Managing Yacht Masts


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.

French waterways canals rivers - yacht masts

[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 sticks 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)

Mast Transport

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 . . .

Fast-Mast (+49 171 486 1820 speak to Reiner Petras) is Wolfgang Graf’s successor, consistently recommended.

Boat Transport

An increasingly popular method of having a vessel delivered to the continent is by truck and trailer using a haulage firm with experience in transporting heavy, oversize loads, especially boats to continental Europe. This method of relocating your boat has a number of advantages. Firstly, there is not the wear and tear of a Channel crossing, there are no forced delays waiting for favourable weather, and the cruise starts where you want, avoiding the occasionally awkward first week’s navigation from a busy commercial port through high-capacity waterways shared with heavy inland shipping. For example, the normal delivery time from the UK to Laroche-Migennes is 48 hours.

The haulier arranges competitive ferry prices, selects the appropriate route and obtains the necessary transport permits and Convoi Exceptionnel documents and escorts where required. Documents to be supplied to arrange the transport of privately owned vessels are (a) documentation showing the vessel’s VAT paid, or exempt, status and (b) a copy of the registration documents.

Trailer sailing on the French Waterways

Owners of trailed craft will find it much easier than in the past to launch on the French waterways. Facilities for boats have mushroomed, and the ports de plaisance are usually equipped with a slipway or crane suitable for most trailed boats. Hire firms also welcome private boats to make use of their facilities, except out of season or at weekends when they are busy turning round their own boats. Generally speaking, boat harbours with slipways are encountered more frequently on river navig­ations than on canals.

If you are planning on trailer-sailing, the maximum authorised dimensions of vehicle and trailer without special permission and documentation are as follows: height, no restriction (but 4m is the practical maximum); overall width, 2.50m; overall vehicle length 12m, and overall trailer length, 12m. The vehicle/trailer combination should not exceed 18.5m. The RYA legal department publishes a booklet on trailer sailing.

Breil and Fluviacarte waterway navigation guides mark slipways and launch ramps on their maps. Inevitably, they are not always completely up to date.

Maps and guides page