The Broken Spar Society
Once upon a time, way back when I first started sailing, an instructor assured me that dismastings were extremely rare occurrences. He estimated that the average sailor might experience or witness one maybe once in a lifetime.
Over the past few months, I’ve been wondering whether I’ve been jinxed. First, I was out sailing with Zorro when his boat’s mast crumpled to the deck. Not too much later, Zorro’s other boat, which he co-owns with Dino, suffered problems with the base of the mast. More recently, Mother and Dumbledore were at the J/24 regionals at Lake Tahoe, and they lost their mast. And now I learn that Sherry, over at Stay of Execution, has lost her mast as well.
The outcomes have been a bit different in each case. After much delay on the part of the insurance company, Zorro eventually got a check to pay for a new mast, a lovely stiff one from Down Under, which he has recently installed. The rigging that comes with a mast is apparently not always right, and it has taken him some time to get it all adjusted, but he now believes his boat to be a very fast boat. With Zorro’s other boat, the damage to the mast wasn’t total, so it got patched up with a sleeve that will hold it together for a few more years.
Mother and Dumbledore were able to borrow a mast to compete in the regatta, but they never had time to adjust the rigging right, so they finished poorly in the races. Their insurance doesn’t cover the mast, so their choices for replacement are more limited. However, call it luck or karma or Providence or whatever, they did have a backup available. One of New Mexico’s most venerable J/24 sailors has fallen seriously ill, and he has placed his boat up for sale on consignment with Dumbledore, who is a licensed dealer. Following an incident many years ago, Nemo made a point of having a spare mast on hand. So now Dumbledore is buying Nemo’s spare mast so Mother’s boat will have one for the Dillon Open Regatta.
Meanwhile, Sherry’s situation is still very much up in the air. She can’t afford to buy a new (or not-too-terribly-used) mast, and she isn’t sure whether the insurance will come up with sufficient funds to allow her to buy one. She has set up a fund for people to donate toward a purchase of a mast. I’ve recommended that she keep leaning on the insurance company – that worked for Zorro.
One of the things that all of these dismastings have in common is that the masts involved have been old, typically at least 30 years. My own boat, Black Magic, is more than 30 years old, but when I got it, the mast was relatively new. I imagine it had already gone through the time-related mast failure that now all of these others are experiencing. I’m guessing that with boats that are subjected to the stresses of racing, a mast won’t last forever. Based on my observations, I’d say that under those circumstances, any mast older than, say, 25 years, could be expected to fail.
One thought I have had: As Zorro works toward having an Etchells fleet in New Mexico, perhaps, as a fleet, we should keep a spare mast on hand. Yeah, that means we’d have to pay some hefty fleet dues, at least in the first place. But it also means that if somebody’s mast breaks, that person can get right back into sailing with the fleet. Then when the person’s insurance comes through, the fleet buys another spare mast.