Refurbishing The Spars

For those of you who pay to have all of the work done on your boat, read no further. This article is for those of us who live to cruise and do most, if not all, of our own maintenance. The first step is to find a yard that will let you do your own work. You will probably have to hire a crane to un-step the mast(s) and lay them in a cradle if the yard does not have their own crane. You can cut the cost of the crane if you can find a few other boats that are doing the same thing at the same time. Once you have booms removed and the masts un-stepped and balanced securely on sawhorses, you can begin the process of mapping the reconstruction
We made the mistake of thinking we would remember where everything went. We strongly suggest you take pictures as well as making notes of each item removed. Wrap tape around the cleats, eye bolts, etc. as you remove them and write on the tape where they were located. We at least had the forethought to do this much so we only had a few mystery cleats for which we could not find homes. We had 4 separate boxes in which we placed hardware from the mizzen boom, mizzen mast, main boom and main mast. The shrouds were coiled and marked. Some of our halyards were a bit long in the tooth, so a string was tied and taped to the end then pulled through the mast in order to replace them. Unfortunately, someone decided to pull the strings out so we had to purchase a wire feeder from the hardware store to rerun the halyards.
After all of the hardware was removed, marked and boxed, including the spreaders, we began the process of prepping the masts. This required some creative engineering since we needed to “hang” everything that was being painted. Some areas that had received repeated banging from shackles needed serious sanding and other areas just needed a light sanding. Once the sanding was completed to our mutual satisfaction, the bare areas with no paint remaining were sprayed with a yellow/green paint called zinc chromate specifically designed to coat bare aluminum. Once those areas had been coated completely and lightly sanded with 220 grit paper we got down to the task of applying the first coat of primer. Three coats of primer were applied prior to applying the glossy topcoat – another three coats. For paint, we chose to use a 2 part paint we have used on the hull and topsides as well. Sanding is necessary between each coat again with 320 grit sand paper. Additionally, after sanding, the area needs to be blown off with a high pressure air hose, wiped with a tack cloth, then with the paint prep that goes with the paint you are using. We divided these tasks. I was the prepper and Chuck was the painter. I never thought I would get done sanding 6 coats of paint on 2 masts, 2 booms and 4 spreaders! We would flip the booms and masts after each coat to make sure each side got equal coats. Chuck used a roller and not a brush, except for those hard to reach areas.
The finished results were just as good as if they had been sprayed. All of the cleats, mast steps and anything else stainless were given a good shining with metal polish prior to returning them to their positions on the booms and masts. Any screws with heads that had been stripped in the process of removing them from the spars were replaced. Did I mention that stainless screws that have been married to aluminum for 10-20 years do not like to come out easily? For the not so stubborn screws, some lubricant left on for a few hours was sufficient. Some of the other screws in the original cleats needed a bit more persuasion and a few even required either heat or a power impact wrench!
The final stage of checking the rigging included checking each shroud and fitting for cracks, beginning with a visual inspection for broken strands. Chuck chose a multi-stage product that started with spraying them with red dye. Once that dried, a white dye/paint was sprayed on top which showed any cracks in the end fittings. We were fairly lucky and only needed to replace our bobstay and 2 of the lowers. Next step is to begin reassembling all the hardware. Each stainless fastener was coated with tef-gel to prevent any corrosion and to facilitate any future removal. Once all of the tangs were reattached to the top of the masts and the shrouds reattached to them, we could contemplate having the crane return to the yard to re-step the masts. This is also a good time to check that masthead light, VHF antenna, wind instruments and wiring and replace if questionable. Unless you particularly like being hauled up in the boson’s chair. We chose to replace the first 2 as their condition was questionable and it was very convenient. This is also a good time to secure the wiring inside the mast to prevent that slap, slap you get in the rolly anchorages at night,
Hopefully when you chose to take on this task, you will have allotted a number of weeks to complete it. We had the absolute worst weather imaginable as we tried to do this project on weekends and holidays (and some evenings). It literally took us months between rain and snow and our real jobs. This task would have been much simpler if we could have attacked it on a daily basis instead of whenever our work schedules and mother-nature would cooperate. However, the end result was worth the effort and our boat looks pretty good for an old girl! In the end, you will have a great new look and enhance the beauty of your vessel and, more importantly, safe, secure rigging. Happy cruising!


  1. hi, good read here - curious about teh sail track - was that internal? If so, How did you paint it and not get too much or too little paint, and keep the tolerances of the sail track. Im not sure how long ago you did this, but how has it been holding up? I noticed you didnt use a acid wash or etch -- or did i miss that.


  2. No we did not do any acid wash, just sanded primed and painted. The sail track is internal and after 4 years it shows where the paint has worn off inside the lip. Other than that it looks as good as the day we painted it and it has gotten some SERIOUS use. No issues with tolerance on the sail track since the primer and paint if done properly does not have a high build up. Chuck

  3. Dear Chuck and Susan
    hey, this mail is not directly related to this particular story, but I didn't know where else to post it.
    I have read your article in the November issue of BLUE WATER SAILING called GET CONNECTED! I would like to know how close do you have to be from a WI-FI area to be able to get a decent connection.
    Thank you for a very thorough explanation of this new available system.

  4. Ines, We have connected to WiFi two miles from the boat that we know for sure. Other times we were out in the toolies so don't know how far away it was. Hope you enjoyed the article. Chuck

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