Truth be told, spring is still a long ways off (it was 25°F outside last night after all) but the sun did show her lovely face this past weekend for a few hours. Plus, our calendar promises that winter’s end is in sight. One of the top items on our List is to begin replacing our standing rigging. We figure that it is the original wire and fittings that the ship’s notes indicate were installed 20 years ago. Not only is the wire past it’s recommended lifespan, it is also 304 stainless wire which corrodes much faster than 316SS in the tropical environment we’ll be spending the next few years in. In other words, it’s time to replace it all.
Michael drew up a spreadsheet that listed all of the wires that we’d need to replace. It was soon clear we had found one of the disadvantages of maintaining a cutter rigged ketch with a bowsprit: with twice the number of masts of your typical sloop, there really is twice as much wire and rope involved. We have a total of 24 separate stainless steel wires, each with a Norseman swageless fitting at each end for a total of 48 Norsemans (soon to be 54 when we add three insulators to our split backstay for our HAM radio antenna). Thankfully, we had replaced most of Pelican’s (8 wires) standing rigging and all of Rivendell’s (13 wires) ourselves so we’ve had a bit of practice with swageless fittings. But clearly with this much rigging to be updated it was time to get started.
On Thursday, with clear weather forecast for the weekend, we put in an order at Fisheries for the items we’d need to replace our headstay and our staysail stay. We were able to meet the Fisco truck in Tacoma with our new 3/8″ and 1/4″ lengths of 1×19 316SS wire rope and the Norseman cones we’d need to replace when we reassembled the fittings that came with the boat.
On Saturday afternoon, with the smallest child napping and the eldest watching a DVD and munching on a snack, I hoisted Michael up the main mast to release the staysail stay. (We had taken our headsails down a few weeks ago to have the Sunbrella UV covers restitched.) Michael tied a halyard to the top of the stay and took the pin out of the eye to release it. I then lowered him back to the deck and we (along with the excellently timed help of a couple of passing neighbors) lowered the stay and furling unit carefully to the dock. Michael then cut the old wire next to each Norseman fitting, taped the new piece of wire to the old one and pushed it carefully through the furling foils. After lining up the old and new wires and fittings, he cut the new wire to length and unscrewed the Norseman fittings to clean out the old wire and prepare them to be reassembled.
It was here that we first became suspicious of our old rigging. With a variety of wrenches, oils and heatgun at the ready to unlock the sealed Norseman fittings, he was, in fact, simply able to part them by hand. Uh oh. We found that there was no evidence of Loctite being used on the threads as is required. What’s worse, the fittings had not been sealed with any polysulfide to keep the water out but what appeared to be winch grease that had mostly washed away.
With serious concerns about the state of our existing fitting assemblies, we were hardly surprised with what we found the following day. With our staysail stay reassembled (complete with plenty of Loctite and polysulfide goo in them) we hoisted the unit back up, then hoisted Michael up to reattach it. I then cranked him all the way to the top of the mast to release the headstay fitting and we lowered it in the same manner as the smaller stay. When he disassembled the Norseman that had been holding our headstay on, we found again little evidence of sealants used but not only that, the cone was barely hanging onto the wire. It is supposed to be 1.5x the wire diameter down the inside of the wire but this cone was at the very end and the outside wires were splayed out instead of being tucked in, formed around the cone nice and neat.
So, where before we had “replace standing rigging” on our to-do list, now we have REPLACE STANDING RIGGING. Once again, we are reminded that if we have not thoroughly inspected something on our own, we have no idea if it’s ready for sea or not. 4 Norsemans down, 50 to go.