(This post is an excerpt from an online article. To read the entire article, click on the link at the bottom of the page)
If you own an older boat, you’re likely familiar with the quirks that come with aging rigging and equipment. Many budget sailors like myself make do with these imperfections on their boats by finding workarounds or perhaps living in ignorance of how well their boat could sail if everything was running correctly. Perhaps it’s that squealing masthead sheave that you haven’t yet found the time to replace. Or maybe the outhaul car is stuck, but it never really bothered you anyway. In my case, it was a whisker pole with seized jaws, jammed telescopic tubes and a damaged cast-aluminum car that wouldn’t slide up and down the mast anymore.
My boat, Eclipse, a 1984 Tayana Vancouver 42, doesn’t yet have a spinnaker in her arsenal, so for now, sailing downwind has involved a main and genoa. Still, I have spent many long hours running dead downwind in this configuration, sans whisker pole, watching the genoa dance and collapse in the shadow of the main. My sails were suffering, my boatspeed was suffering and my frustration was climbing. Having known for some time now that a pole was critical, it was time for the project to move to the top of my priority list.
In addition, a new car that fit the existing mast track would need to be purchased, at no small expense since Isomat, the original builder, is not around anymore. Finally—and what really led me to my final decision—was the fact that by replacing my existing gear I could go with something much better. Even if I brought the pole and track back to their original condition, it would never work as well as a more modern system with things like a ball-bearing car and 2:1 pole lift controls.
I chose to work with equipment from Seldén Mast simply because I had found its equipment to be of high quality but not overly expensive. Flip through some manufacturer websites or catalogs to see what suits your boat best. After that you’ll want to find a rigger (or a boatyard) who is a dealer and can help you through the design and purchasing process. Even if you are a veteran DIYer, you’ll still want to have someone familiar with the equipment to check over your order and help you procure the parts.
Be warned that, a fair bit of planning and decision making will also go into the to ordering process. In my case, for example, one of the first things I had to do was determine the length of track that would be required. If your pole is going to be stowed vertically on the mast (like mine) it will be quite long. If you have a deck light or radar on the front of the mast, don’t forget to be sure to check it won’t interfere.
These tracks are also not your standard deck T-track. Instead, they have a curved mounting surface designed to be riveted to the forward side of your mast. Not all mast shapes are compatible, with the mast tracks from Seldén, for example, coming with two different radius options, 38mm and 54mm. Using a drafting compass, I, therefore, traced out a 54mm half circle on a sheet of paper and then cut out the inside of the circle and held it up to my mast to ensure it would, indeed, fit.
Would you like a telescopic pole or a fixed-length pole? Telescoping poles are great when working with large genoas, but they are heavier and can be more prone to failure. My own boat was close to exceeding the maximum recommended size for a telescoping pole, so I chose to go with fixed.
That done, the next step was to calculate my boat’s righting moment to determine pole section size. To do so I visited seldenmast.com pulled up its online righting moment (RM) calculator. This simple tool takes your boat’s beam, draft, displacement and ballast and returns you your RM, a figure that is critical for determining how strong the pole needs to be for your boat. This, in turn, determines the pole diameter, after which you can consult a table in the Seldén catalog to determine the maximum length for this type of pole. In the end, I chose a pole length slightly longer than the “J” dimension of my boat, or about 18ft.
Of course, at some point, you’re going to want to gybe with your pole up—using either the end-for-end technique, by going a dip gybe, the preferred method aboard larger boats—which will, in turn, determine the types of ends you’ll be going with. Specifically, an end-for-end pole gets jaws on either end with a bridle for the topping lift; while a dip pole has jaws on the outboard end and a socket fitting inboard end that clips into a bayonet-type of fitting. I eventually chose to use a dip pole for greater control given its large size.
Finally, you need to select the hardware you want to use to control the inboard end of the pole. I chose to go with a ball-bearing type of car with two small blocks on it that allowed me to set up a 2:1 advantage control-line system. By consulting the catalog again, I looked over the standard layouts and worked with my dealer to select the exact size and model. I also purchased two opposing cam cleats to install on the mast, thereby making the adjustment of the inboard end a piece of cake, even when under load.