When I first heard the term "Stepping the mast", I couldn't help but think of the scene in the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean where Captain Jack Sparrow -calmly standing atop the the mast of a sinking ship- effortlessly stepped from the boat to the dock in one well timed step without so much as getting his boots wet. This is not the meaning of stepping the mast.
With a bit of diligent research (Google) I soon learned that stepping the mast actually means to raise and secure the mast from the lowered position. Most small sailboats are designed so that the mast can easily be raised and lowered to allow for transport without the worry of interference from power lines, trees, or bridges. A common sense sort of thing for a trailerable sailboat. I was just unfamiliar with the the terminology.
So now that I've scratched the first step (1-Get a Sailboat) from my list of steps to becoming a seasoned sailor, you would think that I would have immediately moved on to the second step (2- Fix the boat). No, not today. Today was my first day as an official sailboat owner and I was going to do nothing more than step the mast, sit back, and admire her for the rest of the day. I could start on step two tomorrow.
With a clear vision of what I planned to accomplish I realized that I didn't know how to step the mast. I've never done it before and quite frankly, this mast thing looked like a downed telephone pole (cables and all) which had fallen over and landed right across the top of the deck.
It was early in the day and I was at the kitchen table sipping my morning coffee pondering my dilemma. I decided to consult with the oracle which is sometimes referred to as YouTube. A quick search returned an immediate result. A video of an older woman stepping the mast all by herself!
For a moment I thought about skipping this particular video and continuing my search until I came across a video that showed eight burly sweaty men pushing the mast forward whilst a boom crane hoisted it the rest of the way. Apparently, this is how I originally imagined the process but soon came to grips with the fact that I may have over thought this task.
The woman in the video had some sort of pole attached to the mast plate which allowed her to attach a cable to the mast and winch it upward. Once the mast was upright and secured in place she was able to attach the forestay. The whole operation took no time at all and actually looked pretty simple. There was one problem however. I did not have the same device she had so I was going to have to rethink this.
Having watched the video several times I convinced myself that I didn't need a special device to get this thing standing straight up in the air... One of my first jobs as a teenager was in the construction field. I learned how to walk 16 and 24 foot aluminum ladders up to the side of a building without dropping a bead of sweat. How much different could this be? I'm almost a Sailor now right? Right...
I finished my coffee and went outside eager to accomplish the task for the day.
I climbed into my new sailboat and started fumbling with all of the tangled stays and shrouds. I tied one end of a rope to the mast, handed the other to my girlfriend and told her not to worry. I explained that I would do the heavy lifting and she would only have to guide and keep tension on the rope. The plan was set. I was ready to step the mast.
In accordance with the laws of nature, what happens anytime you are about to try something that you have never done before? A crowd gathers...
Two of my neighbors decided to come over and congratulate me (investigate what I was up to) on my new acquisition. "What are you doing up there?" one of them asked. "I'm going to step the mast." I replied with confidence. The other spoke up, "Do you know how to do that ?" "No..." I responded, "...but it can't be that difficult." They moved in closer to the boat as if they had front row seats at a major sporting event. No pressure there , huh?
I positioned myself under the mast and grasped it firmly. I lifted it over my head and was pleasantly surprised at how light it was. This was going to be a piece of cake!
I started the walk-up one hand in front of the other and noticed that it would get a little heavier each time- but nothing I couldn't handle. My neighbors watched in awe as the mast continued to move in the upward direction. I was confident, I was determined, I could almost hear the original score from the movie 'Rocky, playing in the background. That's when I came to an abrupt stop. Either, I had never considered that the companionway would present itself as an obstacle or I over estimated my height- I'm not sure which. The fact remained however, that I could not move forward anymore and the mast angle did not allow for the rope to pull it any higher. This essentially tells me that I over estimated my height.
My neighbors (although smiling now) continued watching silently even as my girlfriend and I were yelling back and forth to each other, "Pull !" - "I can't !"
I was getting no where fast and had to do something. I managed to get a a little higher by placing a foot on each of the cockpit quarter berths but it still wasn't high enough. Did I mention that I'm not the tallest guy in the world? Still supporting the mast over my head, the last last two options were to either bunny hop onto the cabin roof or get one foot on each of the gunnels. No... Neither would work and would undoubtedly result in some type of bodily harm and even greater embarrassment!
I finally looked down at my - now laughing- neighbors and barked , "Could you get you're ass up here and help me! " They gleefully did! One neighbor assisted with the rope and the other climbed aboard relieving me from my awkward position. I was now able to climb up to the cabin roof and successfully complete my very first mast step.... With a little help from my friends that is... :)
Here's the link to the video I watched showing how simple it's actually supposed to be with the proper equipment (moral of this story). It's been viewed over 40 thousand times so I don't feel so bad... Lol