Rig checks and maintenance - essential reading for classic yacht sailing and racing

Q+A with professional rigger Chuck Demangeat on rig failure, its prevention and rig maintenance workflow

Below Chuck Demangeat guides us through what elements might cause rig failure, he highlights the respect that we should have for the technology needed to sail and race and, importantly, the maintenance workflow we should intergrate into our 'everyday' sailing habits on classic boats.


Chuck, how many rigs have you known to break or fail at classic yachting events?

A: If my memory serves right, a dozen over 12 years although some may be missing...


What is the most memorable time this has happened on/off the boat?

A: Collision between Agneta and the Blue Peter at Regates Royales [Cannes] in 2003.


What could have prevented this from happening?

A: Having a helmsman who understood how classic boats sail and not expecting it to manoeuvre like a modern OD [One Design] racer. Also a lot [of skippers/helms] will sail their boats harder than would be considered sensible, but want to win whatever the cost, so attitude is also a factor.



Attached is a pic taken last year, as you can see it's a rig coming down at the top mark on a bear away. I was pretty close to this happening (luckily to windward) and witnessed the bowman disappearing underneath the sails, amongst the wire rigging. I ended up fishing him out, pulling him into my key-fob sized tender to find he had a head injury. The crew were in shock and press boats took numerous dramatic photos and neglected to assist immediately.

While no one likes to see it, be near it or celebrate it in any way. I'm showing and asking you to comment on how wooden and classic boats can maintain their rigs and check them in order to avoid rig failure....

Answer: I agree that lack of maintenance covers its share of dismasting, but it is more often down to how the boats are sailed.... A perfect rig, if pushed well beyond its limits will fail purely because it is being asked to perform beyond its designed limits. In your pictures it is a bit difficult to say what failed, but clearly it was not caused by the weather or a collision.



Is it a good idea to keep a list of checks against dates to monitor the condition of blocks and lines, leads etc...?

For example, a big class yacht in recent times lost their rig in the just days after a tough coastal race. I understand this was partially due to the fact they had pushed the boat more than usual, over a longer period and didn't necessarily tend to worn out purchases.

Answer: Yes. A good maintenance log will show the progression of any minor problem. It is better if these checks are done by one person, i.e. a permanent crew member, regular race crew or rigger so the standard of the inspection is steady and not open to every new comers opinion. Having said that, if a newcomer has a list of checks to follow, and notification of any earlier noted hiccups (however minor) he will have a better idea of what to look for and may add a new solution.


Please could you give your opinion on the importance of the types and qualities of rope and metals used in rigging?

Should people be more weary about traceability and aware about cheap stainless products?

Answer A: All lines on the market these days are of good quality. Obviously the type of line (Fibre, Construction, and Finishing) should be checked as appropriate for what it is going to be used for and also check the loads applied.

Polypropylene is good for fishing pots, it is strong, it floats and is adequate for the job but is totally useless on a yacht other than for trailing a bucket.

Polyester is strong and has a certain elasticity and stretch.

Dyneema is super strong, light weight either bare or sleeved. In my opinion it overused on classics as it has absolutely no elasticity whatsoever. A lot of classics use it to replace wire so as to avoid chafe on sails (on runners and halyards). This causes all the high loads to be transferred directly to the wooden spars.

A splice is usually s better than the over abused Bowline, (streamlined, hardly any loss of strength) but this does require time and knowledge.  So the bottom line on lines is to be sure they are the most adequate for the job they are intended to do..and are finished appropriately.

Answer B: Regarding traceability, yes there are a lot of cheap untraceable items on the shelves in chandleries, primarily because they are businesses and not necessarily “Boat people”. The average client will always look for a cheaper alternative, and a chandlery will have a better turnover than somebody selling the correct item at a higher price. I refuse to splice halyards etc with hardware supplied by the client unless I am sure who the manufacturer was. If they are knowledgeable enough to buy lower grade line and Chinese snap shackles, they should also learn how to splice, after all a good book explaining the process would be cheaper than asking me to do it.



Do crew rotations or crew turnover on boats effect the maintenance of the rig (I mean it shouldn’t effect the boat’s condition, but I think it might do)?

How can captains and owners be more mindful about different crew coming on board and their rigging workflow?

Answer A: Yes

Answer B: Captains and or owners should maintain a pattern and record of checks throughout the boat (not just rig) regardless of who is crew at the time and also if using new people make sure they know what they are looking for. (I would not ask a mechanic to check my teeth).


Do crew need to undertake rig checks more often? Please talk me through one...

Answer A: Yes.

Full check before voyage / season, before any sailing where the boat is going to be pushed hard (regatta, long passage etc.), after any particularly hard day’s sailing (even if it was looked at yesterday).

Answer B: I guess we are talking about a rig check as in Pre regatta, throughout the season and not a major Survey or pre stepping check (if you want this, I’ll send later on request).

Initial check, walk around the deck with eyes open, check all fittings are secured, (split pins, lock nuts, lashings). Check all shackles are free of corrosion, that pins are secured (stitched, seized etc.) Check all blocks are clean, and have a clean lead (are free to align with whatever they need to, (winch, cleat, jammer etc)). Check all lines are free of chafe, if so find out why and correct...

Before climbing rig, check all halyards and lines are running free and are correctly led...If any dubious lead is noted try correct before going aloft and take mental note of where additional protection or re-lead may be necessary.

Heading aloft, again check for chafe points. As on deck check all fittings are secured and that no line lead will alter this (halyards running past split pins is a common one). Check all shackles are sitting correctly and are not canted over, and are secured Have a good look at all mast fittings, tangs, mast bands with emphasis on clean leads, corrosion, and chafe. At this time it will be hard to see if there is any structural damage, but hopefully this was checked when the rig was out. Should you see anything whatsoever, correct it, or at least note it and tell the skipper so it can be investigated further.


Is there anything you'd like to add?

As mentioned earlier, it appears to me that actually a small percentage of dis-masting is caused by lack of or bad maintenance but more of lack of understanding of the limits of both crew and boat when they are engaged in the “Regatta” scene. Overloading the rig in regatta conditions is probably the biggest culprit and I believe that an excessive use Dyneema in the Modern Classic sailors rigging, without actually understanding its effect on their sailing is at the top of the list.

Thank you Chuck for those answers. This Q+A was intended to create a discussion on safe sailing and racing. Contact Chuck - chucksrigging@gmail.com