skerry sailboat images

So is the Birdsmouth Skerry Mast any good after 50 or so outings?

The answer has to be a resounding YES! Still there are some things to think about.

I took a good look at the mast and other sticks about halfway through the second season to check that there was no problem that I had missed. I've been out about 50 times in sometimes quite strong weather.

Since I added a larger sail I found that my previously quite stiff mast was bending a bit more and the whole boat creaked with a louder voice.

First I checked the Sprit. It is the smallest diameter and thinnest walled spar I made. It showed no signs of any problem at all. There was a bit of scratching at the bottom end where I had bumped it a few times on the ground, otherwise no problemo.

The boom I had replaced, not because of wear but because it was too short to deal with the larger sail. I think it would be a good idea to start off making a larger boom right off the bat. This leaves the door open to larger sail foot if you want to try. It can always be cut back.

The mast had held up quite well. There was a dent all around the mast at the level of the partner. I had gone out on a couple of really choppy days with no padding and had gotten the shaking of my life. After that I had put leather around the mast and was careful to wedge the mast perfectly tightly. My mast is not as large as the holes and flops around a bit. I had had to guess on the finished size of the mast and made the hole a bit larger to be sure it would fit. This means it wobbles if it is not wedged in. I use plastic door stops from the dollar store. I made wood wedges but they seem to get broken. I'm afraid to use hardwood and softwood is too soft. My mast is pine and quite easy to dent. I also carry a bunch of flip flop material cut in wedge shapes to stuff in there if there is too much slack. The plastic wedges work really well but are not the prettiest things. I will need to think of a better solution.

NOTE: I have since then made a smaller opening to the mast partner. I cut a piece of plywood with the appropriate size opening and screwed it on top of the original piece. It works brilliantly.

Mast shows some damage.

Far more alarming than the crushing at the level of the partner was a beginning of separation in 2 pieces that had been scarfed. I had made my mast out of old pine shelves and had put in many scarf joints to cut out knots. See the banner image at the very top of this page to see the scarfs on the pieces used to make the mast. This scarf joint was located at the point of greatest bend and was beginning to separate particularly the very tip.

I'm not sure it ever would fail completely but the very tip of the scarf had cracked the finish. This was clearly a case of a joint that had been under-glued. Epoxy likes to have a loose clamping and on some of these joints I had clamped quite hard. I had starved my scarf joint of glue. These were my first experiment with epoxy and I guess I cranked up the clamps too hard on this joint. I checked the whole mast but that was the only one that was showing stress.

The moral of the story is "DON'T CLAMP EPOXY JOINTS TOO TIGHT!" I over-tightened a scarf joint when I was putting the gunwales together and the joint failed. I had to reglue it on site. I used loose clamp pressure and after 5 years I have not had any trouble.

I am lucky that when I actually assembled the mast I was careful not to over-tighten. I don't think there will be any issues with the long strips that make up the mast. I'll keep an eye on the scarfs but the other joints are not a worry.

I ripped off the nice leathers on the bottom and where the boom rubs, sanded down to wood, added a layer of glass cloth and have put 3 layers of resin over this. It barely shows and I have not done much sanding yet.

I will have to sand and varnish and re leather the area but I've taken the boat out with the rough fix-- I simply cannot sand a mast on a perfect sailing day. The mast is not as bendy and the repair -- or more accurately-- the preventive maintenance, will work just fine. It will give me a chance to think about the cleats I have for the snotter and downhaul. They worked but I would like to be able to control these lines from the back.

If you look carefully you will see inside the highlighted oval a scarf joint. It is rounded because of the way the mast gets shaped. The tip of this scarf joint which looks on the outside like a half oval, had separated and the finish was cracked. In this photos the mast was stripped, cloth applied, and 2 coats of resin applied. The day was way too hot and it set with big runs before I had a chance to catch it. If you look you can see the pattern of the glass cloth.

I think the mast was a very long way from failure. I'm not even sure the tiny separation would have led to a failure, but I am always worried about getting caught in bad conditions. I don't want to worry about the boat.

There is no doubt that the larger sail puts more of a strain on the mast but I think I am still way over specifications and that this mast should last a long time.

photo of skerry mast fiberglassed.

Scarf joint was showing signs of possible delamination. I took no chances and fiberglassed over the whole section.

NOTE: After 5 years of sailing and some pretty extreme conditions, the Birdsmouth mast and spars have shown no sign of damage or wear (except for the above preventive fiberglassing). It is an unqualified success! In high wind it bends quite a lot. Each year I check the spars and add a coat or 2 of varnish.

emails: Christine

This web site reflects my personal ideas and doesn't represent anyone else's point of view.