Masts and Rigging

Speedwell of Rhu has a ketch rig. The main-mast is keel stepped with a masthead rig, the mizzen is deck stepped (so there’s a compression post in the aft cabin at the foot of the bunk, which turns out to be a handy point to secure a lea cloth).

Changing to Slab Reefing – Main Mast Upgrade

Speedwell was originally fitted with an in-mast mainsail reefing system. I’ve sailed various boats with in-mast mainsail reefing and developed a strong dislike for this system ( why I don’t like in-mast reefing ).

We decided to change to a slab reefing mainsail. Since the original mast was specifically made for in-mast reefing this meant we had to replace the main-mast. We always knew that we’d want to convert the boat to slab reefing so we’d budgeted for a new mast when we bought her.

The new main-mast is from Selden and uses their MDS batten car system. The old mast was painted white and the finish was starting to bubble up where corrosion had set in, the new mast has a plain anodised finish.

To go with the new mast we have a new fully battened main sail from Quantum .

While having the mast replaced we also had all new standing rigging and replaced most of the running rigging. The main backstay is insulated so we can use it as an SSB antenna (because it’s a split stay we end up with three insulators so that one half of the split and the upper single section form the antenna). Fox’s rigging manager strongly recommended fitting a backstay adjuster, well actually one in each half of the split stay, so we’ve taken his advice.

Rig Upgrade (or how we acquired a triatic stay)

On the delivery trip some fittings pulled out of the mizzen boom, so we started to think about replacing the mizzen spars as well. Discussing the rig and options for fitting a bimini with the guys at Fox’s it became clear that with the original main boom it would be difficult to arrange for a bimini because the boom end is above the aft end of the cockpit, meaning that the main sheet would foul on a bimini. The length of the main boom is set by the need for it to clear the mizzen’s forward shrouds.

The rigging manager at Fox’s suggested that if we replaced the mizzen mast the new spar could be of a different section that would allow the rigging attachment points to be moved which in turn would allow us to fit a longer main boom. A longer main boom would give sufficient clearance for a bimini and also move the main sheet away from the helmsperson’s head, improving safety during gybes. A longer boom would also give us a little more sail area, and replacing the old white painted mizzen would give us two new plain anodized masts so the boat would look better.

All of the above added up to a convincing argument so we decided to go ahead and replace both masts. The new mizzen is also a Selden spar with MDS batten cars so we had to order a new fully battened mizzen sail (again from Quantum) to go with it.

Selden provide a design service to select the correct mast section for a given boat and rig layout. There was quite a lot of back and forth between Fox’s rigging and Selden to come up with a solution for our mizzen. Moving the forward shroud attachments aft increases the loads on the rig and can ultimately get to a point where they don’t provide any worthwhile support once the mast has some rake. Unfortunately the furthest aft point that could be used coincided with a hull window so it wouldn’t have been possible to reinforce under the shroud fixing. In the end the only solution that allowed a worthwhile increase in the main boom length without needing major structural work on the hull was to support the upper section of the mizzen with a triatic stay .

In an ideal world I’d have preferred to keep both masts’ rigging independent, but pragmatically we gain a lot from fitting the triatic so I’m having to learn to love it. Because the main mast has an adjustable backstay we also need to be able to adjust the triatic stay, the loads on this aren’t particularly high so the stay is run through a sheave in the upper section of the mast then comes out near the deck as a rope tail through a jammer.

Other Rig Changes

During the re-rig we had a few other changes and upgrades:

The old rig didn’t have a spinnaker pole, the new rig has a pole that stows on the mast. Although we probably won’t be using a spinnaker very often a pole is really useful for poling out the genoa on a run.

We now have a removable forestay to take the storm jib. Hanking onto a stay is by far the best way to set a storm jib. The uphaul for the spinnaker pole runs from just above the top fixing for the removable stay so that it doubles up as the storm jib halyard.

The main mast has a separate track to take a storm tri-sail. The main boom topping lift doubles up as the tri-sail halyard (the boom is supported by a rod kicker as well as the topping lift and in any case if we’re flying a tri-sail we’ll have the boom lashed out of the way).

Sail Handling


The genoa is stowed on a Harken furler. The genoa halyard is handled at the mast, which keeps it out of the way when the genoa is set up. Having the genoa halyard at the mast also makes it easier to set up the halyard tension as you have a clear view of the sail shape from the foot of the mast.

Main Sail

All handling for the main sail is done at the mast (apart from the sheet of course) rather than bring lines back to the cockpit. This helps to keep the cockpit clear of clutter, making it a much more pleasant place to sail the boat from, and also means that there are no rope channels under the windscreen which keeps the cockpit drier in heavy weather. Of course this arrangement makes it necessary to go forward to the mast to raise, drop or reef the mainsail, but I believe that that is a reasonable trade of and indeed has some advantages for shorthanded sailing.

Speedwell is a centre cockpit boat with substantial grab rails around the windscreen and granny bars at the mast so going forward to work on the mainsail isn’t too difficult and the mast is a secure place at which to work. There are none of the turning blocks that would be required for cockpit handled lines so friction is kept to a minimum and it’s possible to hoist the main almost entirely by hand. Once a winch is required I find it easier to work standing at a mast mounted winch looking up at the sail than trying to operate a coachroof mounted winch under a spray hood with a poor view of what I’m doing. When I’m sailing boats with the lines led aft I still find it easier to have someone at the mast sweating the halyard than performing a full hoist with a coachroof winch, but that needs an extra crewmember (even if that’s George the autopilot) while on Speedwell one person can take care of the complete hoist which is a real advantage for a shorthanded boat.

We have traditional slab reefing with the tack hooked onto a rams-horn at the gooseneck and reefing pennants lead through the boom to jammers at its inboard end (there’s no need for a single line system as someone is at the mast anyway when we’re reefing). We had originally intended to fit a dedicated reefing winch but it turned out that this would interfere with the storm staysail track so the guys at Fox’s rigging came up with the solution of a snatch block below the gooseneck so that a reefing pennant can be lead to one of the mast’s halyard winches. This has turned out to be a simple, practical system in use and has the advantage that it’s easier to use a halyard winch at the side of the mast (which we can stand up to use) rather than getting on hands and knees to operate a reefing winch on the aft face of the mast.

For the mainsail drop we’ve got a stack-pack with lazy jacks into which the fully battened sail on its low friction cars drops sweetly.

Cruising Chute

Halyards at the mast are also an advantage when using our cruising chute because one person can take care of all of the foredeck work and the hoist, leaving the other crew member free to steer and keep a lookout. On our previous boat (where halyards came back to the cockpit) we had to rely on the autopilot while setting or retrieving the chute with just two crew.

Mizzen Sail

Our mizzen mast is just aft of the cockpit. All sail handling for the mizzen is performed at the mast, which is easily accessible from the cockpit. The mizzen sail has a stack-pack and lazy jacks to take care of dropping and stowing.

The mizzen sail is very easy to hoist or drop so we make plenty of use of it ( living with a ketch rig).

Possible Future Upgrades

The main mast has fittings to take a cutter stay and its associated running backstays. We haven’t rigged Speedwell as a cutter at present but we’ve got the option to do so in the future if we change our minds. A cutter rig would need an additional pair of sheet car tracks on the forward coach roof and an extra pair of sheet winches, together with various turning blocks, so we’d need quite a lot of extra deck hardware if we decided to fit the cutter stay.

A more tempting option is a retractable bowsprit for the cruising chute. This can be arranged to slide back on deck when it’s not in use. Some systems allow the pole to be swung from side to side so that the chute can be flown at deeper wind angles. We’ll see how much we use the chute over the next few years before making a decision on this one.