Repair to the bowsprit

A couple weeks ago, David and I took Mahdee out for just a little Sunday morning jaunt between rain showers. Funny how a few minutes of inattention can turn into days of repairs later… Yes, somehow a bit of wood had managed to get beneath the shipping bowsprit in such a way that when the spar was lowered into position, the stresses applied managed to split the foot of the bowsprit. Is there a good thing? well, when the spar is in use, it is in compression upon a pin forward of the damaged area so the damaged wood isn’t loaded up at all. Bad thing? it added another repair to our list of “things to fix” and this one required sooner rather than later.

Before going further, let me get into a little discussion of the bowsprit’s purpose. Many people wonder why schooners tend to have bowsprits. So what is its purpose? To bring the effort of the furthest forward sail, the jib, the proper distance forward to get rid of any unbalanced helm–weather helm–caused by the schooner’s large mainsail but not so far forward as to create lee helm. That probably sounds like a bit of gibberish to some of our friends. For our non-boating friends, I’ll explain further: When sailing a boat with an unbalanced helm, it is somewhat like driving a car that needs wheel alignment. You can’t let go the wheel lest the boat quickly spin up or downwind depending upon the balance of the sails. The boat’s underwater hull shape, heel angle, as well as position of the sails in use at any given time can create the unbalanced “weather” or “lee” helm. The wind’s force on all the sails aft of the boat’s fore-and-aft center of gravity (CG, a pivot point and there are more than one CG since we have a fore-and-aft CG as well as a vertical CG and just to confuse things a bit further, sometimes people call the center of effort of the sails the CG as well) tend to point the boat up into the wind, to weather, whereas the wind force in the sails forward of the CG tend to make the boat fall off away from the direction of the wind, to lee. These windward and leeward tendencies are called “weather helm” and “lee helm.” When sailing downwind, we love to have lee helm as it keeps us pointed properly and so we can put lots of headsails up and leave the mainsail down, enjoying the ride. Other points of sail are not so easy for balance for most boats. On the day I videoed my solo watch (see embedded video here), you may note the wheel doesn’t turn at all — it is locked into a single position but we’re gloriously sailing downwind. ¬†This is because I only have up the foresail and staysail, both have center of effort forward of the boat’s CG and creating just enough lee helm that when the waves push us around a bit, the wind in the sails keeps us pointed running downwind.

Since the hull shape makes a boat’s in-water resistance change the exact position of the CG, it isn’t really obvious and visible at all. The CG on an individual boat can vary with the boat’s loading. ¬†Loading can move the boat’s CG fore and aft–a heavy bow with too much anchor chain or heavy stern with too many fuel tanks and batteries for example rather than exactly as the naval architect intended will change the fore-and-aft CG. Even before we load her, Mahdee tends to be a bit stern heavy and has a cutaway forekeel forward and a deep keel aft so her tendencies are a bit…aft…to start — Crocker’s calculations of CG show her CG a few inches forward of the aft-set mainmast — and then we seem to have a bad habit of loading her up with full fuel tanks aft, supplies midships, and while we try very hard to load up the forecastle with extra anchors and whatnot, we must admit we contribute to the weather helm situation if we’re not careful of how we load her pre-voyage. Her ideal load is with mostly empty aft fuel tanks coupled with a lot of spare water cans sitting in the forecastle. Note “forecastle” sometimes spelled fo’c’sle is pronounced “foksol” like… “folk soul” by most people.

When we use the foresail and staysail alone as we do in big winds when we’re trying to be cautious and importantly trying to not tire out our double handed crew, the jib on the bowsprit stays in the nets. But when we raise the mainsail, the jib is a requirement and the bowsprit a very important spar aboard Mahdee. So after the “crack” and “oops” sounded simultaneously, we knew we had to repair the bowsprit asap. I decided I would paint the ‘sprit while it is removed since it has a few rubbed spots and dents in need of care. It was painted in 2009 and the last time it was touched up was in 2012. After the damage, it rained all the following week. Good friends from DC visited the next weekend and we explored local house museums, eateries, and parks with them for three days. Then with Buttercup and Wesley vying for attention and smog checks coming up, time flew by with us elsewhere diagnosing car issues and focused on their needs. Buttercup’s smog check completed and Wesley stuck non-opp and waiting for parts, we were finally ready to do the bowsprit — three busy weeks had flown by and last Sunday evening was the first moment we could have at it with the bowsprit. The sun was setting and knowing the next few days would be very busy and then rainy, David said “now or never.”

Our rig has twin forestays at the stem, so taking the shipping bowsprit off doesn’t impact the rig as it does on many boats but it still was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle to bring the ‘sprit onto the foredeck without taking all the hardware off of it. I was game to remove the hardware, David, not so much. He dislikes doing anything he perceives “unnecessary” and he perceives removal of the hardware as that. Of course, as the person painting, I think of the ease of painting the ‘sprit with no hardware as much better than masking off hardware and dealing with wood-to-bronze interfaces. With time fleeting and the sun lowering, David’s method ruled because it really was a matter of doing it then or waiting for some indeterminate time before we’d both be available to do the removal together.

It took a bit of digging to retrieve the beat up plastic sawhorses from beneath the fenders, lines, oars, paddles, and other stuff we store in Mahdee’s forecastle. The 105 lb CQR was removed and the chain brought inboard — I ran the trusty electric windlass so it took up the load and kept me from having to do any heavy lifting. Then, the bowsprit shrouds called “whisker stays” were removed from the tip, the jibstay released, and netting released from a few spots. We’d lowered the bowsprit over the marina dock so this was all done by David working on the dock with arms stretched high overhead — almost not quite able to reach the fasteners and clips releasing it all but with no step stool or ladder, the only choice.

Then the bowsprit was swung up vertically again to allow us to remove the big bronze pin, a bearing surface, at the aft-most foot of the sprit. Pound, pound, with a hammer and old screwdriver used as a punch, the pin slid out of the bronze sleeve we’d made for it during our bowsprit repairs in 2009. With the jib halyard attached to the front and the staysail topping lift to the aft end of the bowsprit, David skillfully threaded the heavy bowsprit between the twin forestays and onto our wobbly plastic sawhorses while I cringed and kept the aft end from swinging wildly around. Once settled onto the sawhorses, an extra line was wrapped onto a cleat on it and attached to a nearby pin rack on the fore-shrouds to keep the ‘sprit from swinging inwards and smacking the foremast if the sawhorses failed, and we both let out a big “whew” and sigh of relief that we’d not damaged Mahdee while bringing the spar inboard and we still have a half hour of fading light.

It is bit over 17 feet from the stem to the breakdeck and the spar sits along the entire distance. Amazingly long. When shipped into the vertical position or lowered out the front of the boat to hang over the water, I never realize how truly long that spar is. The few times we’ve entered marinas without it shipped inboard, I’ve worried about thwacking a dockbox or another boat, of course!

David had a busy week away from the boat, so on Monday I glued up and clamped the damaged area and was quite pleased with the tight seam. On Wednesday I added a bit more waterproof wood glue–Tightbond III–to a couple small cracks and then ignored the spar during the winds and rains of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Now to sand and paint the bowsprit before re-mounting it on its hinge pin and attaching all the fittings to it so it can be used again while sailing.

1 Thought.

  1. Well you make it all sound so simple but I know better ! I’ve got a 30′ schooner on up on Lake Ontario sitting on the hard until May when our season starts. I’ve read your post & envy you for having the time to use Mahdee. Farming has gotten in the way of my retirement but I get out as often as possible. This year I’m down sizing the beef herd & hoping to steal away for a month in late summer. Time will tell. Thanks: Shon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Google Analytics Alternative