The Misadventures of Mounting a Masthead Meter

Excited to get our new Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument mounted atop the mast and feeding info back to our chartplotter, I started Sunday afternoon by removing the mainsail and rigging the MastMate. I had four items on my checklist, run a new halyard, mount the new wind instrument, drop the NMEA 2000 cable down the mast, and change the bulb in my steaming light.

It should have been a straight-forward project … emphasis on should have.

MastMate05

For my first run up the mast, I packed a stubby phillips-head screwdriver, a stubby flathead screwdriver, a tiny phillips-head screwdriver, and a pair of pliers.

The steaming light, which I’d never serviced before, had phillips-head screws. Unfortunately, one of my screwdrivers was too large. The other was too small. No worries, I’d get it on the second trip.

I climbed upwards to the masthead.

I needed to unscrew the anchor light that I’d just installed a few months ago to then remove the top plate of the mast. This time my screwdriver was the correct size, but because I’d brought the stubby one, the handle wouldn’t let me get the tip on the head of the screw.

On my old boat I had many extra halyards, so it was easy to hang a bag on one and run tools up and down. We don’t have that luxury on Gimme Shelter, which is why I was planning to run a new halyard.

I climbed back down and reshuffled my selection of tools. Then I made my second climb.

This time I opened the steaming light and pulled the bulb, although it didn’t look burned out.

I got back up to the top, removed the anchor light, and opened the top of the mast.

As I moved the new sheave into place at the front of the mast, I realized that the new halyard would have to be run inside the mast, but I had no holes for it to run back out of the mast. No worries, I’d move that job to the end of the list, and if I had time I’d go grab a padeye and drill a new hole for it.

I came back down the mast and set to work drilling and mounting the Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument.

Within a few minutes I had the wind instrument mounted and found a replacement light bulb for the steaming light.

GWS10mount

The day was getting better.

I made my third climb up the mast with wind instrument in my backpack and the NMEA cable tied to my belt. I started running the cable down the mast and then sent Mary to go pull it out the bottom.

We ran into a small problem — there were no openings in the bottom of the mast.

I just assumed that since there were other cables running out of the foot of the mast that we’d be able to fish the new cable out as well. I assumed wrong. I came down from the mast and drilled a new hole.

masthole

That’s when I ran into an even bigger problem — our mast was full of foam. And it wasn’t just a little bit of foam, it was 6′ of foam all the way from the foot of the mast to the cabin top. There was no way to poke a cable through.

I climbed up the mast for the fourth time and pulled all of the cable back out of the mast, then dropped it back down the side of the mast to Mary. I screwed the mast light back on and secured everything at the masthead and made my way back down to the steaming light.

This trip I’d packed a multimeter, so I checked the fixture only to find I was getting plenty of current. I then jiggled the bulb and found that if it was in the fixture cockeyed, it would come on, but when it was properly seated, it didn’t work at all.

I spent a few minutes cleaning it with a wire brush but got not improvement, so I left the steaming light as an unsolved mystery and climbed back down.

At this point my legs were toast, I had a new hole in the mast, but not in the place where I needed it, and the steaming light still didn’t work. However, the wind instrument is now mounted.

MastheadwithSensor

Next weekend we start again securing the NMEA cable to the outside of the mast and take another shot at getting the steaming light working again.

Lessons learned

I wish I’d connected the anchor light with a waterproof plug instead of splicing the wires together. If I had used a plug I could just leave the light fixture connected when I remove the top of the mast. It would have made this project much easier.

I should have done more research on my mast. I should have checked to see if it was open at the bottom for the wiring, although I don’t know how I could have known it was full of foam. I also assumed I could run the new halyard externally, but that proved impossible without a spinnaker crane.

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The easiest way to climb the mast ( … so far)

Last weekend I installed my NMEA 2000 backbone, so this weekend I really wanted to get my new wind instrument mounted at the top of the mast. After trying several methods over the past five years, this is the easiest mast-climbing method I’ve found if your mast didn’t come equipped with steps. (Well, not as easy as just sitting in the bosun chair and getting cranked up by someone else, but when you have to climb alone or don’t have someone strong enough to crank you up, that’s not an option.)

MastMate01

First off, I have no affiliation with MastMate. I actually bought mine second hand from a guy in the Clear Lake Racing Association. It’s basically just a long piece of heavy duty nylon with triangles of nylon sewed onto each side and cars for the mast track sewn on one edge of it. It’s coils up nice and flat for storage.

MastMate02

To use it I have to remove the sail cars from the mast track. Then I release the topping lift and lower the end of the boom to the deck.

MastMate03

We only have two halyards, the main and the jib. The jib halyard is always in service holding up the roller furling, so I use the main halyard to raise the MastMate, and I use the topping lift as a safety line tied to my harness.

MastMate04

The main halyard attaches to the grommets at the top of the MastMate, and you feed the cars into the track as you raise it. If the wind is blowing hard one way or the other, you might have to tuck the steps on that side under, so they don’t get stuck in the lazy jacks or standing rigging as you pull it up. Once you get it to the top of the track, you just cleat it off.

MastMate05

With only about 10 minutes of work, you’ve got your own stairway to heaven.

Going up and down is all leg work as you keep your arms around the mast and just move from step to step as if you were climbing a ladder.

It’s still advantageous to tie off at the top, both for safety, and because you can sit down in your harness to work instead of having to stand and balance the entire time.

What’s your preferred way to climb the mast?