Is Mast length overated?

Discussion in 'Sailboats' started by souljour2000, Apr 13, 2010.

  1. souljour2000
    Joined: Aug 2009
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    souljour2000 Senior Member

    I am thinking about going with a shorter mast for my Hunter 20. fractional sloop rig(displacement: approx. 1 ton or so under way). I have by no means reached a definitive decision but here are the pros and cons of such a decision as far as I can tell....The mast on my boat is 29.5 feet above water...quite tall for such a small boat and comparable to that of a Catalina 22 and many 23 and 24-foot boats.

    Pro's of having a tall mast on a boat like mine:

    1) Having the sail that high up really helps the boat get up to around 5 knots quickly when the wind is blowing 12-16 mph...or around 4 knots when it's blowing say only 8-11 mph. Okay...sadly...this seems to be the only plus I can come up with....but it's a good plus...

    Cons:

    1) The mast is very difficult for one person to raise and lower . Although I have done it several times...it hasn't always been pretty...never disastrous but just glad none of the episodes were filmed or photo-documented in anyway shape or form...

    2) In order to be as long as it is...and still keep the weight down...the mast is skinny and willowy and the manufacturers 1/8 wire rope size is suspect in a sailboat that is not used as a club racer but instead a light coastal cruiser (going to 5/32 or higher is not what I really want to do at this point because of more weight) In other words it's always seemed like a spindly, noodly mast . (though it has treated me as well as I have treated it)....(It's standing rigging over the last couple years has held up despite being poorly tuned and with sub-par rigging/fittings on occasion..) After all, there are palm trees in my neighborhood here that are 20 feet or more taller than my mast and only slightly thicker.... that have held up through 60 knot winds so I am not saying "noodly" is not strong..it can of course be very strong due its' flexibility...still....avast!!...me mast is noodly I tell yaz...sssshhhhh!!

    3) Having that tall mast yanking around up there in confused seas, a good blow, a following sea etc,really affects the already marginal handling that the skinny bow and flat bottom impart in heavy conditions.......and even reefed down a few points what good is having that 10 -12 feet of empty flagpole pole up there making things herkier-jerkier?

    4) I will have added about 75 pounds to the cabin roof by making the roof a walkable hard-roof instead of a pop-top...over the previous weight and so I have changed the boats CG slightly and she's more top-heavy now....this one is kinda the deal-maker as I see it...

    Okay...cons seem to outweigh the pros...but it's a tradeoff ...it's a question of having a boat that is fairly fast and sails well 90% of the time or having a boat that is slow most of the time but much easier to handle in foul weather/waves....I like to do both...but usually do alot more sailing in fair weather as most of us do...So...thats my predicament as I see it...am I missing something or is the tradeoff really this black or white? It seems like I might have to someday pay for all those nice sunny days surfing at hull speed or higher someday with a possible broach if I don't shorten the mast...I'd rather just slow down or motorsail with me 5 hp Tohatsu sipper ...and then when it's 20-30 mph...be able to scoot along with better handling and confidence in the rig...any thoughts welcome...
     
  2. TollyWally
    Joined: Mar 2005
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    Location: Fox Island

    TollyWally Senior Member

    What would a shorter mast and a longer boom do for you? I'd ask a sailmaker or two for a little insight.
     
  3. Stumble
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Stumble Senior Member

    Soul,

    Just to respond point by point to your concerns.

    1) Putting the mast into place easily really doesn't change much with the leingth of the mast, technique is much, much more important. I routinely step and unstep 40; masts with a gin pole and after a few close to disasterous attempts finally got the process down. You could also look into joining a nearby yacht club that would allow you to keep the boat rigged on the trailer. And I know Sarasota Yacht Club has a lot of slips available to members. Normally yacht club fees are pretty cheap, certainly within the cost of wear and tear, gass and trailering damage.

    2) Changing the size of the wire stays is probably going to cost a lot more than it is worth, and while it may be flimsy the actual streingth of the wire. In fact that 1/8" wire has a breaking strength higher than the combined weight of your boat (notice that it should weight in at less than 2K lbs If you are over 4K you might be weighing the trailer or have litterly a ton of gear.) Basically wire rope is a lot stronger than it looks, and while it may feel like spaghetti it is likely more than strong enough.

    2b) Same thing with your mast size. These components have already survived at least 25 years of service in the Marine environment (based on the last production date of a Hunter 20). If they were undersized or prone to fail I am guessing they would have already.

    3) CG is obviously an issue, but I woud advise more ballast before I really thought of putting on a smaller mast.

    4) The 75lb you added really amount to adding one pretty small person up on deck. Sure it changes the sailing of the boat, but I wouldn't redesign my boat because I added a new 12 year old to the crew.

    I also have a few things I would like to point out:

    1) In a 25+ year old boat of this size if the rig really bothers you that much, it would likely be much, much less money to buy a boat more in line with what you would want. Assuming a replacement mast and new rigging would be around $3,000 then another $1,000 for two new sails. With a boat worth in the $5,000 range all while reducing the resale value of the boat seems to make poor economic sence to me.

    2) I think you are overly concerned with reducing the mast height. Even if you were to reduce it substantially (say 6') in a mast cross section this size that would be around 9 lbs of weight savings aloft. Now this would be a huge rig change in a 30' mast, but not a whole lot in terms of noticable weight savings.

    3) To answer Tolly's question reducing mast height and increasing boom length would move the CE of the sail plan further back and lower. This would add to the helm, possibly substantially, as well as reduce the overall efficency of the sailplan since it would reduce the aspect ratio of the sails. Basically it would make the boat much slower at all points of sail, and reduce pointing ability.

    4) You would also need to look at moving a lot of your deck hardware, since things like jib leads, main sheet track, turning blocks, fairleads, and the like are all premised upon a certain rig design. It is certainly possible to move all of this stuff, but it sounds like a lot of work. And if you wound up adding to the leingth of the boom you might have to replace the main sheet track and car if you don't move it, since you will change the leverage are of the sheeting system relative to the force loads created by the main...


    If you can't tell I would be pretty opposed to making this type of radical change to a boat of this age for a lot of reasons, however if it really bothers you that much, then I would consider buying a boat more in line with what you would like.
     
  4. TollyWally
    Joined: Mar 2005
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    TollyWally Senior Member

    Well shorter mast and longer boom doesn't sound like a very good idea then.
     
  5. souljour2000
    Joined: Aug 2009
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    souljour2000 Senior Member

    Thanks for the replies.....TollyWally....a longer boom I had not thought of ....
    Cap Rubin, you make some good points...By the way..you are correct...My boat displacement is around 2,000 lbs...actually it's originally 1700 lbs but i weigh 220 or so and pack 20-30 gallons of water plus gear on some trips...not 4,000 lbs as I erroneously said in my post.
    I have to agree that chopping 6 feet off the mast would really only save around 9 pounds or so..sounds about right...so does your analogy of it being comparable to having a 12-year old sitting on the coachroof roof...and not being such a factor.
    In my post I forgot to add that I plan to move the jib tracks onto the shoulder of thenew coachroof...but that will be only another 10-11 pounds per side so that still only puts me at about 90 pounds or so added up there.... or say a 13 year old..lol..have one of those btw...he's actually closer to a hundred pounds I believe... but he tends to sit a little lower anyways... on watch up by the bow...lol..anyways...I always pack some auxiliary ballast on every trip...usually gallon jugs of water set down low right next to the keel bolts.....that should help a tad at least...I actually like having the boat on the heavy side and packed with gear.....she tends to ride smoothly and tracks better when she has settled in with a good load not surprisingly...
    I also tend to agree about the strength of the original rig Capt....I think I am getting a little carried away with my coastal cruiser retrofit perhaps....at the end of the day...she is still always going to be a fairly tender boat...despite what upgrades I have done to her...like raising the companionway a foot higher...waterproofing compartments,thickening the glass around the bow-entry area....even despite replacing the pop-top roof and making the cockpit smaller...adding bigger cockpit drains...and flotation and so forth...etc.. etc....As a bow-burying, thin-skinned, "built- by -Johnny paycheck" 80's production boat...she'll remain a boat that you don't want to be out in waves over four feet in ideally....at least in my estimation...or if so then only on a reach...I really never want to be taking 5-6 footers on the stern quarters (or plowing into them either) with this boat ... but I know It is likely to happen someday .. despite being the best student of at least local meteorology I can be and hopefully having decent weather judgment to avoid putting myself in those situations...I just want to have the best handling I can get..because responsive helm handling is one of my few aces in the hole,if any, with a boat like this in heavy sea conditions.Of course we all know that it's good to have as sea-worthy a boat as possible but you can do only so much....in light of that... I think I have to agree with your comments that I'd be sacrificing alot of her speed for little gain...especially when speed itself is a major safety factor....thanks again for the replies...
     
  6. messabout
    Joined: Jan 2006
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    messabout Senior Member

    Soul; I agree with Stumble on his salient points. He is surely a wise and practical old sailor.

    Your original post implied that a taller luff/mast will get the boat up to speed sooner. That is not an invariable truth. Depends on where, when, and how you are sailing. Wind is often stratified such that there is more wind at boom level than at mast head level. The converse is also true and true most but not all the time. Extra mast height is, on balance, better than lesser heights when propulsion is the main focus. Sarasota Bay is instructional if you concentrate on what the various levels of the sail are doing. To make the observations more interesting, it is well to note that the wind at 20-25-30 feet is moving in a different direction than the air at boom level. Neptune and his buddies do everything they can to mess with our heads. When you have shears like that it is time to fiddle with shroud tension, downhaul, vang, sheet angle , etc. Those exercises may not do any good but it keeps our frustration level up which is what Neptune, Odin, Thor and those other dudes intend.

    There is another factor that favors shorter masts; Polar moment. Reducing weight aloft is part of the equation but there is more. Location of the center of mass is a serious matter. Here we are talking about the weight, and very importantly the vertical location of that mass center, including the mast, sails, halyards, hardware and all the stuff that is moving around up there. Try this, or at least imagine it; Grip an axe or sledge by the end of the handle. Swing it as if to chop. In mid swing, try to stop the flight of the axe head. It aint easy. Now choke up on the handle so that your hands are half way toward the axe head. Now swing as before and try to stop the swing. A lot easier this time. Your boat is feeling the axe head and the farther the mass (or weight) is up the mast, the farther the boat will roll, or pitch. That principal of physics is at work full time on your boat. It is especially bitchin' when your are sailing in troughs or heading some long period waves. More so when some powerboat ******* (there are plenty of them in Sarasota Bay) goes whizzing past and making a huge wake so that you can roll around like a tumblebug. In these cases, sail pressure helps, so harden up for a moment. (you are also permitted to swear ceremoniously at this time) So much for polars which has nothing to do with white bears in the north.

    With all that, I say leave the boat "unimproved". Stumble still has it right. Just reef before you have to and enjoy the little Hunter as it is.

    Do you sail out of SSS ?
     
  7. souljour2000
    Joined: Aug 2009
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    souljour2000 Senior Member

    Good comments Messabout...the analogy with the axe handle is a good one and really better illustrates what the I hearkened to earlier about the handling qualities( and lack thereof) in a boat like mine( 20-footer with a flat bottom, slim bow entry, and plumb stern).... in a confused sea,quartering sea,big bow waves,etc...One can certainly get a tumbley ride in my size boat from a knucklehead's powerboat wake if your in a narrow place like Big Pass near Siesta Key on a busy weekend and there's 25 boats within 1/4 mile going in all directions and I've no where to go....(a scenario I strongly try to avoid at all costs)
    Good points as well about winds effects on sails at different heights and how a low mast does not always equate with less wind in the sails...
    Overall..I think it is tempting to want the stability that a lower mast would impart...I think I'll likely take a pass on the idea for now.....but If I ever come across a cheap one ...say a 23-foot mast/boom like I often see for sale on Craiglist.... it might be fun to experiment with and even "switch" to it in the winter....when the cold fronts come calling....something like that would not be so difficult to do...would be a fun experiment and honestly is one reason small boats can be alot of fun...an experiment like that could be done for under say...$400 I bet...try to do that with a 30-footer..lol....would be an expensive experiment I'd wager...BTW...I am not a SSS member though it is a great club and I know many people who sail out of there....thanks to all for the really informative replies so far...
     
  8. u4ea32
    Joined: Nov 2005
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    u4ea32 Senior Member

    To answer your question, "Is mast lenght overrated?"

    The taller the mast, the more fun you'll have. If I was going to throw money around, I'd add 10 feet to the height, carbon, PBO rigging.

    The most fun monohull I've ever sailed was a Libera classe boat. This one was very much like a 35 foot long Soling, but the mast was 65 feet tall. 7 foot racks on each side of the boat with catamaran-like tramps. 10 guys on trapeze. We could go upwind faster than a Tornado catamaran, which can go upwind faster than the huge boat New Zealand built for the 1986 America's Cup.

    Like this one:
    http://www.boatdesign.net/forums/boat-design/libera-yacht-project-need-some-help-29734.html
     
  9. souljour2000
    Joined: Aug 2009
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    souljour2000 Senior Member

    U4ea.... That sounds( and looks) like tons of fun. Tall masts on a racer would make sense in every way...If I were a racer that would be a great way to go...faster than alot of cats I mean..and with more maneuverability...As for the kind of sailing I do...cruising around Florida's skinny water with a six-foot keel or adding racing out-stations to my Hunter 20 are not in the cards but I mostly cruise near-shore and gunkhole pretty much... ...Interesting boat though...thanks for posting!
     
  10. Stumble
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Stumble Senior Member

    Just as a thought,

    keep a look out for broken Melgus 24 Masts near you. Thy are under strength for the application and always seem to break somewhere in the top third. This leaves a nice long section of Carbon fiber pole usually looking for a good home VERY cheap (I picked on up for a new boom for $100 and a bar tab). You could probably replace your mast with their broken one and save all that weight, and keep the samemast. height
     
  11. GTO
    Joined: Jul 2007
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    GTO Senior Member

    I've nothing really to add, but I'm wondering what type of reefing do you have?
    Would more reefs help?

    I made a 2/3s size main (my storm sail :) ) for my little 16' flat-bottom sharpie, with 2 reef points for overkill.
    With that up and no jib, it really helps settle the boat down when the wind kicks up.

    Just a thought.
     

  12. souljour2000
    Joined: Aug 2009
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    souljour2000 Senior Member

    Good to know about those Melges masts..Stumble...Would be nice to lose some weight up there if I could find one on the cheap in the next few months maybe...I'll keep an eye out for one for sure...I have a little more time before I need to make a decision but I need a new main sail. On that note GTO, I have a no frills,off the rack raggy,baggy old mainsail which is original and never even had reef points added. Was thinking I might replace it soon with a Catalina 22 sail with at least two reef points so you are correct that this will help things.....alot! In the meantime It has served me well except when the winds are over 15 knots when I have had to have a trigger finger on the mainsheet jamcleat...which is no way to do things really but I have been spending my money on epoxy for my new cabin roof/cabin extension and subsequent cockpit renovation(on my 5th gallon of epoxy so far and no end in sight.(I am also adding several layers of 6 oz biaxial to the bow entry part of the hull where alot of oil-canning can occur in boats of my size (havent encountered any yet but doing it more for possible debris collision)and have created water-tight compartments back under the cockpit in what used to be those real tight areas they call quarterberths...etc..etc..but I think I'm ready to bite the bullet and get some decent thread up there...I'll post my sail dimensions and maybe some of you can help me choose the right kind...maybe the Catalina sail wouldn't work... though at the time I last had my dimensions and compared...I thought so...but I am not educated to a great degree about sails so any help would be welcome..thanks!
     
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