Dropping the rig

Dropping the mast from El Rubicon

Recently we had to drop the rig from the deck of El Rubicon, with a deck stepped mast it’s not as big a job as it may first appear providing you enlist the help of a rigger and suitable crane.

To begin with, as with most jobs onboard preparation is key, make sure all parties i.e. rigger and crane will be on site at the pre-arranged times.


Removing any possible items that will make the task easier like sail, boom and any other attachments will speed up the process. Then slacken the rig by loosening the bottle screws. Now you need all hands on deck to remove/disconnect the cables that run up the mast namely the steaming light, tricolour/anchor light VHF aerial and wind instruments, once clear support the mast with crane using strops under the spreaders and continue releasing the bottle screws. When fully unscrewed it’s time to lift the mast of its seat and lift to a clear area with supports at regular intervals alongside the yacht. Ours came down with the furling system still attached.

Jobs once the rig is down

Once the mast is down it’s a great time to replace any ageing cables like the VHF and masthead lights, we also swapped the anemometer. Don’t forget to check the sheaves and condition of the tangs and spreaders. Do any maintenance now, plus getting the furling system serviced is a good idea, if the sails could do with a trip to the sail loft you may as well treat them to some probable much need attention allowing them a new lease of life, well a couple of seasons at least!

Stepping the mast

Having completed all the jobs it time to step the mast. Again preparation is key, having re attached the furling system and forestay the mast is lifted and guided back into position and the bottle screws re-connected, when secured the crane can be removed and sent on its way. Now comes the time consuming part of re-running cables (having replaced any failing deck glands)  and tensioning the rig, making sure the mast remains straight i.e. not bending to port or starboard. Now the correct amount of prebend can be added by tensioning the intermediate and upper shrouds. Reconnect boom, add sails and check all halyards and lines run smoothly.

The rig tension is finally set by sailing the yacht in a reasonable breeze, initially the rig should be left a little slack and when sailing to windward the lee shrouds should have a little play, if they are swaying around in the wind tension the bottle screws a turn at a time but no more and tack the boat around to expose the rig to similar tension on the opposite tack, again adjust shrouds as necessary and check that the mast does not pull to one side. Once the lee shrouds stop moving around freely you’re probably there. Once back in harbour check the rig and spreader alignment and when satisfied that the rig is OK replace all split pins and tape them in (this is a personal choice as some people like to be able to see the split pins).

El Rubicon ready to sail again

El Rubicon looking sad without her mast


All in all, the task was much simpler than first envisaged, it took around half a day to drop the rig and another half day to step. The thing that proved key at every stage was planning and preparation, providing you think everything through, take your time and ensure the rig is supported at all times there is no reason that the average person cannot perform this task.

For me personally this was a great exercise and learning curve, I am a great believer in trying to learn as much as possible about your boat and this certainly reinforced a couple of things.  By enlisting the help/services of a rigger we also got a clean bill of health for the rig giving us peace of mind. Happy sailing