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Setting up the rig.

I am often asked why I take so much trouble with my rig. The reason is simple, our craft are not greyhounds so they need all the help they can get, to get from A to B as quickly as possible. We are not racers, but with a good setup and well set sails, properly trimmed it can make the difference between missing the tide and not, missing the shops, or the marina fuel berth.

It is not a difficult task to give your boat a head start, just a simple matter of step by step procedure.

Our craft, for the most part, have deck stepped masts in tabernacle. This allows us to raise and lower our own rigs. It also simplifies setting up.

The mast should be straight and upright. Upright, meaning not leaning to port or starboard and no with excessive rake. On the E.24 plans years ago I measured a mast rake of over 18", indeed, my old ‘Bluenose’ looked a bit like a pirate dhow in her early days. I replaced the wooden mast, with an aluminium one, in an effort to lessen the weight aloft. (I also increased the ballast at the same time.) When doing so I removed almost all of that rake, till it were less than the fore and aft measurement of the mast, 5".  I normally have about 1 or 2 " max.  This reduction of rake reduces the weatherhelm of course. The difference was as a different boat!

When doing this one must be certain the boom is not now too long that it might catch the backstay(s) if caught by a sudden gybe and the kicking strap not fixed. (I have had to alter booms on several craft to ensure this can not happen, it is not too difficult.) I have sailed on one where it did hit, and the resulting damage near cost the mast, it caused extreme damage to the chainplate fastenings and bulkheads as it was.

Having sorted the boom length, it is often better to remove it and  take the weight off that topping lift, whilst setting up. Now we can turn our attention to getting the mast upright and in the centre of the boat. Using a masthead halyard, made we trust from a non stretchy material such as Terylene, we can test to see if the mast is off centre, by checking the difference with it, from fixed points either side of the mast. Pull the mast sideways gently to port or stbd with the topmast shrouds. This way the masthead will now be in the centre.

The topmast shrouds can be tightened now, equal turns on each till the rig feels taught, a rule I was taught was as tight as you can turn by hand. However with small smooth rigging screws I tend to use a 3" spike to tension the rig. When sailing later, if there is any discernable slack in the lee shroud, the rig can be further equally tightened, both sides, to prevent the slack. You will have to tack and tighten the other lee shroud the same amount. Check the mast top is still in the centre. You might have to motor into the wind to check this.

(As the lowers are tightened later, any sideways bend can easily be removed. To check for bend sight up the sail track, it will be obvious.)

Now turn your attention to the backstay(s) and upper forestay. Tension hand tight, and using a masthead halyard, as a plumb bob, normally the main halyard, allow it to hang behind the mast with a suitable weight on it, to measure the rake. You have to do this in calm weather of course, as the halyard will be blown about and useless as a measure if there is any wind. I aim for less than 3" rake on F.G.

The backstay(s), forestay and cap shrouds only correct the position of the head or top of the mast. I would now equally tighten them, remember if you like me, have twin backstays, there is considerably more power there than in a single forestay. I have found that I need never alter the forestay length now, so the rig is slackened or tightened simply by use of the backstays. You will not find this out till you have set up the rig for the first time, then come to slacken off the backstays at the end of the season. The backstay tension is important to prevent the forestay slacking off to leeward under sail pressure. I use a 6" bar to tension mine, they need to be tight. Check the mast is now raked just enough. (3").

Cutter rig. The lower shrouds and the inner forestay, can now be adjusted.

The idea of the lower shrouds and forestay is to alter the shape of the mast. To put that bend in it. The intention is to achieve a static bend in the mast, bowing forward by about half the fore and aft diameter of the mast, in my case half of 6" equates to 3" bend. The lower forestay in my cutter rig is now tensioned to make the mast bend. Look up the side of the mast, it is easy to see the bend and by sighting up it to figure out when the spreader roots, (in the middle of the side of the mast) are in line with the front edge of the mast top.

It sounds as if this is going to cause terrible stress, but believe me it is not a problem. Later when sailing you will be amazed to see the bend has gone, the mast now straight as a die, if we have tensioned it correctly!

Sloop rig. The forward pair of lowers are used instead of an inner forestay or baby stay. Get that mast bend in. If using a pair of forward lowers, sight up the sail track as well to make sure the mast is not pulled sideways out of true.

Now gently tighten up shrouds on a cutter and aft lowers on a sloop. The idea here is to offset the pull of the forestay or forward lowers in the case of a sloop. At the same time check continuously that the mast is not pulled sideways out of true. Check the fore and aft bend by looking up the side of the mast, check the straightness of the mast, by sighting up the sail track. It should be as plain as a pike staff if there is a kink one way or the other. Tighten hard by hand.

Now it is time to get the sails on her and try it. I used to wait till after I had tested it under sail before I taped up the rigging screws and all the pins, now having done it so many times I tend to tape them all up before I sail. Yes I have had to take tape off and tighten further once or twice! Till you have got it right, leave the tape off, but do not forget to lock those rigging screws and tape those pins.

The lower shroud tensions are what really controls the mast head sag. We are trying to keep the mast on the centre line in lightest airs, but allow it to sag off at the head in stronger winds. Lowers too slack and the mast will actually bend up wind in a blow, bad news!! Makes sails too baggy and you will blow down wind like a paper bag, not what we are trying to achieve.

Also check that the mast is now straight fore and aft as you sail. The pull of the foresail on the masthead, the mainsail’s pull in the centre of the mast, will amazingly straighten out that bend. If it over bends, you must harden up the forward shrouds in a sloop, or the lower forestay in a cutter. If the bend is not cancelled out when sailing, then you have too much tension, redo it with less bend.

The difference is felt at the helm. A well tuned rig will make the boat come alive, a sloppy rig will feel and sail accordingly!

That will be the crew that miss will last orders!

John Williams, E.26, ‘Fiddler’s Green’

I have always used the Yachting Monthly publication, ‘Sailpower’ as my guide for setting up my rig and general sail trim etc. It may still be available from them, was £2.50, well worth it.




Rig it Right!

Reprinted from 1983

In the last Year or so I have seen 4 Eventides that have got it wrong and dreadfully so. Before we hear boat buyers saying ‘Don’t buy an Eventide, they lose their masts’, lets quickly get it right. First you must decide how you want to rig the boat. There are two distinct ways and they must remain separate

1) Masthead Sloop rig Only one forestay going usually from masthead to stem. One headsail, nowadays normally on a roller reefing spar. You can still have a bowsprit with this rig, it looks slightly odd and you are really relying on that bowsprit, for if that fails, there is no inner forestay to hold the mast, just a pair of shrouds that do come forward of the mast.

2) Cutter rig. Two forestays one from masthead normally to outboard end of bowsprit (but could be to stemhead) and a second forestay from a point about 3/4 up the mast to stem if bowsprit is fitted or could be either to stem or just inboard of the stem. It makes tacking easier if they are parallel and about 3' apart (with a 3' 6" bowsprit).

Those are the main differences that one normally decides on, one or two forestays. However, it does not stop there and here comes the stumbling blocks that most of the boats I saw have fallen by.

Rig No.1. Masthead Sloop. There must be THREE shroud chain plates on either side. One pair is forward of the mast position; one in line with the mast and one pair equidistant aft. There has to be a pair of shrouds forward as well as aft from beneath the spreaders, otherwise the mast will have a nasty bend aft in the middle. Quite the reverse of what one should have! Of course you can have single or twin backstays or even split backstay, though this seems like asking for trouble with all those extra joins, just out of reach!

Rig No.2. Cutter. There are again three sets of shroud plates, but here the topmast shrouds that come over the spreaders (as in masthead rig) should end at the deck in line with the mast. The other two pairs of plates come aft of these. The second set of shrouds should come aft from the spreaders, the last pair from a mast band fitting at the same height as the lower forestay. These are to counter the pull of the inner forestay.


Some people may feel that as long as the mast is up there and stays upright while at rest, then all is OK. Rest assured it is not those who doubt me, please send to Yachting Monthly for a reprint of Bunty Kings splendid series of articles about "Sailpower".

If anyone IS in doubt about their own boat and would like some advice then please do not hesitate to contact me.

John Williams