Turnbuckles are great for tuning your rig but they’re the least convenient way imaginable to loosen and detach the forestay and lower shrouds for unstepping the mast. I vowed long ago that I would quit wasting time on turnbuckles during setup and tear-down.
This post is a companion to my previous post How to step a mast single-handed with or without using the boom as a gin pole. I mentioned quick release levers in that post and you can also see them in use there, but they need more explanation together with the other topics in this post.
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Get the drop on lost time with quick-draw levers
One solution to turnbuckle time bandits is what is called a Highfield lever. It was invented in about 1930 by J. S. Highfield, an electrical engineer and rear commodore with the Royal Thames Yacht Club. Johnson Marine Hardware makes a good one that is just the right size for most trailerable sailboats. (Note: do not try to substitute the smaller and less expensive Quick Release Stay Adjuster (#15-212) that you can find at your West Marine store. It doesn’t have an adequate safe working load for anything more than a small catamaran or dinghy.) If you are fortunate enough to have an adjustable back stay and can loosen it enough to disconnect your forestay without a quick release lever, more power to ya. To see how to do the conversion yourself, see Upgrade Your Rig With a DIY Adjustable Backstay.
The Johnson Marine Quick Release Levers don’t often come up for auction on eBay, so I started with one (#14-205) on the forestay. Fortunately, the length of the quick release lever is almost the same as the forestay turnbuckle. It was an easy swap without having to shorten the forestay to keep the mast in column. Now I fine tune the mast rake with the adjustment holes in the quick release lever or with the backstay turnbuckle.
This short video shows how it helps me to quickly detach the forestay and connect the main sheet with snap shackles in preparation for lowering the mast.
It didn’t take long using one quick release lever to convince me that I needed one on each of the forward lower shrouds too, which also need to be disconnected to unstep the C-22 mast. The upper shrouds and aft lower shrouds can stay connected. After a long wait, a pair of new levers came up on eBay and I added them to my rig. However, in that case, I kept the turnbuckles attached and had my rigger shorten the shrouds to accommodate the extra length of the quick release levers attached below the turnbuckles. This lets me fine tune the shrouds with the turnbuckles but disconnect them quickly without losing the turnbuckle settings.
A quick release pin for every quick release lever
To keep my whole mast raising system tool-less, I also use stainless steel drop cam quick release pins to quickly connect and disconnect the quick release levers. By their design, it’s almost impossible for them to work themselves loose, unlike ball-tension type quick pins. Each one is tethered to the part that it goes with like shown in the picture at the top of this post.
By the way, I also use this type of pin to attach the boom to its mast slide. Some readers will say that they aren’t strong enough for standing rigging but this type of pin is solid steel through most of its grip area. After years of using them this way, I have yet to have one fail, even during the beating that Summer Dance took during a freak storm. In fact, in that case, the cast aluminum gooseneck fitting broke but not the quick release pin that attached it.
The worst damage that I’ve experienced so far with one of these pins is when one crimped tight around the cam so that it couldn’t turn. It was easy to fix using a small screwdriver to spread the slot slightly again. Other than that, I’ve not had any problems with them.
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