Captains Log

Stepping into Chaos: Mast Mysteries and Split Pin Shenanigans

Stepping the Mast and other things

I had visions of us working seamlessly, effortlessly raising the mast like in those epic seafaring movies. But alas, the reality is sometimes more ‘Monty Python’ than ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.

I believe the job for the day was fitting out loads of ropes and wire to the correct position on the mast and raising this to look like all the other boats in the boat park. This is called stepping the mast. Now, this seemed to be a little bit of a challenge. My son had done this before, but this time, even he was puzzled as we had the mast and ropes and wires very much in kit form.

Many of the jobs were two handed before we could think of Stepping the Mast

Firstly, hats off to RS Sailing for their optimistic faith in my ability. When they mentioned “the lowers”, I half-expected to find some naval-themed dance steps included in the manual. And when they claimed the process was easy, I began to suspect they were secretly chuckling behind their hands. After all, if IKEA furniture is my Mount Everest, this was turning into my K2. In fact, without my son’s knowledge of what the final thing looks like, I might still be there at the boat figuring it out.

Navigating the lane

We had battled through more rain to arrive at the club, and we had successfully managed to open all the gates (and closed them) and navigated the 16th century style lane, fording the puddles (and potholes) until we reached the boat.

Making way down the 16th century style lane to the  sailing club

The rain stopped as we arrived, and my sons first job was to remove the water that was on the boat cover and as he lifted the boat up I heard the words of I baptise you in the name of …. And then he lugged the boat out into the car park nearer the car between two tall trees whilst I did the important job of changing into my wet suit boots before we could start stepping the mast.

It took three of we Paul and I and some help from Guy  to think about Stepping the Mast

The rudder slipped out of the car boot with more ease than it went in and nearly effortlessly affixed to the stern of the boat.

Working on the mast

Mast threading was up next. What started as a humble rope suddenly transformed, with a flick of the wrist and a pull over the pully, into a ‘halyard’. It’s like I had unintentionally performed a magic trick! The spreaders, meanwhile, played hard to get. With no close-ups available, only a description on the page, I became a boat park detective, squinting and pointing, trying to decipher the mysteries of wire placement. The spreaders did cause a few problems, but Paul knew which way round they went. It has something to do with aerodynamics and wing shape. As if this would make any difference to my sailing.

Getting more ideas

Of course, we couldn’t see the other boats close up to work out where the wire went and how to get it into the gap. We had to set the tension by choosing the right hole to place the pin and split pin on the mast. I really hadn’t realised the love-hate relationship my son had with these. The time he spent carefully removing one (5 minutes) and delicately putting it back on in position (10 more minutes). All the while muttering soft words of encouragement to the split pin to open in the right place and not spring out around the boat. My son explained that whilst this process was going on it was aided by his tongue sticking out through his lips, giving some extra sensory perception of sensing some vibration of feeling from the split pin.

Fixing the boom to the mast

We had successfully (and comically) navigated numerous challenges thus far. But Paul was about to face his own Mount Toggle. I watched in amusement as he squinted at the diagram on the iPad, juggling between the actual toggle and its illustrated counterpart. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was playing a game of ‘Where’s Wally?’, but with boat parts. But after much fiddling, a triumphant “Viola!” signalled another minor victory.

The Jib

Then came the jib halyard. Ah, yes, the jib. We knew what we were aiming for, but getting there? A tad tricky. We had a moment where we envisioned our boat sailing majestically… across the car park. Not quite the maiden voyage we had in mind. But we managed to furl the jib just in time, saving ourselves from becoming the day’s top entertainment.

Enter Guy. Now, with a name like that, you’d think I’m making this up. But Guy was as real as our struggles. And he was a breath of fresh air. To him, a rope was just that – a rope. Not a sheet, not a halyard. Just a good old, straightforward rope. We engaged in hearty boat-talk, exchanging tales and tips. And while his mission that day was to clean the safety boats, he saw our mast mayhem and jumped right in.

Stepping the Mast. Paul acting as a counter weight

Stepping the Mast

Turns out, that stepping the mast isn’t a one-time deal. At least not for us. Our first attempt was… well, let’s say twisted in nature. But with Guy’s expertise (and a healthy dose of patience), the mast finally stood tall and proud, free from its tangle of wiry constraints.

So, a salute to Paul for his toggle tenacity, a nod to the ever-tricky jib, and three cheers for Guy, who taught us that sometimes, a rope is just a rope.

Ah, now came the installation of the boom. In the wild and often confusing world of sailing, here was something that seemed straightforward. A breather from our escapades. Or so we thought.

Holding the boom in place once we had done Stepping the Mast

What’s a GNAV?

But, surprise, surprise, our boat had a unique flair, deciding to trade in the standard boom kicker or on posh boats called a Vang for a GNAV. For the uninitiated, it sounds like an alien technology, perhaps borrowed from a distant galaxy where sailing is an interstellar sport. But no, it’s just an upside-down Vang. Seems simple enough, right?

A quick search on Google for more insights into this enigmatic GNAV yielded… well, nothing. Either it was so advanced that the internet hadn’t caught up, or so rare that even Google was left scratching its virtual head. The puzzled glances of passing sailors only added to our burgeoning mystery. “Where’s the kicker?” they’d ask, their eyebrows climbing higher with every word. We could only shrug, pointing to our unconventional GNAV, hoping it knew its job.

Installation of the GNAV was, in fact, a breeze. If only that pesky split pin hadn’t decided to act up again. Its presence was turning into a recurring theme of our adventures, always promising a dose of drama. As Paul grappled with the pin, urging it to cooperate, I played the role of the stalwart boom-holder. Muscles straining, I could only watch in a mix of amusement and sympathy as Paul waged his miniature war against the stubborn piece of metal. And just when he seemed victorious, off it sprang, playing a quick game of hide-and-seek within the boat, with my wife playing a game of spot the pin.

Fixing the GNAV


The day was turning into a beautiful blend of triumphs and tribulations. The mast stood tall, the boom was in place, and the GNAV… well, it was a mystery we were eager to unravel.

More Parts

While I was ordering the boat, I had ordered a trapeze, not that I really knew what to do with it I was assuming that we would tie up the boat somewhere along the bank where there was a decent crowd, and then we could swing from mast to mast and perhaps earn a few pennies to pay for perhaps a sandwich or two. I don’t think I’m going to be using this anytime soon, but it is all fixed to the mast and apart from the fact there are some Trapeze wires not going anywhere, it is installed. We had achieved Stepping the Mast, but unfortunately, Paul pulled on the wrong rope and the jib haliard and so we would have to do the Stepping the Mast another time again.

Red Kites aloft

Whilst setting up the boat, we had quite a few visitors. These were very low-flying red kites. I felt that if I had just put my hand up, I could have reached up and touched them. As we put the boat back into its berth in the boat park, I could see that our boat, with its must head float, was taller than any of the others and with kites flying overhead. I am a little worried that the birds might decide that the masthead float would make an excellent perch from where to spot all their prey or perhaps an ideal place to start building a nest on.

Red kites overhead

Packing away

With the boat cover on, Paul tidied some of the ropes and accidentally managed to pull the Spinnaker rope to the top of the mast. This means that the next time we come to the boat, we’re going to have to take the mast down, sort this out, and re-step the mast. At least we will become experts at doing this.

Putting the boat away - having accomplished the task of Stepping the Mast

Hours had seemed to pass, but when we finally stood back, the boat looked… well, boat-like. We had achieved Stepping the Mast. And that, my dear readers, is victory in my books. Stay tuned as we continue to navigate (or GNAVigate) our way through the exciting world of dinghy sailing in Drifting Daydreams and Unplanned Adventures


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