The View Up Here

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I’m Getting Old

Posted by Tom Benedict on 22/05/2012

There’s nothing like failure and imminent mortality to put the fear into you. This morning I was made painfully aware that I’m getting old.

It started off as such a simple idea: Step the mast on the boat so I can go through the last of the rigging work before this coming weekend. I figured two lunch sessions and two evenings with the mast up should just about do it. Put the mast up in the morning, and the next two days are rigging days. Simple, right?


When we built the mast support on the trailer, we got a winch to help lift the mast. The one time we manually stepped it, I realized how easy it would be to drop this thing. It’s heavier than the mast on our Prindle. And when we were sailing the P-16 we always had three adults to step the mast. We figured the winch would fill in for that third person. In a way we were right, but in other ways we were dead wrong.

About halfway up, Rydra was on the winch and I was guiding the mast. The wind was gusting, and blew the mast sideways. It had been gusting the entire time, but I’d been able to gorilla the mast back into position through each of the gusts. This time I simply didn’t have the strength.

The mast step hinge was only designed to pivot fore and aft, not side-to-side. The gust of wind blew it sideways, and despite everything I threw at it it just kept going. I yelled to Rydra to look out and get clear. I could fee when the step hinge started to go. Rydra said she heard crunching sound coming from the step hinge, and suddenly the hinge cracked into three pieces. Everything came crashing down. Luckily neither of us was killed. Rydra was behind the mast support, and didn’t get touched at all. I wasn’t so lucky. The mast hit my shoulder on the way down and pretty much drove me into the ground like a pile driver. Nothing broken, but plenty bruised.

So now I have two more projects on the to-do list. The first is to set up a good solo mast raising system using a 6′ gin pole and a good system of baby stays so the mast can’t swing to the side any more as it’s being raised. The other project is to make a new mast step hinge. The original was cast out of bronze some years before I was born. I can’t buy a replacement. They simply don’t exist. So I’m going to make a new one out of stainless plate. It should be stronger, just as corrosion resistant, and shouldn’t be too hard to make. But it’s just one more thing I have to do before we go sailing. Pain in the ass.

Except for the step hinge, the boat survived fine. It’s an amazingly tough beast, all things considered. I expect if we take good care of it, it’ll last forever. Me, on the other hand? I’m clearly mortal, and not as strong as I once was. I wish I’d realized that before putting us both at risk.

– Tom

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