched on proper rig tuning: Get the mast straight and in column – light air likes a loose rig, heavy air a tight one. Rig inspections: Anyone who doesn't go aloft before an offshore trip is asking for trouble.

Mike reminded everyone of the importance of keeping their boat's rig in top shape. Even if a professional does most of
the work, the onus remains on the skipper to make sure it was done right.

After working with Southbound for the summer, I had the confidence to put Arcturus' rig back together. Although it was nerve wracking during that first sail, every time I asked myself whether I'd tightened a bolt properly or installed pins in the right places, I could always answer with a resounding "yes!"

Andy Schell is a professional captain and freelance writer, based in the Caribbean, Annapolis and Stockholm, depending on the season. He lives aboard his yawl Arcturus with Mia, his fiancée. Contact him at andy.schell125@gmail.com or www.fathersonsailing.com

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