Loose Footed Staysail

When Frank was drawing lines for the new sail plan, I had him assume that the staysail would be loose-footed. That was about a year ago and since then I’ve been sailing a sloop rig. It’s been great except while reaching and running in winds above twenty knots, or when the winds are light and the jib will not pass through the stays without going forward. There has been a few occasions where the staysail alone would have proven very useful. Once heading north from Watmough Bay north, I saw thirty knots of true wind. The jib was reefed down to about forty percent and Satori did not do well with this sail arrangement. The clew of the jib is up high, so the effort is in the center of the triangle and too far forward. If I had the staysail I would have rolled up the jib, raised the staysail and enjoyed a comfortable and safe run with a light helm without weather or lee. I’ve been waiting since April for a long spell of good weather in between other projects to install the new deck hardware. I’ve gone over the steps in my head, consulted others about the process, and finally built up the courage to drill the fifty holes needed for the new hardware.

When I began researching how to install bolts into a fiberglass deck, I had seen several different methods employed to do this. First off, I did not want the core exposed to possible water leaks. I also wanted to be able to remove the hardware without much work. If a sheave broke, a winch failed, the track was compromised, or the rope clutch was damaged, I want to be able to remove it and replace it without having to drill new holes or patch a rotted core. I also wanted to keep the cabin looking good with bronze, brass, teak, etc. I talked to a lot of people about the different methods on how to approach this project. Bud Taplin has been through just about every repair on a Westsail and suggested that I do not drill through the deck but simply tap into it. I didn’t like that idea because of the possibility of exposing the core to rotting, but it did give me more ideas about thru-bolting. I also inquired about how to make an epoxy plug that would hold on it’s own. Eventually this evolved into what I think is the best way to install hardware that may take high loads from severe weather.

Satori running under staysail in 20-30 knot winds
Satori running under staysail in 20-30 knot winds

 

The first step is to line up all of the deck hardware on one side and use a spare line to check for routing. The cheek block will need to turn the line and create a straight line to the rope clutch. I decided to allow for an additional rope clutch if one day I decide to add a halyard or other line to the same winch. That meant the rope clutch would be offset a tiny bit so two lines would lead to the winches properly. The winch handle needed to clear all obstructions, specifically the dodger frame and sliding hatch, so the winch was placed so I could do a full rotation. Once everything was in place and lined up correctly, I used a pencil to draw an outline of the hardware and fill in the bolt holes. Once the lines were drawn on one side, I used a ruler and caliper to determine the position of everything on the other side using existing lines and points on the deck. Again I traced the outline,  filled in the holes, and prepared to drill the holes. I started with the tracks by drilling a pilot hole on one end, just to see where it would come through on the other side. Once I found the location inside, I used a countersink bit to open the headliner plywood to prevent splintering of the top laminate. Next was getting a hole on the other end of the track drilled. Because the tracks were raised in the middle and curved a tiny bit, I made sure to use the same track and kept track of which side was forward so the bolts would later line up properly. Again I went below and countersunk the headliner. I then used the same pilot hole to drill a 5/16″ hole, which allowed me to install a bolt to hold the track in place. Next I placed a weight on the center of the track to flatten it due to the slight camber, then drilled a 5/16″ hole on the other end. Placing an additional bolt in the end hole allowed the track to be lined up for each additional hole. Using the track as a guide, I could drill the remaining holes. I followed the same procedure; pilot hole, then countersink the headliner, and finally drill to 5/16″.

Headliner countersunk
Headliner countersunk

 

Drilled holes ready for epoxy
Drilled holes ready for epoxy

 

Epoxy filled holes ready for curing
Epoxy filled holes ready for curing

 

Once I had all holes drilled, I went back through and drilled to 3/8″. Then I used a keyhole bit on a Dremel to route out the plywood core to create a gap to fill and strengthen the epoxy plug. This also prevents any water that may leak into the hole from rotting the core. The next step was plugging with epoxy. I used West Systems epoxy with a resin filler to thicken it. The consistency needed was crucial. Too thin and the epoxy would run into the headliner foam or escape through the backing tape. Too thick and the epoxy would either have an air pocket, or it would not fill the hole entirely. The correct thickness allowed the hole to be filled completely from the headliner, through the core, up to the gelcoat. First I added blue masking tape to every hole inside the cabin on the headliner. Then I went back up to the cabin top, mixed the epoxy and started filling the holes with a syringe. Once it began hardening, I allowed it to cure overnight.  The next day I prepped the cabin again to collect the resin from dusting the interior. I then found a sleeve to center the drill bit so the hole was not accidentally drilled offset, thus creating a problem screwing down the hardware. The sleeve was just a plastic tube that the carbide drill was stored in and fit the track hole perfectly. I began with the ends again, lining up the track for the additional ten holes. I only drilled the starting hole, which was centered in the plug hole and down to about a centimeter. Then I drilled the remaining holes once the track was removed, through the deck and headliner. Then swapped the bit and used the drill to tap the hole for threads. Once I had the first hole drilled, I repeated the steps on the opposite end and then used the drill to screw down the track for the remaining ten holes. Using the sleeve I started the remaining holes, then removed the track and finished the process of drilling and tapping. The final step was to countersink the hole to allow the butyl tape to fill in the gap between the track and threads.

Staysail deck hardware installed
Staysail deck hardware installed

For every piece of hardware I follow the same procedure. In the end I had forty-eight epoxy reinforced, tapped holes. The remaining task was bedding the hardware. I used butyl tape as the bedding compound. I’ve heard great things about butyl tape due to several reasons. It’s easy to work with, like working with silly putty. It seems to do an excellent job at sealing for decades if done properly. Finally it’s easy to remove if you ever need to for whatever reason. All of these combined benefits makes it better than any other liquid compound on the market. Ideally when bedding hardware you will create an even surface and expose the holes enough to prevent the compound from catching on the bolt when you’re screwing it in. Also it’a a good idea to build up a small amount under the bolt head and again at the top of the threads so the countersink portion will completely fill. If you really want a tight seal, you can also add a layer to the threads. I decided not to do this so if there was leaking from the hardware bedding, I would see it coming through the cabin top instead of remaining inside of the hole, but not penetrating. Although it’s entirely epoxy in the hole, I still do not want standing water inside because that will eventually cause the bolts to rust and since they are hidden I will only see the issue if I pull a bolt. For finishing the bolts inside of the cabin, I decided to use all bronze fender washers, lock rings and cap nuts. The fender washers and lock rings are easily found at Fisheries Supply, but there seems to be only one online supplier for the bronze cap nuts. I could have used brass but I did not like the polished look at eye level, plus it looks much better.

Staysail track bronze fender washers and cap nuts
Staysail track bronze fender washers and cap nuts

 

Staysail first time loose footed
Staysail first time loose footed

 

Staysail tack pennant
Staysail tack pennant

 

Retrospective:

I was initially scrutinized by some pretty harsh internet personalities for even considering tapping the deck, without using backing plates. It seems that no one likes the idea of depending on the threads alone to prevent the hardware from pulling out. The cheek blocks, rope clutches, and winches are under shear loads but many folks were concerned that because I did not have composite or metal backing plates that the hardware would pull out. I did attempt to try to calculate the potential loads using whatever information I could find. Dave King provided some force numbers based on the square footage of the sail. He also provided expected loads with specific wind speeds, and the forces applied on a flogging sail. I also looked at some data provided on the pull-out strength of epoxy when tested as a plug in a wooden block. In the case of the bolt strength test, every bolt was glued in place but others have suggested that tapping with machine threads would only reduce the strength by a small amount. There is also compression loads to consider, there the bolt will be pulled horizontally and the top of the plug would compress forward, the bottom compress away from the shear load. This is exactly why I decided to bolt through with epoxy. It provides a compression sleeve to increase strength with the added benefit of sealing the plywood core. With all of these considerations, it was obvious that tapping alone may produce an insufficient amount of strength if I was ever caught offshore in a gale. Fender washers and cap nuts will certainly suffice for the tracks, even if there are two bolts are simply screwed down without backing. I am confident that they will suffice for any potential load that the staysail or storm jib can produce. The winches and rope clutches have a turning block to reduce the loads placed directly on them. I am not certain of the reduction but it should be enough to eliminate backing plates to prevent the winch bolts from pulling out. Fender washers should suffice for all of the thru-bolts and deck hardware with the threaded epoxy compression sleeves. If I were to have used a liquid bedding compound, did not plug and reinforce with epoxy or tap for machine bolts, I think there would be argument for single backing plates on the deck hardware to spread the loads. Also if I were flying a genoa of three-hundred square feet on this hardware and were racing, pushing the limits of the hardware I would consider a completely different strategy. I’m not racing and the sail will never be large enough to cause these kinds of loads. The storm jib is half the square footage of the staysail and perhaps in hurricane winds I may see the tracks rip out and the winches shear. Let’s hope I’m smart enough to avoid winds above forty knots so I will never know the breaking strength of any of Satori’s rigging and hardware.

Three sails, three sheets to the wind
Three sails, three sheets to the wind

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