Aug 15

drilling into the unknown

Tag: boat workjonny5waldman @ 1:26 am
I spent the last two days drilling 36 holes in our mast, and I plan on drilling another 20. Not big holes; just quarter-inch holes. I’m installing mast steps, so that, from now on, getting up our mast won’t be a lengthy/cumbersome affair. You never know what you may need to fix up there. Matt and I had meant to install the mast steps when the mast was out of the boat and lying flat on the ground, but we got sidetracked. Actually, the mast steps were a side track, and the main track was: fix things that need to be fixed before putting Syzygy in the water. So now installing these 2-inch aluminum “steps” — which John Ryan custom made for us at his machine shop — requires ascending the mast 21 inches at a time. Twenty one inches seems a good height for a step — it’s about knee height for Matt, Jon, and I — and though we could certainly step higher in present conditions, it seems prudent to make the steps climbable in the rain, in the dark, while the boat is swaying madly. Today, I noticed that the higher I get, the better the view. Already I can see every boat in the marina, and the bay beyond the marina (covered in whitecaps), and Mt. Tam and fog rolling in through the Golden Gate. I also noticed that the higher I get, the more I can feel the sway of the boat, too – which makes drilling even more of a challenge — more on that shortly. And the higher I get, the longer it takes to scamper back down, to get the tools I need. Hence this afternoon’s approach: harness plus haul bag, climber-style. The haul bag was key, since I need to carry so many small parts — rivets, washers, steps, punch, guide, hammer, and tape measure. I’ve been carrying the drill over one shoulder (I tied a loop of line around it) and the riveter (which is about 2-feet long, and looks like a giant pair of scissors) over the other. Until I got to the spreaders, about half-way up the mast, I was just using a five-foot loop of rope around my waist and the mast as a quasi-anchor, as tree-climbers do. The more I leaned back, the more secure I was — assuming my rivet work was solid. Just above the spreaders, I’ll admit I was relieved to clip into the baby stay block. From there on up, though, It’s a straight shot, so it’ll back to tree-climber style, with a prussik on a spinnaker halyard as a backup. About halfway up the mast (five feet beneath the spreaders), I ran into a bit of trouble while drilling today. Now, drilling through a quarter-inch of aluminum while dangling there at a funny angle isn’t the fastest operation, and I regularly had to shake out my hands to get the blood flowing again after pushing on the drill for so long. But one hole seemed to be taking longer than the others. Lo and behold, there appeared to be another piece of metal inside our mast. (I’d been careful to avoid the conduit that carries the wiring up the mast.) Perplexed (i.e. unwilling to drill into the unknown), I scampered down, and called Fred, at Valiant Yachts (in Texas). He said that it’s common for factories to order masts made of two sections, with a 4-foot sleeve welded in the middle. Why two sections? Because mills can only produce aluminum extrusions so long, and shipping shorter segments is cheaper. So, on second look up there, I found the little spot where the two sections are welded together — it’s barely detectable. At first I was freaked out, but further research (aka Brion Toss) has revealed that this is not a weak part of the mast, apparently — at least not if it was welded properly. So I grabbed the drill and continued, and confirmed that a) I hadn’t drilled into something I hadn’t intended to, and b) the mast is indeed twice as thick there. Who’d have thunk it? Of course, now I need four longer rivets for two of the steps. I’d been sorta hellbent on making it to the top of the mast this evening, but in the end, the drill got the best of me: the battery died, and I’d forgotten to toss an extra in my haul bag. So it’s back to it tomorrow — here’s a snippet from when I had a free hand:

3 Responses to “drilling into the unknown”

  1. Maintenance Log for Syzygy » Installed Custom Mast Steps says:

    […] I asked a sailing machinist John Ryan for advice and help, and got a ton.  John Ryan graciously improved the design and fabricated them, far more perfectly than we ever expected (from choice of aluminum alloy, to the tumbling to remove all edges, to the clear anodize finish, and even the rivets, drill bit size, and pattern to follow for drilling the holes!), and jonny installed them. […]

  2. Paul Keranen says:

    ..just wondering why I get the internet explorer message “HTTP 403 forbidden” when I try to log in to Anyone else having the problem? Thanks, Paul

  3. mattholmes says:

    Jonny decided not to pursue Climb the Mast, so he shut down the website.

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