The standard equipment C-22 backstay pendant is simple and handy for holding up the boom when the mainsail is lowered. It also works fine to keep the boom more or less centered over the boat when docked or anchored. But it’s not very convenient for shorter crew members to reach and it won’t help you when reefing the mainsail. In fact, it can be downright dangerous for that. A better solution is an adjustable topping lift mounted on the boom within easier reach. It will also let the boom swing free of the backstay when you need to slack the main during reefing.
The classic way to make a topping lift is with a halyard similar to the mainsail halyard. But instead of attaching the shackle to the head of the mainsail, you attach it to the aft end of the boom. The working end of the line can be cleated at the mast or led aft to the cockpit. However, it requires mounting a block on the masthead, which means drilling and adding more lines and complication at the mast.
A better design doesn’t need a block at the masthead and it uses much less rope. It’s lighter and it can be adjusted from the cockpit like a pendant only easier. The design consists of two main parts: a stationary wire from the masthead to a couple of feet above the boom, and a two-part tackle between the end of the wire and the end of the boom. It’s basically a smaller version of the backstay I describe in Upgrade Your Rig With a DIY Adjustable Backstay. In fact, if you upgrade to an adjustable backstay, a topping lift is almost a necessity.
Here are the materials you need to complete this project:
- 23′ x 1/16″ vinyl coated life line wire with thimble eyes crimped on both ends
- 10′ x 1/4″ New England Ropes Sta Set rope or equivalent. A few feet more if you plan to splice an eye in the dead end instead of tying a knot.
- Harken 224 micro bullet block crimped into one eye of the cable
- Harken 233 micro cheek block & (2) #8 x 1/2″ stainless steel pan head tapping screws
- Small eye strap & (2) #10 x 1/2″ stainless steel oval head tapping screws
- Fairlead cleat & (2) #10 x 3/4″ stainless steel oval head tapping screws
The vinyl coated wire should measure approximately 21′ from eye to eye when finished. Purchase a couple of extra feet to work with while crimping the ends. To make the thimble eyes, ask to borrow the swaging bench at your local West Marine or other marine supply store. They typically cannot crimp the eyes for you due to liability reasons, but if you’re handy with tools, they’ll help you figure it out. It’s not difficult to do and the wire won’t be supporting a critical load anyway. Remember to install the micro block in one thimble before you crimp the end.
To install this topping lift:
- Attach the empty eye of the wire to the same pin at the masthead as the backstay. Both eyes should fit on the pin easily. If stretched out along the backstay, the end of the wire with the micro block attached should be at about the same location along the backstay as the point where the pendant is attached to the backstay if you have one. The block will be high enough above the boom to give you plenty of boom height adjustment but also low enough that the average crew member can grab it at the mast to reave the line when it is disconnected. If you currently have a pendant, you can leave the pendant attached or remove it.
- At the aft end of the boom, use a portable electric drill to drill pilot holes and mount the eye strap on one side of the boom. Mount the micro cheek block on the other side of the boom. Mount the fairlead cleat about a foot forward of and on the same side of the boom as the micro cheek block.
- Attach the 1/4″ line to the eye strap with a spliced eye or bowline knot.
- Lead the working end of the line up and reave it through the bullet block on the end of the cable, then down to and through the cheek block, forward along the boom, and through the fairlead cleat. Tie a stopper knot in the working end of the line to prevent it from pulling through the fairlead cleat, allowing the boom to fall down.
The finished installation should look like the first and last pictures in this article.
If you already have hardware on the end of your boom, see the end of my Mainsail outhaul solution post for an example of how I organized mine.
To use the topping lift, release the line from the fairlead cleat, haul or ease the line to adjust the boom to the desired height, and recleat the line. Leave plenty of slack in it when under sail so that it doesn’t interfere with sail shape, particularly when trimming a boom vang.
Although the end of the boom isn’t heavy to start with even with the mainsail bent on, the blocks reduce the effort needed to lift the boom by half, making it easy even for smaller crew members.
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