Masts and Mastering

We saw pictures of boats with masts being carried by fairly light timbers – and we saw boats in the flesh like that. They must have had masts that were much lighter than ours, because after a (potentially terminal) calamity our bolted X-frames had to be re-made in 75×75 fence post timbers, with a 3rd leg strut, and this was not ‘overkill’. Between Le Havre/Honfleur and Rouen you will encounter a big river with strong currents and sea-going ships and barges that together create significant wash and movement in your craft. In Paris the many ‘bateaux mouche’ move fast and don’t take prisoners. The Rhone is like the Seine, with strong winds too. Even when moored, passing craft (freighters, barges, even small speeding fishing boats in Sete) can create a significant wash that not only rocks the boat but the tied-down mast as well. Beware! Your mast not only needs to be supported well, it must also adequately resist fore-and-aft and side-to-side movement through lashings down as far from the mast in both directions as you can contrive.

[above] 2003  X-Frames to Bow and Stern

2007  Jointed Frame – paired supports with housed, bolted and glued ties at head and foot

The mast stick out, at both ends. Firstly, one needs to be acutely aware of this ‘new’ factor when manoeuvring the boat. We’ve got an old blue fender hanging down from its end aft, and a bright orange bucket covering the end, forward – to remind at the appropriate time. Secondly, the water pouring into locks (ecluses) when going ‘uphill’ (i.e. to Paris and well beyond) creates considerable potential movement at the bows, sufficient to bash the mast end on that nasty rough and slimy lock wall if one is not careful. Good warping technique and control is important (see “Locking”) . . and we find our bowthruster really earns its keep. The supported mast gets in the way, moving about the deck, especially when one needs to get somewhere quick. We supported ours at a height (needing 3m clearance) where we don’t crack our heads in the cockpit, we can raise the spray hood, and on deck we can fairly easily duck under from one side to the other.

A common experience seems to be that boatyards that offer this may be friendly and know how to operate a crane, but are not in business to provide a ‘de-rigging’ service. You may (as we were) be expected to undo and generally prepare everything, then they will attach a strop to the mast, lift it up and lay it onto the supports you have provided on the boat. In that respect they do not ‘look after one’ as one might hope. A shame, since for most of us unmasting does not happen often and is a worrying event – problems at the time maybe and maybe problems stored up for the future. We taped the positions of all our shroud and stay bottle-screws and took photographs of all the critical bits of our rig, hopefully to reassemble it correctly in the future. (below: Rouen)

A Right Carry On?
There is the option of not carrying the mast. In our innocence, we chose not to arrange transportation to a ‘destination port’ because (a) it costs and (b) we didn’t know where we might want to re-mast. Carrying increases alternatives but adds complication and anxiety (see above), and height. On smaller canals like the Midi, bridges are narrow and low. 9 months on, on the Midi where locks are also tricky, we’d be very glad not to have it – to be more suited to inland conditions – but we would not have changed our original decision. So far, we have knocked the end of the mast just the once, but . . .
If you want to have your mast transported south you might try contacting one of the bigger marinas there – Port Napoleon, Port Camargue, Grande Motte . . .

Mast-transport (+49 4343/ 556869-50  speak to Wolfgang Graf) are consistently recommended.