May / June 2024

Repairing STEADFAST’s Mast

Using a clothespin scarf—and adaptability—to cure a rotten masthead
Replacing the masthead

When the 80,000-lb William Hand–designed ketch STEADFAST suffered a mast failure off Cape Hatteras, her crew of two limped nearly 24 hours to Tilghman Island, Maryland, to thoroughly assess the damage. They then proceeded to replace the masthead with a new section of Sitka spruce glued in place with a two-sided clothespin scarf.

On June 6, 2023, as we rounded North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras, the split backstay and upper shrouds on our mainmast went inexplicably slack. “Something is very wrong,” my husband, Capt. Steven Uhthoff, said, astonished. The 8' seas and winds of 20 knots or more tossed our 80,000-lb wooden ketch around like a toy. Green water poured over the bow as we scrambled to drop the reefed mainsail and furl the jib, stabilizing the rig as much as possible so we could assess our situation. We left the reefed mizzen up to lessen the roll, with the understanding that if we lost the main, the triatic—the stay connecting the tips of the two masts—would risk the mizzen as well.

Steve and I live aboard STEADFAST, a 1934 William Hand Jr.–designed 56' motorsailer. We were sailing toward our summer dock on Tilghman Island, Maryland, when the rig failed, and there was no point in turning back. The yacht’s impeccably maintained, decades-old Detroit Diesel 4-71 rumbled along dutifully as we contemplated what was wrong 65' above us.

After 20 more hours of wakefulness, we found calm water north of Norfolk and sent the drone up, unwilling to risk the weight of a bosun’s chair. Photos showed a sizable crack across the top of the mast, and that the bronze collar to which the standing rigging attaches had slipped down 11⁄2" and crushed the wood beneath it, particularly on the after side. This resulted in slack backstays, a bouncing headstay with jib furler, and loose upper shrouds. Still taut, the inner forestay and its staysail furler, standing backstays, and intermediate and lower shrouds seemed strong as we disconcertingly found wood shards that had fallen onto the deck. We arrived safely at Severn Marine Services, and its team of shipwrights was standing by to help us with diagnosis and repair.

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