The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Q&A: Un-Stayed Masts

Question: I am curious if you are keel stepped or deck stepped. If keel stepped, could you get away without stays since the aluminum deck could be reinforced enough to hold the mast upright? You could keep running backstays in place for heavier winds.

Answer: Our mast is keel-stepped. I guess that theoretically we could do as you suggest, but it would be a huge and expensive job to reinforce both the step, to take athwartships loads, and the partners (hole at deck). Also, masts that are designed to be un-stayed are much heavier than those that are stayed, so much of the performance benefit of our new carbon mast would be lost.

Having said that, I agree that the idea of dispensing with stays is enticing; however, it is not without problems, particularly offshore.

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James Gray

Agreed that you’d need to reinforce the step and partners. The biggest thing is the mast itself needs to be a very different beast if it needs to withstand the bending loads without shrouds or stays. It would typically be a much greater diameter, as well as wall thickness – more windage as well as weight aloft.

But there are advantages. For example, fewer points of failure; you’re not dependent on a split pin or a toggle 15 metres above the deck!

To my mind, the greatest advantage of a free-standing mast is an increased choice of rig. I’m a keen advocate of the modern cambered junk rig, but that’s a whole different topic!

Converting to unstayed is a non-trivial project. You need a good reason to attempt it.

Chris Rogers

Considering unstayed rigs, the Freedom line of sailboats are designed with a large section free-standing carbon fiber spar. They have design characteristics for coastal cruising but have logged ocean passages as well. I would like to hear from anyone who has experience with this type of rig. Would it be advisable to incorporate running backstays for heavy weather or an ocean passage?

Chris Rogers

Thank you John. To clarify, I was thinking about the Freedom 40/40 that does have a fractional forestay and flies a small (~100%) jib.