Boat Enhancements

When Hurricane Irma was coming up the Gulf Coast aiming straight for Bradenton Beach I took down the mast on my boat. There are several reasons for doing this. One is to reduce windage aloft. I the days of the square riggers it was quite common to lower the top masts to the deck to reduce “top hamper.”

Another reason for lowering the mast was so I could get under a 10-foot high bridge to get into a small canal and hide in the mangroves.

When I returned to the anchorage after the storm passed I decided not to put the mast back up. There are several reasons for this. One, my hands are gnarled with arthritis and it’s painful hauling on the halyard to raise the sails. Two, with my COPD, raising the sails leave me panting for breath. Three, in the roughly 800 miles I traveled from Fort Lauderdale to Carrabelle in the eastern panhandle of the state and back down to Bradenton Beach I didn’t sail even a half dozen times. Either the wind was too strong for this 22-foot boat with no reefing system, or there wasn’t any wind, or the wind was “on the nose” and I didn’t have the patience to tack for hours to get to my next anchorage. So, essentially I was using the boat as a “terminal trawler.” That’s a term for sailboats without masts that travel under power alone.

Not only that, there’s the hassle presented by bridges that need to be opened because of the height of the mast. I had to open 57 bridges on my journey last year. Twenty nine between the Las Olas bridge in Fort Lauderdale to the last bridge in Stuart. There were 11 bridges on the Okeechobee Waterway cutting across the state, and another 17 bridges going up the Gulf Coast Intracoastal.

I had to do something with the mast. Lying down on the deck it was a hassle getting around it to go forward and tend to the anchor. And, as my friend Stephen said, it make the boat look like a derelict.  I looked at dozens of mast and boom gallows on line. Some were pretty nifty. Some were pretty expensive. Some were temporary things made out of 2X4s and ugly looking. I needed something better.

What I came up with was to build a gallows out of PVC pipe. Easy to work with and inexpensive. At first I used 3/4-inch pipe because it’s the same size as the stainless steel railing of the push pit (damn, I LOVE salty talk!).  It was okay. It DID get the mast raised and will, one day, serve as the center pole for a cockpit shade cover.


The problem with my first effort was it wasn’t very strong. I had to reinforce the corners with wood. After months of pondering what to do about the situation I discovered that Home Depot sells what is called “furniture grade” PVC pipe. It’s inch and a quarter diameter, a bit thicker walled, and comes in a variety of colors. For some reason red was the cheapest so that’s what I went with. I built the new gallows in one afternoon. No additional bracing needed.


It’s easy to take the mast off of the gallows and I didn’t cement the top segment so that if I want to reduce the air draft I can simply lift that segment off. This one is also a bit higher and I can, just, stand up underneath the mast at the after end of the cockpit. I’m quite happy with the results.


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