Sunday, August 17, 2014

Critters in the Mast - Plan D

In my last post, I noted that Plans A thru C to remove acorns, fur and other stuff from my critter-condo mast failed. Plan D was the "nuclear option," namely to remove select staves of the mast. This provided access to the detritus as well as gave room to remove the wiring that was threaded up through the middle.

Notwithstanding the critters problem, it was clear that we would have to do this in a couple of spots anyway as the wood and seams in places were compromised by age or rot.

As shown on the plan to the left, the mast is constructed much like a wooden barrel. Trapazoidal sections of Sitka Spruce are glued together along a 37' span (many are scarfed to get the needed length), leaving the middle hollow.

Routing jig

Aaron routing out a stave
In order to give the router a straight edge on a rounded mast, we set up a jig out of scrap plywood. By using straps to secure it to the mast, it made it easy to line the edge of the jig up with a particular seam. To move to another seam, just loosen the straps and roll the mast over on the saw horses and re-align. The straps were made tight by means of a Spanish Windlass. Simple, quick, easy. 

In all, we routed out 4 sections - each about 7 feet long and each from different places around the mast. Only one stave at a time. We wanted to avoid having the mast spring open like a desert bloom after the rainy season and the way to do this was to make sure each section removed was not near any other removed section. 

And then . . . . more critters !


As we were routing out a particularly punky looking section at the top of the mast, we hit a colony of Carpenter Ants. Camponotus Pennsylvanicus. These bastards will chew through wood like green corn goes through the new maid. The nasty little brutes burrow into wood - generally soft woods like pine (or, in this case spruce) or wherever there is rot.  They are the devils own spawn to be sure and will cause you to have to rebuild the whole side of your house if you don't catch them early (trust me on that one).

Anyway, this picture doesn't do it justice; when we first hit the colony, the ants just erupted from the wood like lava. In this section, there was nothing for it but to take out two consecutive staves and we were fortunate that the colony didn't go beyond that.

The Holy Top Mast 

You hate to do it, but the only thing you can do is cut back to good wood and repair from there. I have two 8 foot, 2 x 6 planks of Sitka Spruce from a local lumber yard and we will use those to create scarfs to fill these sections.

Also, there are some seams where the epoxy has left some small openings so those will need to be refilled and coated.

Last, before we close it up tight, I will install two new cables to service the masthead light and other electronics and a new VHF coaxial.

And more important than all of that, before this is laid up for the winter, I will plug up the ends to dissuade members of the animal world (genus: Painus Intheassus) from infesting my mast.

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