Lowering the Mast of a Catalina 27

Caseville Harbor - Catalina 27
Taking Her Out for the Season

Back in 2016, we had to bring our sailboat home. It was a bittersweet decision. Now, if you ask why? Because our plans for next year did not include the stress of putting the sailboat in only to use it a few times. 

We planned to park our Catalina 27 next to the cottage on our property. The boatyard would save money, and she would be better protected from the harbor’s ferocious winds. 

But what was stopping us? The Mast! 

We had never lowered the mast since we bought her. I even found numerous videos on single-handedly un-stepping a mast from a trailer-able sailboat. But unfortunately, I had a hard time finding information on the process for larger boats, like Catalina 27. 

I’m a big believer in discovering and sharing stuff. So, if your head is jumping off with questions like:

  • How difficult will it be to unstep/step the mast manually?
  • How much length/height is beyond manual lowering practical limits?
  • Is it better to use equipment (e.g., crane, yard-arm, etc.) on both ends? 

Hopefully, you will benefit from the information mentioned below. But before we jump into tips and tricks, let’s talk a little about my beloved Catalina.

Catalina 27— My Sailing Partner

Catalina 27 - In Her Slip
Catalina 27 – In Her Slip

The Catalina 27 is a sailboat designed by Frank V. Butler and Robert Finch in the United States. The design was manufactured from 1971 to 1991 and became one of the most popular sailing keelboats of all time. It is a small fiberglass keelboat designed for recreational use and has a masthead sloop rig, a fixed fin keel, and an internally placed spade-type rudder.

For me, Catalina 27 is a well-behaved sailing boat with adequate speed for day-to-day sailing and friendly competition between peers. After all these years, it is still in demand for first-time buyers and sailors planning to upgrade their cruising boats.

The boat’s hull is built of solid fiberglass, but the deck has a plywood core. It was designed for inland sailing rather than ocean crossings. The hull and other elements were made using molded headliners to save time and money. Early boats all featured a tiller but later included a steering wheel as an option. Although the boat was designed to accommodate an outboard motor, some later models were installed with inboard Universal Atomic 4 gasoline or Universal diesel engines.

Over the course of 5 years, The Catalina 27 has undergone numerous changes due to its long production history. Most of these are minor, but they have generally represented a steady stream of progress. But just as the cars, used boats of more recent models are usually more desirable than older models.

Catalina 27 in Media

In a 2002 evaluation of the design as a used boat, John Kretschmera professional sailor and writer who logged more than 300,000 offshore sailing miles, including 20 transatlantic and two transpacific passages wrote, “a Catalina 27 isn’t bought for the workmanship; it’s bought to have fun on the sea… The 27‘s ability to sail is one of its most remarkable qualities. The boat is pretty well balanced and thrives upwind in mild circumstances. The 27 is a touch delicate in heavy air, therefore one owner recommends installing the first reef in the main at 12 knots.” 

He ended by saying, “It’s no coincidence that the Catalina 27 has become one of the most popular boats ever made. It has excellent sailing, decent lodging, one-design fleets, and active owner organizations.” 

Getting To Know Catalina Yachts

Catalina Yachts is an odd business. Frank Butler, the President of Catalina Yachts, founded the company in 1970 with only one mission, “to build good boats that are a good value for customers.” What’s strange is that the builder has never invested in advertising and solely relies on the local dealers. 

As I found through my research, their day-to-day operation revolves around designing the boat, selecting relevant dealers, occasionally answering personal calls, and sweeping up at the end of the day. Despite following a traditional structure, Butler is probably one of the few people in the marine industry who has profited from sailboat construction.

It’s interesting to know that Catalina alone manufactures more sailboats per year compared to other US builders and has been doing it for many years now—undoubtedly the most extensive production run in US history. However, one cannot ignore the fact that Catalinas are known for being poorly constructed with many corners cut. Despite this, the owners continue to return for more.

Not to forget, the Catalina factory has a good track record of resolving customer complaints. Moreover, it is said that the President himself returns the owners’ call, turning them into lifelong Catalina customers.

Even after 52 successful years in the marine industry, Catalina is still a significant manufacturer of sailboats. Whether it’s entry-level boats that helped launch the company, full-size go-anywhere, systems-rich cruising yachts—Catalina is the KING!

Understanding the Mast

Climbing the Mast of a Catalina 27 x

We climbed the Mast of a Catalina 27 using a Bosun’s chair and halyard.


For those new to sailing, a mast is a tall pole that protrudes from the deck. It connects the sail’s length to the boat and sustains its form. The sailboat masts hold the sails in place, which are the most distinguishing characteristic of sailing vessels. Masts are frequently taller than the boat’s length. Traditional sailboat masts are built of wood; however, most modern sailboat masts are made of aluminum.

The mast is just a pole, and it won’t work without a few key components. The mast boot starts on the deck and prevents water from draining down the mast and into the cabin. The stays are the long cables that link either side of the mast and hold it upright under immense pressure. A gooseneck fitting connects the boom to the mast. The sail is raised and lowered using halyard lines.

Tips for Lowering the Mast of a Larger Boat (Like Catalina 27)

I did a lot of research on mast stepping since the Catalina 27 Owner’s Manual and General Handbook only mentions it briefly.

“To install the pivot bolt and locking nut, walk the mast aft and drop the mast foot into the mast step on top of the deck, keeping the mast in the boat’s centerline. While one crew member pulls on a line secured to the forestay, another pushes up the mast and walks from the cockpit forward. Attach the forestay and forward lower shrouds with the mast erect.”

What do you think? It’s poorly worded yet quite understandable.

One crewman pulls the forestay while the mast is pushed by the other. That’s how the mast was intended to be stepped, and it works wonderfully if you’re young and strong and you have two or more people to assist you. There are several steps to lowering the mast that must be completed beforehand. The following tips and procedures outline the methods utilized for both smaller and larger boats. 

Stock Up On Tools: Needle nose pliers, screwdriver, bungee cords, hull fittings, large zip ties, and three-foot pieces of line to lash the mast in place. If you’re planning to use a crane or gin-pole, you will need help from at least one or two helpers.

Deck Prep: Measure and cut 2X4s for platforms for the bow pulpit (24 inches) and across the stern pulpit (72 inches) so the mast rides above the cabin in all the clearance you need. You can wrap the board in a towel if you don’t want to maar a painted mast (some larger sailboats have extensive cowling supports to hold their 500 lbs. mast. The Catalina 27 standard rig mast tops off at about 300 lbs. with all the attached rigging and lines, so you have the option of using this method).

Remove the Boom Including the Gooseneck Slide: With all the sails removed, unshackle the topping lift and detach the boom gooseneck fitting from the mast. You may be tempted to leave the slide in place, but go ahead and remove it and reattach it to the end of the gooseneck. This will ensure that your hardware doesn’t get misplaced. Once removed, you can secure the boom on the deck or move it down into the cabin.

Secure Jib Halyard, Topping Lift, and the Main Halyard to the Mast: If all your lines run back to the cockpit, remove each line separately from any blocks and secure to the lowest mast cleat or clip each to a line that runs around the mast and is jammed into a low cleat or winch. Dress any tails of the three lines or wrap them up with zip ties. 

Loosen Turnbuckles and Power Lines: Loosen shroud turnbuckles and remove cotter pins but do not remove the clevis pins from the chainplate until the mast is secured with a lift line. Detach the power lines for the mast lights, VHF, and Wind vane.

Secure Lift Line: If you’re using a crane or gin pole, wrap the lift line around your mast. Raise the line until the loop is tucked just under the spreaders. Be sure not to get wrapped up around the bow light. Once the line is under, the spreaders tighten enough to remove any slack.

The Uplifting Moment of Truth: Once the lift line is snug and secure around your mast, loosen and gently remove the forestay or your furling drum. At the same time, remove the backstay and all the shrouds. Walk all the rigging to the mast and bungee the mess around the mast. If you have a roller furling, set it aside to avoid getting damaged or pinched. Next, remove the two bolts from the base of the mast. Once everything is in place, one person needs to “hug” and guide the mast up and off the plate. Once off about an inch, stop and ensure all the power lines are detached. Ours had a plug inside the mast that had to be separated.

Walk it Back: Gently walk the bottom of the mast to your stern and place on the 2X4 you mounted on the pulpit. Make sure that your roller furling system does not get pinched or twisted in the rigging, and the spreaders don’t hit the top of the cabin hatch.

Dress it Up: Use zip ties to secure the rigging about every two feet along the mast. Make sure nothing is hanging off the sides or drooping into the cockpit. Lash the mast to the 2X4’s if you’re going to trailer or move the boat to its cradle.

Quick Check

  • Before lowering the mask, keep an eye on material under the mast leg at the foot, as this could cause it to turn inside the shoes. The mast will twist beyond its allowable stress and strain and collapse if the leg fails to rotate freely in the shoe.
  • Check for stuck clutches (use the positive grip in low gear with all engines).
  • If the air throttle sticks, have an experienced helper on the site to operate it manually.
  • To reduce mast strain on the initial lift, keep the crown end of the mast up and level with the substructure.
  • Follow the mast manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure that the substructure/draw works adequately counterbalance to the mast as it is raised. (i.e., tied down to the substructure, mud pump, tractor, or truck that may be standing by to prevent any overbalancing).
  • Before the mast is raised, it must be thoroughly inspected to ensure that no loose bolts, tools, bars, or drift pins have been left without a safety bolt to prevent them from working loose. 
  • Gravel or rocks that may have gotten onto the cross beams while on the ground should also be checked on the derrick.
  • When the mast is near vertical, tie the tong counterbalances down to prevent them from falling and damaging.
  • Ensure the derrick board is securely fastened and that no material could fall when it settles. Before raising the mast, double-check that the derrick escape device is in place and that the line is securely attached to the mast.
  • Always have two to three helpers on the brakes so that if one needs assistance, others are available. 
  • While placing the mast in its final position, make sure to use a snub line. Allowing the mast to fall into place can cause a lot of vibration and stress the pins at the derrick’s base.

Using a Crane to Lower the Mast

It’s critical to take a step back from the mast while utilizing a crane to gain a full view and determine the balancing point of your mast. This is usually towards the midpoint of the mast.

Always go for the bottom-heavy option. Various factors, such as whether the mast has winches or how far below deck the mast reaches, will affect this (or does not extend). Finally, if you have any doubts, you should seek professional help.

Setting up a lifting point that unsteps the mast and keeps it bottom-heavy is crucial. On masts with several spreaders, this may demand a trip aloft to attain a high enough lifting point. As a result, you may need to hire a professional to ride the sky-hook and leave the halyard and winch open.


Video of Dropping a Catalina 27 Mast


Un stepping standard rig on a 1973 Catalina 27. We lowered the mast on this sailboat while the boat was in its cradle using a crane.


While there are many ways to lower a mast, this offers those who have never had to drop theirs some insight into what to expect. If you have your own hints or special tips please comment. We appreciate your insight.

Mast Maintenance

Every sailing enthusiast knows the importance of keeping the mast in top shape. Regular inspections, adjustments, and replacements are all part of mast maintenance. I kept a regular list of mast maintenance tips, techniques, and little-known secrets during my first year aboard Catalina 27. My pro tip for the wooden mast is that they should be varnished and examined for decay time-to-time. 

In my experience, I’ve seen sailors providing a lack of attention to their spars and rigging while others keep sailing until the rig breaks down. Sailing can be made safer and more pleasant by investing a few hours in mast maintenance every year.

By following the steps above, and with the mast removed, this is the right opportunity to examine and reseal the deck chain-plate covers and the chainplates on the hull or below decks. The mast winches should be oiled while the mast is on the sawhorses. There should be no burrs or exposed rivets on the mainsail track, and the sliders should move easily.

Conclusion

I never look forward to dragging Catalina out of the water after a voyage. I, like the majority of you, am not interested in lowering the mast and tying the rig down after a long and exhausting day on the water. I’d like it to be easy peasy lemon squeezy. I hope by now you know how to lower a mast of Catalina 27.

I hope you’ve learned something useful from this article and that it will help you improve your mast lowering game. Considering there are many ways to lower a mast, please comment with your hints or special tips. We appreciate your insight. Also, check this 3-minute video showing the Mast Being Lowered on a 1973 Catalina 27 Sailboat Using a Crane.

If you want to study the procedure of lowering the mast in detail, I recommend Bruce Bingham’s The Sailor’s Sketchbook. It’s great to know that the mast can be reduced and raised using onboard tools. Make sure your load points and lines are secure, and you have a confident friend with you to help. 

No matter how inexperienced, any sailor will be inspired by Bruce Bingham’s wonderful drawings to begin tinkering on their boat. Remember to be safe and prudent in your maneuvers, and don’t forget to have fun.

About Thumbwind — Finding Fun in Michigan

My family owned a farm near Bad Axe in Colfax township, and I’ve visited the area since I was a child. So when utility companies began installing industrial wind turbines in Michigan’s Thumb in 2009, I found Thumbwind Publications with a mission to explore and find fun all over Michigan, focusing on the Upper Thumb. 

Thumbwind Publications has been in business for the past 12 years. It began as a hobby and has since evolved into a local niche content site dedicated to discovering fun things to see and do in Michigan.

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