Mast Track Misadventures

The fall of 2011 – it was like endless summer around here. Weekend after weekend we were out, grabbing our “last chance” to be on the water before the rains.  We went whale watching off Santa Cruz in Ellen’s Windrider, we picnicked at Ayala Cove and Paradise Cove, sailed under the Golden Gate in glorious sunshine and mellow breezes, and returned along the San Francisco city front on calm evenings as the lights came up and the delicious aromas of restaurant cooking drifted across the water.

Last light of day behind Coit Tower

Making us hungry, of course. Does anyone else think it would be a good idea to have “boat through” food and beverage service at the Ferry Building?

Make mine a latte… from Bluebottle Coffee please

There was one fly in the perfect ointment, a nasty bug that was starting to make us dread the end of each day’s sailing, to think twice about dropping the sail to anchor – heck, I was even beginning to understand all those people motoring around with their sails still inside the sunbrella covers. Sadly, the beautiful crisp new mainsail was jamming in the track, and jamming more and more as the season wore on.

The problem had started almost as soon as the new sail was bent on (that’s installed, ye lubbers). The sailmaker, who shall remain nameless, had sold me wonderful ball-bearing rolling cars, one for each of the full battens, so that the last foot or so of sail wouldn’t stick when we raised it, as the old one did.  But, at the last minute he’d been unable to acquire any that would fit our ancient Kenyon track, and we were back to plain old nylon slides, with a super-duper meaty one at each batten. The trouble was they did stick, on the way up and the way down, and they stuck much more than the old ones.  First we thought the slides were too skinny, so they could twist sideways and then jam diagonally in the track.  Mr. Sailmaker took them all back and rounded the corners to stop the jamming. It worked, for one day. Next, he changed out the ones at the battens, replacing them with brass slides. That worked for a little while, at least one or two sail raisings. After that we spent a lot of time with a big jar of lube, sending slides wrapped in bits of tape up and down the track (not nearly as exciting as it sounds). Eventually the sail would go up relatively smoothly, but the batten slides were catching at one of the track seams each time it came down.

Our sailing days were ending with long, loopy sessions as we spun the boat in circles, trying to persuade the sail to flap itself loose. We were pulling on reefing lines to help it down, until one day we pulled so hard the sail began to tear. The day came when we were out after dark, and nothing was working. Were we going to have to send someone up in the bosun’s chair to free it, or put the boat in the dock with the sail still halfway up?

A corkscrew track as we struggled to shake the mainsail loose

In the end, I managed to get the thing down by reaching up with the boat hook and whacking the offending slide as hard as I could. There didn’t seem to be anything to lose, and for once brute force was the answer. We were a very relieved crew when we finally tied up at the dock

It's down! We're happy!

It’s down! We’re happy!

It seemed Mr. Sailmaker was out of ideas, and inclined to blame the track.. After all the slide changing, cleaning, even repairing the damage we’d done hauling down with the reef lines, he didn’t offer any further suggestions, and I figured I was on my own. Fair enough, but the mast was unstepped, inspected, and painted just in June,. Probably the track had been fine, until we started heaving unsuitable slides up and down it with increasing desperation.  It was with great reluctance that I phoned the rigging shop that week, to find out what we could do. Thank goodness for Chris at Svensdens – before I’d even finished explaining the problem, he told me about Tides Marine Fast Track, and that I could get it from Doyle Sails at the other end of the Alameda Marina. I did a bit of internet research, made a phone call to Doyle, and within 2 weeks the beautiful buttery smooth and slidey Tides Marine track was in. The new problem, and a nice one to have, is the sail coming down so fast that unwary crew can get clobbered.