Posted by: wrmcnutt | July 15, 2009

Another Sailing Post Part II – The Rise of Duct Tape

When last we left our story, I had successfully given a friends daughter a ride on my 11′ long sailboat (class: Sea Snark).   Just as I was setting out with her older sister, the hull failed at the mast step, jamming the mast into the mud and sand of the bottom of the lake.  I cut down the sail and used the mast to pole back to shore, but now I had the vital task of effecting repairs such that the older sister, who had been passed over for the younger, could get her turn.

As I was at a medieval re-enactment, and a twenty minute walk from my car plus an hour’s drive from the nearest home center, and God knows how far from the nearest nautical repair resource, improvisation was going to be the order of the day.  Step one was obviously to plug the structural hole in the boat.  Keeping afloat was not an issue.  The snark’s all styrofoam construction will keep it on the surface even when entirely swamped.  When I travel to these re-enactments, I always carry my woodworking kit, so I had a rather broad selection of tools to work from, and, as it happens, a couple of two-by-fours that didn’t have an assigned job.  It was the work of about ten minutes to cut, shape, and fit a wooden plug that would support the structure of the hull. 

I could not, of course, just drop the mast on top of that plug.  The weight of the rig would pop it right back out again.  I need an adhesive.  Something self-supporting, and waterproof, or at least water resistant.  I’m in the SCA.  Let’s see.  What could that be?  As it happens, I am in the SCA, and at an SCA event.  This means what?  That two rolls of duct tape are within 15 feet of me, and thirty rolls are within 100 feet of me.  So, eight strips of duct tape later, I had a smooth, water tight patch on the bottom of the hull to keep my hull plug in place. 

But . . . that wasn’t going to hold the weight of the rig, either.  Testing . . . Sure enough.  Pop the mast into the mast well, lift the hull, and the telltale bulge tells me that this will last maybe two minutes in a light breeze.  But duct tape can fix anything.  Since the problem can’t be my repair material, the fault must be in my application.  Think-think-think.  The fabric of the tape is plenty strong enough.  It’s just that the adhesive isn’t strong enough to hold to hold the rig in place.  If only there was a way to make the fabric be the primary load-bearing member.  Use the mechanical strength rather than the chemical bond.  

Okay – try to stay with me, this is complicated to describe, and, tragically, I didn’t take any pictures.  Imagine a piece of duct tape, 18 inches long.  Fold it over the butt end of the mast, sticky side out, lengthwise so that you have a sticky wrapper for the bottom nine inches of the mast.  Now take a second 18 length of duct tape.  Also fold it over the butt end of the mast, 90 degrees from the first one.  Now, step (install) the mast.  When the mast hits the wooden plug, you’re at the right depth.  Now peel the duct tape away from the mast like a banana peel.  Stick it to the hull, in all four directions. 

In this manner I made a sling for the mast to be stepped into.  The weight of the rig would be pushing the duct tape toward the hull, rather than away from it.  In fact, the rig would be pulling the tape tighter across the edge of the mast well.  The only problem was that the ends of the duct tape sling were trying to peel up from the fiberglass.  No problem.  I just tacked them down with  . . .

All together everybody!

Duct tape.

The great Duct Tape Repair held through a one-hour test sail around the island, and then a longer two-hour voyage to the causeway and back.  After a careful inspect, which revealed only a little peel-back on the watertight patch on the bottom of the hull, the Loyal Crew #2 got her boat ride. 

The next day I went up to the village blacksmith and neogtiated a repair that will last the rest of the season.  I replaced the duct tape sling with a steel stirrup that performs the same function.  It’s got two tabs that sit on the rim of the mast well, and wraps around the bottom of the mast, supporting all of the weight, and keeping it from pressing on the wooden plug. 

This winter, when I re-glass the hull, I’ll install a permanent fix.  According to the design specifications, the original mast step had an aluminum liner that, I suspect, held the mast, rather than it resting on the bare styrofoam.  I’m going to get some hollow steel stock with an OD that barely fits inside the mast well, and then heat it up on my forge and flare one end out flat, so that the weight rests on the mast well, not the styrofoam.  I’ll also close off the bottom of the tube.  That should resolve the problem once and for all.  In addition, I’ll put a double-layer of fiberglass on the bottom to repair the hole.

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  1. Dude, you have *so* got boat brain.

    • It’s my Dad, really. He wanted a boat all his life. And now he’s too feeble. The snark was the only boat he ever owned, and he only got to sail it a few times. I don’t want that to happen to me.

      Duren’s Mom and step-father have also said, “Don’t wait” in reference to travel and touring. They’re in their sixties, and traveling, but clearly wish that they had done it earlier.

  2. The a;luminum (or something) tube you mention, actually has a flanged top that rests on the wood cross-piece that the mast is stepped into. I know because I have a old Snark (styrofoam only, pre-plastic coating days). THe tube falls out all the time so it is easy to lose. Good luck! Son maybe you should make a tube slightly longer than you have described.

  3. I have a Snark too (“Kool” version). I wonder if this damage was caused by the halyard being attached to the thwart causing there to always be pressure pushing the mast down into the step. Perhaps it would make sense to attach the halyard to a cleat near the bottom of the mast. Then use some other attachment to keep the mast in/on its step without the constant downward pressure. I’m taking mine out Sunday. I’ll think about this.

    • Technically, Dad’s Boat is a “Kool” Version. Sadly, they did not ship him the logoed sail. Alas, the original sail had dryrotted years ago, anyway.

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