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Disassembly of the Mast Step

This project became necessary after a small mishap in the boatyard while unstepping my mast prior to wintor layup. A miscommunication between yard workers and my crew nearly resulted in the mast being dropped into the Niagara River. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the only casualties were the wiring harness to the mast and a turnbuckle on one of the upper shrouds. You may notice in the first few photos that the metal conduit for the wiring harness is missing and that the wiring harness is rather shorter than unual.

The mast step is attached to a fiberglass pedestal molded into the deck just aft of the forward hatch. To remove the mast step, begin by removing the six (6) screws holding the step to the deck. There are no backing nuts. Since these screws only need to hold the mast step against shear forces, self-tapping screws are adequate.

Once you have the screws removed, force a thin object between the aluminum step and the fiberglass deck pedestal. Be careful, as the deck chips easily, particularly near the edges of the pedestal. As you begin to work a small gap between the step and pedestal, begin forcing larger (i.e., thicker) wedges between the step and deck. Work your way around the entire step as uniformly as possible.

Note how my mast wiring was sheared off when my mast was dropped during unstepping last fall. Also missing is a short (6-inch) stub of pipe that extends straight up through the center of the mast step. The purpose of this pipe stub is to prevent water from leaking into the cabin.

Eventually the step will pop off. As you can see, the bottom of the step casting and the top of the deck pedestal are flat. My step appeared to have been sealed to the deck using a polysulfide sealant (e.g., LifeCaulk).

Note the way the wiring comes up through the deck. There is a small hole drilled into the aft, port corner of the slot in the pedestal. The hole is just large enough for the existing wiring harness, but a few more could be made to fit if needed. The problem with snaking additional wiring through this hole is in the complete lack of access to the wiring harness.

In order to get to the wiring harness, one needs to disassemble some of the joinery in the head. Check out the page on this web site that describes the replacement of the mast wiring for the next few steps in the sequence. (After viewing that page, press the BACK button on your browser to return here.)

After locating the wiring path and replacing the broken wires with new ones, the mast step can be replaced. Notice that the original connector has been reattached to the new wires and that the metal conduit stub has been reattached to the mast step. The connection between the conduit and the mast step is simply a force fit, as the pipe and hole are both tapered. The result is a very solid joint. (Anyone who has ever payed a trumpet will vouch for the tightness of such a joint -- remember when you jammed the mouthpiece into the instrument the first time?) After tapping the conduit stub into place, a thick bead of polysulfide caulking (Life Caulk) was laid around the base to act as a gasket between the mast step and the casting attached to the bottom of the mast. Although this technique had worked for me in previous years, a week of heavy rains produced a few small annoyance-leaks in the cabin below.

In keeping with nautical tradition, I placed a copper coin under the mast step. In this case, I felt it was appropriate to place a penny that was minted the same year the boat was built - 1965. The coin is held in place with a small dab of LifeCaulk. Since it doesn't touch anything but fiberglass, there is no danger of galvanic corrosion taking place.

A thick bead of Life Caulk is laid on the fiberglass mast step and the cast step is screwed back into place. The polysulfide caulking is left to cure for a day before the screws are fully tightened and the mast is stepped several days later when the boat is launched.

FYI - The 4x4 bracing in the background is one of the three "saw horses" I use to support the mast when it is unstepped for winter layup.