A Busted Mast Step and a Popped Shackle


Shortly after we published the July 1, 1998 article on mast steps, reader Jim Lyons mailed off a little box. He lives in Tampa, Florida, and is, as he said, Eight years into our 10-year plan to retire and go cruising, aboard a Cabo Rico 38.

In the box was a folding aluminum step. It failed me, all 170 pounds, Lyons said. Fortunately, it was the bottom step, not the top.

An examination of the fractures in the two lobes of the cast aluminum step reveals, by the collection of white powder, that one arm apparently suffered either crevice corrosion or a structural crack. We tasted the whitish powder; its salty. The crack permitted the infusion of water, which encouraged further corrosion over 75% of the cross section of the lobe.

When that weakened lobe failed, the other, stressed unevenly, immediately snapped off cleanly, exposing the uniformly gray, typically granular surfaces of cast aluminum. The step still bears on its backside a clear plastic label on which is printed ABI MADE IN TAIWAN.

If you recall, there were in our report on mast steps two nearly identical aluminum folding steps. One was made by ABI; its offered in the West Marine catalog for $15.99. The other is a Mast Walker, made and sold for $14.50 by a company called Damage Control, in Pasadena, Maryland.

Damage Controls Mast Walker, made of Almag 35, just went a leg up on the more expensive ABI.

Its a reminder that great care should be exercised when climbing a mast. As we concluded in our two-part report on mast steps and ladders, the use of a device such as a SafBrak is wise. The SafBrak (see the July 1, 1998 issue) has a cam cleat on a strap that connects the users safety harness to an unused, snugged-down halyard.

Now Its a Paperweight
Sailboats necessarily are very efficient arrangements of form and function. Slipping through very heavy water with nothing but whimsical air as the impetus makes almost everything critical. So its not good when something lets go.Like a snap shackle. Ingenious little things.

But they fail fairly often, especially if they rest in a position that encourages water to run down into, rather than out of, threads and other cavities. Moisture in small places = corrosion.

A professional rigger told us that, generally, its the pins that disappear when inexplicably freed by the split rings that hold them in place.

Check the split ring and give each moving part and joint an annual phsssssssst with WD-40 and the breakage nears zero, he said.

Most shackles, proof-tested by hard usage, are strong. In fact, the West Marine catalog says that Ronstans Nicro Marine snap shackles come with an unlimited lifetime warranty. More about this in a moment.

It was a Nicro Marine shackle from Ronstan that a reader, David Hay sent to us. Its an RF 6351 trunnion toggle swiveling model made of investment cast 15-5 PH stainless. It weighs 9 oz. and will take a 3-1/2-ton load before it deforms. It lists for about $100. David Hays snap shackle went utterly useless because the locking pin and spring dropped out and vanished.

When we checked the catalogs, we noted that, despite the unlimited lifetime warranty, Nicro Marine snap shackle repair kits are offered. A kit includes a plunger pin, spring and split ring. There are seven sizes, ranging in price from about $12 to $25.

We called Nicro Marine and were told that nothing lasts forever.

When we asked about the unlimited lifetime warranty, we were told, Covers everything but the plunger pin, spring and split ring.

Why was that no surprise?

Our local chandler had but two sizes, neither of them the one we needed. Neither could we find the proper repair kit in any discount catalog.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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