Aftermath: A Wooden Mast’s One Night Stand

I found myself in a unique situation. I was a new sailboat owner; I had virtually no working knowledge of sailboats or sailing for that matter and I needed to replace the mast, which even I knew was an important piece. I mean why couldn’t it be some cushions that needed replacing, that I could have handled. Completely overwhelmed, I stared at my computer screen, hoping the Google gods would help me through this.

I scoured dozens of forums and websites where sailors discussed the benefits of both aluminum and wooden masts. Wooden masts, it was argued, would be more work over the years to maintain but they were also more beautiful.  Aluminum masts while not as attractive would be more loyal. I spoke with experienced sailors who reassured me that I could find an inexpensive aluminum mast that would save me a lot of future heartache. “Go aluminum and you’ll never have to feel this way again.” Given that my last relationship with a wooden mast was a demoralizing one-night stand, literally, I began thinking metal might be the way to go.

In need of an aluminum mast, I returned to my Craigslist comfort zone. A quick search showed that, in the sail friendly state of Rhode Island, I was surrounded by such masts. After placing a few calls with some people I met online, I discovered that most of the masts being sold were in someway damaged or were works in progress. Already in over my head with the boat I found on Craigslist, I was uneasy about making the same fixer-upper mistake twice. What’s more, nearly all of the aluminum masts I found would require me to change the mounting bracket and nearly all the rigging.

I sat in my apartment confused and frustrated. That was about the time an email from my old man popped up into my inbox. The subject line of “this is interesting,” the email contained a link to an article about building wooden masts. The image of my dad and I cutting down the Spruce tree in our backyard, which once held my childhood tree fort, played out in my mind and I quickly forwarded the email to the crazy folder.

A few days later I would gather the courage to go back and give it a read (http://www.diy-wood-boat.com/Mast.html). The article broke mast building down in such a simple fashion (plenty of videos and pictures) even I understood what it was talking about. It persuaded me to begin looking into the once outlandish possibility.

I stopped down to Mount Hope Boatworks to again meet Jim Titus, the man who presided over my old mast’s funeral.  Perhaps he would be able to breathe life into my sailing career.

I asked the old-school-carpenter what he thought about building a new mast for my boat. He immediately began showing me around his shop, a massive warehouse that was filled to the brim with wooden boats in disrepair, hundreds of planks of wood and myriad power tools were scattered about. If the shop were to have a theme song, Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams would have been a good fit.

Skeptical and thinking that I just totally wasted my lunch break, we walked across the parking lot to another area he owned. When we reached an oversized garage he pushed a button, as the door rose my jaw dropped. There hanging up against the wall were half a dozen 40-foot masts, all polished to a fine shine that I could literally see myself in.

“Why didn’t you just show me this first!?” I wondered, running my hands down the finely varnished spruce and teak.

“What would something like this cost?” I asked, afraid to hear the answer.

“Well I didn’t see a Newport Yacht Club Sticker on your car and judging by the boat you bought, hmm,” mumbled Titus. “Where do you live?”

Confused as to why that would matter, I explained that I was just down the road.

“Perfect! Then you can help build it, which will keep the cost down!”

Not certain if he was joking or not, I told him his last four magic words sounded good to me. I thanked him for his time and left to do more research. I reread the forums that previously warned me about how difficult a wooden mast was to maintain.

The next day, I was venting to Cruising World’s office manager, Kathy Gregory, a sailor and former marine consignment shop co-owner about my situation. She listened patiently as I talked myself in circles.

“What did you think about the wooden mast when you first bought the boat, before all of this happened?” she asked with genuine interest.

“I loved it. It’s what made the boat look and feel like a real classic worth restoring,” I replied.

“Well, then there’s your answer.”

I smiled and thanked her for the wise words. Knowing she was right I called Jim and told him I wanted to build a mast. I was still in way over my head, but at least I had direction.

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