Masts are kept rigidly in place by the Standing Rigging, the rope or wire or metal rods which run from the mast to the sides, and front and rear of the hull, ensuring that the mast cannot move in any direction. Made from wood on old ships, masts are today made from wood, fibreglass, composite materials such as carbonfibre, or metal. Masts vary in height from about 6 feet (on a Windsurfer, say) to well over a hundred feet on a superyacht. The topmost point of a mast is called the mast-head and should not be confused with “the top,” of an old ship, the circular tub of wood surrounding a point high up on the mast, in which the lookout stood and to which were attached yet more “chains” to support the topgallant mast’s shrouds, called the futtock-shrouds.

Many North American cruising boats limit the mast-height to 65 feet above the water, the maximum clearance of the bridges across the Intra-Coastal Waterway. On some modern boats the mast is “unstayed,” meaning that there are no shrouds. These masts are made of carbonfibre, often reinforced with kevlar and or steel, to prevent them from snapping. There are three advantages to an unstayed rig:

1) the mainsail can be let out to 90˚ to the hull, where it derives maximum push from the wind when sailing downwind. On a stayed boat like Bit-by-Bit, the mainsail can only be let out about half way before it rubs against the shroud.
2) there are fewer parts which means less to maintain thus yielding higher reliability.
3) the rig weighs less than a conventional one.

The downside is higher cost and more of a problem if it breaks at sea. Which is why Josh’s Bit-by-Bit doesn’t use a stayless rig. Although Josh would happily have spent Cassius’s money to upgrade the rig, he was being cautious. Not only could he not repair the mast at sea, but he could not jury-rig it without shrouds and chain-plates.

Some photographs of masts and the ships or boats they belong to follow. They are, in order: Catana’s yard in France, The Amsterdam, a replica of a Dutch East Indies company trader, the first Bit-by-Bit, anchored off the Florida Keys, HMS Warrior and Cutty Sark’s mainmast from her maindeck. The last one has Bit-by-Bit’s mast stored horizontally, about to transit the Eerie Canal from Toronto to New York.

Catana Yard The Amsterdam Sailing BB HMS Warrior Main mast looking up BB, mast down, port stern

Amsterdam’s mizzen, main and foremast are clearly visible. Did you count four masts on Warrior? The bowsprit is a mast too, a stick that supports the sails. And stick is a relative term. Here’s a close up of Amsterdam’s bowsprit.

The Amsterdam's bowsprit

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