Mast Must-Do List

A couple of years ago, I saw the first sign of varnish decay on Pax's mast - an amber bubble of moisture popping up like a blister - where halyards leading down from blocks high on the mast twanged the mast while PAX rested in her slip during the winter.  Ferocious winds during cold fronts routinely whip lines and strum them like a guitar. The tighter the line is cleated, the higher the note and the harsher the thud on the mast.  Over time, that drumming wears the varnish (and the line) so all but two lines are always pulled over and tied off inelegantly, but prudently, to turnbuckles.  This saves the line, saves the varnish and saves the sanity of adjacent moorage neighbors or crew hanging out below deck.

The main sail cover protected a four foot section of varnish, but above and below were signs of wear. Above, was mostly sun damage. Below were darkened patches where winch handles and other gear had nicked and damaged the varnish causing cracks. Cracks lead to water and water leads to rot, if left too long. 

Knowing this was a threat and hating the bruised apple look now evident at eye level from dock and cockpit, I spot sanded and varnished the exposed, raw wood patches between squalls.  One coat of varnish is no match for 7-10 coats built up on other parts of the mast, especially in the two rainiest winters ever recorded in the Northwest.  Thirsty as a sponge, the fir continued to absorb water through the thin coat. Not as much water as it would with no coats at all, but some water nonetheless.  Beneath the varnish, the dark patches slowly drew like spilled cola spreads in a paper towel. 

Away from the boat for almost 6 months, I returned to Port Townsend to find not only the bruise spots, but now the full length of the mast was starting to peel along the main sail track.  I realized the layers of varnish applied so perfectly almost 15 years ago were finally wearing out.  Could I go up the mast and revarnish or did the entire mast need to come down?  A few queries around the boatyard confirmed that no fool would climb the mast for the weeks of work it would take to strip, sand and revarnish the spar. The only fool who would consider it was me and without the comfy padded Brion Toss Bo'sun Chair I'd sold to pay bills after the circumnavigation, I knew it would be painful, virtually impossible and honestly, stupid.

Down came the main and jib. Off came the boom. 

The mast refinish project begins!