Well, not exactly…but temporarily taking away Radio Waves’ sailing capabilities, also known as un-stepping the mast. In a nutshell, with the mast up, we are about 55 feet tall. There are bridges along the first third of the Erie Canal with only 15 feet of clearance, and about 21 feet of clearance further down the canal, so clearly we cannot leave the mast up and go through the canal. This means that we need to build a cradle, have the mast pulled out of the boat and set on the cradle, and carry it with us til we reach the Hudson River.
Jim spent a lot of time taking measurements, trying to decide and envision where the mast could best be positioned so that it could not only be well supported as we traveled, but also be out of our way as much as possible. Before we even left our marina, we had a rough idea of where we would build the three supports which would “cradle” our mast.
Our first big decision was where we would go to have the mast pulled. Together with Skelton Crew, we looked into possibilities for marinas with the capability to do what we needed to have done, all the while keeping in mind that whereever we ended up, we’d be spending several days. We narrowed down the choices, read lots of reviews on Active Captain, talked with others we knew who had done what we are now doing, and settled on First Buffalo River Marina in Buffalo. Not only did they have great reviews on Active Captain, but they were also very reasonably priced, which was another deciding factor. The cost to have the mast un-stepped would be $195 (as long as it was completed within one hour, which they assured us most were), and to stay in the marina would be $1 per foot per day, which is less than most marinas charge transients. We would highly recommend this marina! Everyone that we met while we stayed there was so nice to us. We even had people offering us their cars to use! And talk about a great location! A quick dinghy ride across the small river and we were in the midst of it all.
We arrived on a Friday evening and set up an appointment to have our mast pulled at 3pm on Monday. Now it was time to get to work figuring out the details of how we (Jim really!) were going to build this cradle. Jim got busy drawing up some sketches, taking careful measurements and devising a detailed cradle plan and materials list. We figured that was enough work for one day so the four of us decided to check out a little bit of Buffalo. We headed across the river to Pearl Street Brewery for some good craft beers. We also had time to check out 716, a huge sports bar with the largest TV screen I have ever seen!
Saturday rolled around and it was time to get back to work. The four of us split the cost of a rental car, headed out and got all the lumber and supplies needed to build some awesome cradles. The boys each got to work on their respective boats, and Jackie and I worked hard at staying out of their way and being available to help whenever there was something really important that needed done…like helping to hold something. What would they do without us?!? The cradles were built in three parts, one on the bow (very front part) of the boat, one amidship (near the center) and one at the stern (very back part), and each part was lashed down well with lines to the boat. To test the portion of the cradle on the stern, Jim hung from it to make sure it would hold his weight and not move. All that was left to do now was…WORRY!
We spent Sunday hanging out and visiting Niagara Falls, and then the big day was here. Skelton Crew was scheduled to go first, and the rental car also needed to be returned, so I returned the car while Jim helped Ron. I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing that I was not around to see theirs done so that I’d know what to expect when it was our turn! From what I understand, there was a lot of stress and worrying involved, especially where the solar panels were concerned. They were very vulnerable, and breaking the glass on them with something hanging off of the mast as it was being laid in the cradle above the panels, would have pretty much rendered them useless. Fortunately there were no mishaps and the marina crew complimented Ron on his cradle.
It was now close to noon, I had just arrived back from returning the car, and a very stressed Jim informed me that they were ready for us NOW. We thought we had a few more hours til our 3pm appointment, so we really needed to scoot to take care of a few last minute items! There are a lot of wires running through the mast which all need to be disconnected and that had not yet been done. We also needed to find extra lines to secure the backstay, shrouds and forestay (stainless cables running from the top of the mast to various points on the boat to help support the mast. After helping Skelton Crew with their mast operation, Jim was very worried about our solar panels and wanted to find a way to protect them from being hit/scratched by the mast or something hanging off of it. We decided on laying our cockpit cushions on top of the panels to protect them, which ended up working very well.
So, with our stress level at an all time high, we motored over to the travel lift slip (where boats are hauled out of the water using a mobile boat hoist) where the crane would pull our mast and lay it on our new cradle. Thank goodness for new friends! I’m not sure how we would have done this without Ron’s much needed help! I stood back and tried to document the process while Jim, Ron and two guys from the marina helped steady the mast as the crane operator lifted it and laid it on the cradle. Thankfully this all went off without a hitch, and Jim and Ron secured the mast to the cradle, as well as the stays and shrouds to the mast itself. The marina crew also complimented us on the cradle that Jim had built.
Back to our slip…and time for a much needed beer for de-stressing! Jim then removed the antennas (wifi booster, 2m/440 amateur radio and VHF marine antenna) and wind instruments that were installed at the top of the mast, which was now hanging off the front of our boat (and over the dock) by about four feet, making them vulnerable. The bottom of the mast hangs off the back of the boat by about 15 feet, which means we take up a total of about 55 feet now, instead of our usual 36. This could make for some interesting docking! The mast is also angled upwards from the front of the boat towards the back (built that way to clear the solar panels), so Jim hopped in the dinghy and double checked the height from the water to the top to make sure that we were still well under the 15 foot bridge clearances in the Erie Canal. We were good at 12 feet, and ready to tackle the Erie Canal and all of the locks and lift bridges!