Ballenger Spar Systems

Sailboat Masts, Booms, and Rigging

Care and Maintenance of Express 27 Spars

Spars, like all other equipment, require routine maintenance and inspection. Many of the E27s that have been built are now getting to be four or five years old and are in need of a serious inspection to prevent future problems. Checking for fatigue and wear are fairly simple and can prevent a multitude of problems that can lead to failure of the spar. Racing in San Francisco Bay is some of the toughest on equipment in the country, and maintaining a periodic inspection and maintenance routine is very good preventive medicine. I would like to outline where the problem areas are, and the possible solutions.

Hounds area-- This is the area of the highest loading on the spar. It is subjected to constant loading and unloading and will develop fatigue problems eventually. The first sign of fatigue is generally a small crack across the top of the hounds box weld. Repairs should be made immediately and are fairly simple. This type of problem will occur mostly in masts that are bent a lot and are raced hard. This area should be checked often.

Topping lift box-- The slot that the box is installed in can begin to show fatigue also. The first indication is a small crack forming from one of the corners of the slot. The fix is to install two doublers (bar stock) on either side of the box slot.

Standing rigging-- Check for broken strands, cracked swage fittings, kinked rod uppers,etc. Boats that have Navtangs installed for the upper rod (virtually all, identifiable by the stainless steel caps that are visible on the upper rod termination) should be sure that the tie rod is well lubricated and that both caps are able to move freely. Inspect the turnbuckles for bent studs, toggles or worn clevis pins.

Lubricate sheaves-- Both the main halyard and jib sheaves should be lubricated with a heavy bodied lubricant (lithium grease is a good type) frequently. Lack of lubrication can lead to premature wear or galling of the metal parts. Halyard life and ease of operation will be compromised.

Halyard chafe-- Check to be sure that there are no deep gouges in the stainless steel chafe guard at the jib hounds. If you find the chafe guard to be rough, file or sand it smooth, and have the deep gouges filled with weld and smoothed out. Also check to se that the masthead crane isnít damaged by the main halyard where it exits at the back of the mast. A stainless steel chafe guard can be installed to minimize further chafing. Inspect the halyard exits for any cuts in the aluminum. The addition of stainless steel rub bars on the upper end of the exit will eliminate further chafe.

Mast butt-- Inspect the butt of the mast to make sure that the bottom is not corroded and that the fasteners that attach the mast to the base plate are secure. If severe corrosion is found, slight trimming or a small external sleeve can solve the problem. When the mast is stepped and the rig is at its standard rake, check to see that the front of the base plate is in contact with the bottom plate. If there is a gap greater than about 1/16th" the bottom of the mast should be trimmed to allow the base plate to contact the bottom plate. This contact is important in that it insures engagement of the mast step pin and reduces loading on the hinge. This is very important to check on any boat that is using a longer headstay than was supplied with the standard boat. Our current standard butt angle cut is 2 degrees.

Spreaders and bars-- Remove the spreaders from the spreader bars and the tips from the spreader extrusions. Make sure that the spreader bars are not cut deeply by the halyards(caused by installing the halyards in front of the bars). Replace if necessary. Reinstall with all of the halyards behind both spreader bars. Install the spreaders and tips using silicone or Never-Seize on the screws. Be sure that the screws are not stripped and are secure. It is a good idea to seize or tape the spreader tips in position. To avoid a case of droopy spreaders. A ball of tape below each spreader works, as does seizing with waxed thread. The dihedral angle (upsweep) of the upper spreader is approximately 5 degrees and the lower spreader 3 degrees. The idea is to bisect the angle of the shrouds running over the tips. That makes the lateral spreader loading mostly compressive.

Anodizing after several years of use-- The anodized finish on the spars can become dull, and marked. To clean the surface and renew the color, make a paste out of any abrasive type cleaner (Comet, etc.) and water. Scrub the surface of the spars with the paste and a soft sloth. Rinse with water and apply Armor-All or paste wax. NEVER use anything that has a caustic base (lye, some paint strippers, bilge cleaner, etc.) on the anodize since it will strip the color from the surface. Rinsing the spars with water after sailing is important to reduce corrosion problems.

I hope this information will be of use to identify any potential problems before they become serious. We always welcome questions about any of the spars that we have built and can solve most problems over the phone. Please feel free to call about more specific information.

Good sailing,
Buzz Ballenger
215 Walker St, Watsonville CA 95076

[NOTE: Buzz Ballenger is a true friend of the Express 27 Class. He knows all about spars and rigging; his service is prompt; and his prices are reasonable. He and the guys in his shop couldnít be nicer to deal with, in my experience.]