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Thread: All those wires inside my mast gotta go!

  1. #1
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    Question All those wires inside my mast gotta go!

    The saga continues:

    Now that the mast is down, the old paint is stripped off and the aluminium is polished, the mast base block has been removed, and new chainplates are on order, I have time to evaluate a new problem. A small part of the lower end of my VHF Radio antenna is corroded. This was hidden by rigging tape, until I decided to remove the tape. My VHF antenna runs continuously from the mast head down through the deck to connector inside of the cabin. This seems like a good design, since the connector can be removed by a simple un-screwing and can be easily shoved up through the deck if the mast is un-stepped. I just did this.

    However, the coaxial cable just above the deck flexes at least twice a day to an extreme entent as a result of lowering the mast during the tabernacle operation. So it appears that over time the wire failed where it flexed. Corrosion is evident in discoloration of the exposed copper coaxial wire sheeth. It does not appear that the copper wire sheeth in theg coaxial cable was tinned.

    So the best thing to do is probably to pull a new coxalial cable through the mast, but here is the problem:

    The coaxial cable enters the mast a few inches above the mast base block It is met on the opposite side by four electrical wires. A black and white pair run about ten feet up the mast to the steaming light, and an orage and white pair never emerge from the mast. The coaxial cable and all four wires are bundled inside of a series of taped foam tubes that look very much like the foam tubes that you put around household water pipes in cold climates to keep them from freezing, except that the foam in my mast looks like it might be blue in color.

    Hmmm: Is this an original Pearson installation, or someone else's bright idea? I can't pull the coaxial cable without pulling the four electric wires with it. I have ascertained that the orange and white wires don't run as far as the mast head, and the coaxial cable in the vacninty of the main halyard sheeve is not encased in foam.

    It is my guess that the foam tubes run up as far as the spreaders.

    The possibility that that orange and white wires may run into the spreader tubes is somewhat disconcerting, becasue that means those wires might not pull easily. There are not spreader lights, and no opening in theh mast that might have once been used as exit ports for those wires.

    With the foam tubes, you don't have good visibility up the mast, even with a flashlight, but I can make out what appears to be a solid tube running between the spreaders. This could be an illusion. It might only be the aforementioned wires, or it could actually be an aluminum tube, which functions as an integral part of the spreader support system. I thought that removing one of the spreaders would be a good idea so that I could see what happens to that orange and white wire pair before I try to pull the wires, but alas, I would have to destroy the ss screws to remove them. The nuts are loose enough, but the screws seem to be immovable.

    1. So has anyone found foam bundled wires in their masts?

    2. Has anyone pulled the wire in your mast and replaced it?

    3. What materials and techniques did you use to pull your new wires either up or down the mast. Since I am have this foam to deal with, and I am not planning to remove the mast head, it seems easier to pull the wires down and out and down and in, rather than up and out and up and in.

    4. How did you protect your new wires from chaffing and your ears from the ringing of wire against aluminum at future anchorages. Encasing the wires in rubber hose has been suggested to me. It would have to be soft rubber hose however.
    Scott

  2. #2
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    Scott,
    Foam? Well that's a new idea. Did it work in keeping the mast wiring Quiet? Don Casey in This Old Boat recomended/suggested using aluminum pop-rivets to fasten lengths of PVC pipe to the inside of the mast to form a wire chase. Something needs to be done to minimize that annoying 'ding' at anchor.
    Why is it you don't want to pull the masthead off? Seem like an ideal time to do it and it would give you a better look inside the big stick. But to answere your questions-no, not yet, undecided, undecided.

  3. #3
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    'Lo Tony,
    Congrats on getting to the mast.
    The foam pipe insulation was invented long after Pearson put the mast on the boat. My research (and I have reams of it) shows that it is the most popular method of silencing and protecting wires in the mast. Cheap, easy to install. Another method is to use nylon wire ties and leave them long so they provide a spring=like cushion in the mast.

    Imagining what I will do, but if you are forthcoming I will copy what you come up with, I would probably go to the masthead with wire in foam, and to the spreaders with the other set of wires in their own foam tubes. Stop the foam short of the mast bass with a positive tie and taping and form a loop of all wires and cable befor they exit from the mast.

    I've thought a little about that chaffing or bending problem. I thought (correct me if I'm wrong) that the exit of the wires from the side of the mast could be upwards of a foot above the maststep. Be arranged in a soft loop befor entering the deck to the junction box below. The idea, of course, is to give the wires more scope to turn, and not bend.

    I've been convinced ('Understanding Boat Wiring', John C. Payne) that #12 should be used for these long electric runs. The wires would be bundled with a self amalgamating rubber tape as they exit the mast and enter the gland in the coach roof. Seems to me it would be an impressive loop of stuff, and not likely to stress the wire at all.


    The spreader tube is there of course to keep the thrubolt from squeezing the mast where all the work is consentrated, spreader sockets and the four lower shroud tabs. It is installed from outside into holes that just fit the tube. Since it is hopefully unlikely that the mast will be worked on again for an age, I will replace all fastenings. I know that pvc chase is considered highend but couldn't it be argued that it increases weight and holes in the mast and probably more dissimilar metal in the rivets? I think the simpler way is best: all foam, all ties, or a combo.

    Remember to include a pull string for the future. How about nylon snap line of different colors, one to the spreaders, and one to the top. As for rewiring while the mast is horizontal, how about a plumbers snake to get it all started???

  4. #4
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    When we pulled the wires from A76's mast in '86, there was nothing in the mast but wires When we replaced all the wires, we tried using a block of foam a few feet up from the base to keep the wires in place, but it eventually came dislodged and the wires now "clang" with every swell.

    Those other wires? Maybe someone installed a spreader light that's now gone?

  5. #5
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    Three wire-ties with their tales sticking in three different directions every 18 inches silenced my mast. That includes VHF line to the top, a pair of wires for the anchor light and a pair for the steaming light. We laid it out on the ground then fished it in one run with an ancient electrician's snake collectively owned at the boatyard. I think I found that in Good Old Boat magazine. The local boatyard folklore says that foam holds moisture inside the mast and eventually adds weight in addition to adding to the corrosion load. The tie-wraps work fine and don't cost much.

    Your tabernacle system sounds like a necessary evil that will be hardest on the VHF line. You might consider putting RF connectors in on either side of the section that takes the most wear and tear. That way you can just disconnect the worn wire and put in a new section. Lots of connectors don't help your signal but if done well don't hurt is as much as a total signal failure someday when you need the radio. Don't tell Uncle Sam but that's what a lot of us did in the army on field radio set-ups with wire sections that consistently wore out from being set up and taken down. We just cut out the beat up section, got four connectors and two barrel splices and patched in a good piece of wire. It carried traffic just fine. We made up a patch or two and were never off the air for long because of worn wire. If you assemble and solder them carefully you won't experience much signal loss and gain some security.

  6. #6
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    me again...
    SkiperJer, interesting advice.
    For the electrically challenged a drawing would help a lot.

    I am thinking that a connection system that would allow the mast to be EASILY disconnected for whatever reason would be a good thing. That is aside from lowering and raising 'on the run.' I was hoping there was in the marine market a waterproof junction box that would be placed over the wire thru cabin fitting that would allow efficient disconnect. There might be two glands under such a box. One to get the coaxial cable inside and there have an even more protected junction. But it doesn't exist, yet, does it? Are there any O-ring coax barrel fittings? There are, but not weather or salt proof we can use on deck?

    A strong ondeck junction box would be better to make waterproof with rubber goop or gasket replacement than wires going direct thru the deck. In a perfect world wouldn't it be a good thing if the mast could be taken down by the skipper on a regular basis? That is, all mast wires would disconnect in the junction box on deck. I can think that at haul out for bottom paint work that if the mast was already horizontal when arriving at the yard maintenance wouldn't be a problem, and we'ld save the mast pulling charge.

    How do we set up for the (near)perfect disconnect or just connecting for that matter ON deck. Need help visualizing, designing. Thanks
    Last edited by ebb; 09-28-2004 at 11:49 AM.

  7. #7
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    Ah yes...Mast wiring....I teach Marine Electronics for our local Power Squadron. (A great source of good info). The material I have says that code and ABYC standards call for minimum wire size of 16 ga stranded. I have not seen any recommendations for minimums in the mast. 12 ga makes sense.

    I have seen 2 suggestions but have tried neither. The first was to buy the longest heaviest wire ties you can find and then use 3 at a time to make a spider every few feet. In other words, tie them so the ends are about 120 deg. around all the wires in the mast. This assumes you can drop all your wiring and then pull it back in the mast with the spiders in place. The second is a variation on the foam suggestion. Buy the foam split tubes that are used to insulate pipe runs in cold places. Wire tie them in place and slide them up as far you cana nd keep placing on the wires until you can't get them to slide up any further,

    I replaced the wiring for my steaming/deck lamps last year. I used tri-plex cable in the mast but did not try either method. I am thinking of trying the tubes. I used a snake to pull the cable into the mast and that was fiarly simple. I had to use some light gauge wire to pull wire up through the compression post.
    Last edited by John; 09-28-2004 at 05:44 PM.
    John G.
    Valhalla
    Commander No 287

  8. #8
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    Smile

    To All Responders: Thanks for the great response and excellent ideas. I really like the wire tie spider idea, and the PVC idea makes much sense. I think that my foam insulation goes only up to the spreaders, or perhaps only to the steaming light. I have never noticed any clanging of wires in the mast. What is actually up there remains to be seen.

    Tony and Ebb: I donít want to remove my masthead, because I donít need to do so at this point. I have wires where I want them and I hope to be able to pull them out with pull lines attached. I then hope to pull new coaxial cable up the mast. Were I painting ther mast, I would need to remove all of the fasteners, I suppose, but I don't intend to paint the mast. Most of my stainless steel fasteners look good, but they donít remove easily. We had to cut the bolt off the tabernacle plate at the mast step.

    The only other electric device that I have on the mast is the steaming light. I am replacing that fixture, but again it comes equipped with existing wires. That is a short run and does not concern me quite so much as getting beyond the spreader tube and up to the masthead where the VHF antenna hangs out.

    I really do like the PVC idea. The small diameter electrical conduit PVC sells at Orchard Supply hardware for less than $2.00 for a ten-foot section. It is flanged on one end so no connecters are necessary. It should be a piece of cake to shove that stuff with enclosed wires up the mast. That would also allow me to take another set of electrical wires up there if I decide to add a tricolor light or other mast top electrical device. I donít like the idea of pop riveting the PVC to my mast, which is pristine and without blemish between the steaming light and the main halyard sheave. I have been wondering if it would be possible to add some sort of rubber donuts (perhaps very short sections of closed cell foam pipe insulators) surrounding the PVC every few feet to prevent the PVC from banging against the mast, and then leave it unattached to the mast with the exception of a mastbase attachment point within reach of the bottom of the mast.

    I did check around today for soft hose, which might be used instead of the PVC, but all of the hose that I saw was very heavy. The electrical conduit version of PVC pipe is really very light weight.

    Bill: I have completely stripped the mast and spreaders to bare aluminum. There never were any spreader lights, at least on this set of spreaders, but the wires that run up that way remain a mystery.

    SkipperJer: I was informed today the pipe insulating foam is closed cell and therefore does not absorb water. I would imagine, however that any hollow foam tube open at a seam and also at the top would collect and hold water, even if it is closed cell. The photo below is taken from the mast base. The main halyard track at the back of the mast is to the left of the photo.
    Attached Images  
    Last edited by Scott Galloway; 09-28-2004 at 08:46 PM.
    Scott

  9. #9
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    Having participated in the removal of "closed-cell foam" from a mast on a friend's boat I can tell you first hand it is water-friendly. It STUNK! It was the standard Home Depot keep-your-pipes-from-freezing-sleeves-slit-down-the-sides application and it was covered with mold. Maybe it isn't a true sponge but it gave water an excuse to hang around. It was especially over-grown in the core around the wire. It had been in there for years and water had probably migrated down from the exit holes for the wires to the VHF antenna and the anchor light as well as our humid climate here on the Chesapeake. That might not be such a problem on the West coast so it might work for you but the wire-tie rig is soooo easy and the wraps are handy for other things on the boat too.

    On the subject of getting wire through the deck, Blue Sea Systems has a product called a CableClam

    http://www.bluesea.com/product.asp?Product_id=24908

    that allows for passing a cable with a connector on it through the deck and then recreating a water tight seal. It appears they expect the application/use to be seasonal unstepping of the mast rather than regular per/trip use. I think their instructions could be a little clearer but the product has worked for me so far. Water tight and easy to install. You might take a look at it as part of your solution.

  10. #10
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    Great first hand!
    ANYTHING that keeps moisture/salt water IN the mast should not be there.
    It's cable ties - or pvc for me if I can be convinced that conduit is best for the extra effort.
    Thanks!

    The bluesea fitting looks great for the coax. But how is a bundle of wires to go thru the deck? And allow sometime removal of the mast. I'm really not surprised that nobody has come up with a solution. It's daunting. Each wire as a duplex could go thru a gland.......need three or five more......and the duplex isn't nice and round. Haven't the Germans or Japanese figured this out yet???
    Last edited by ebb; 09-29-2004 at 10:00 AM.

  11. #11
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    Question A QUESTION FOR THE BOAT SHOW?

    On new yachts, what is the solution to the through deck wiring question (for deck stepped masts)? As I recall from boat show attendance, there are no stray wires extending from their masts to the deck. Do they use something similar to the tube found in the center of the mast step on later year Ariels and Commanders? Of course, if the tube was not flexible, that arrangement would probably limit any mast lowering ability.

  12. #12
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    Commanders have it easier since multiple wires can go down through the mast step then through the compression post and come out a hole in the side of the c-post just below the floor board. I installed a multi-pin connector like a trailer hitch plug for unstepping the mast where they pass out of the foot of the mast where it sits on the mast step. Originally there had only been a 2 pole plug for the steaming light. I added two more wires for an anchor light I intend to install at a later date and pulled the extra wires. Auto parts stores and/or U-haul have all sorts of connectors that will do the trick.

    Scott, I think that tabernacle arrangement of yours is really neat but this is its Achilles heel. A multi-pin connector plugged and unplugged when you drop the mast would work for lighting but such on/off connectors on RF cable don't have a history of reliability or longevity.

    After all this I re-read Don Casey's chapter on installng the PVC pipe inside the mast and I'll risk being overbearing by saying one more time--the wire-tie trick is soooo easy and works soooo well I can't imagine the PVC approach is worth the extra effort and holes in the mast. Less drilling--more sailing!

  13. #13
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    eebb's fertile (full of ..it) brain comes up with the solution.

    It is an 'ak-mak' sized strong plastic box that has, on one or two of the four sides, slots in the tray and in the lid matching slots the size of insulated duplex.
    Mast wires come up thru a common hole in the cabin top directly into the box where they will be spliced, clipped, connected to their upper half that are directed into the tray each thru a slot. All wires and cable are connected in the box tray.

    A clear silicone like insulating substance is poured into the tray surrounding all the connections, completely filling the space around and over the wires, the lid is slipped on and pushed down clamping each wire in place. Some of the goop may squirt out small spaces here and there, and out the bottom. When the stuff is set the box can be trodden on. That's it.

    The pudding goop is, maybe, a friable plastic like the dip that comes from the saw sharpeners used to protect saw teeth. It is easily broken away and doesn't stick. If anybody knows what the fruitgel membrillo is, that's it.

    So, since the plastic doesn't stick per se but likes to get real close - you pry up the lid. breaking the suction, lift the connection brick out and break it apart. Then pull the joints apart, cleanly detatching your mast.

    The stuff picks off pretty clean. Then, repeat to go again. Easy. huh?
    Last edited by ebb; 09-29-2004 at 05:12 PM.

  14. #14
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    Interesting ideas for getting wires through the deck and having them flex for mast lowering during a tabernacle operation, but we may be making too much of a big deal out of this. My VHF antenna coaxial cable had been installed for many years before we un-stepped the mast for repairs a couple of weeks ago. I did not discover the crack in the plastic outer layer of the cable because the radio quit working. It was working just fine until we disconnected the antenna. I merely discovered a crack and some corrosion when I removed the rigging tape that covered the cable from a point inside the mast to the deck port.

    Therefore, this arrangement survived many years of use without failing. Perhaps it was a bad design, but my electric wires (four of them) and my coaxial cable exit the deck jut aft of the forward hatch cover. That means that they are somewhat forward of the mast, so when the mast is being lowered, there is considerable flexing of the wires and of the cable during the operation. Since there is a hard spot where the wires run through the deck, the section of wire just above the deck port would probably flex the most, and that is where the plastic outer layer on the coaxial cable cracked, but since that is exactly where people could and probably did step, the tabernacle is not necessarily the culprit.

    When the wind is blowing, and you are standing at the base of the mast to reef the main or for another reason, usually the last thing you worry about is stepping on the wires.

    I have no intention of installing a quick disconnect to remove either the coaxial cables or the electrical wires before I lower the mast, however a piece of plastic flexible conduit around the wires might better shield the wires and cable and prevent them from kinking.

    SkipperJer, I am familiar with the Cable Clam. West Marine stocks them but agree with Ebb, that device looks like it would work well with coaxial cable and perhaps with duplex or triplex wire cable, but not so well with bundles of separated wires. I prefer the design of another device that has a rubber gasket. West Marine stocks them also, but I do not recall the manufacturer. These devices have a screw on top that forces the gasket down and in on the wire. The nice thing about this second device is that the point of entry for the wires is an inch or so above deck, and this allows you to tape the whole unit with rigging tape.

    I am a great believer in rigging tape. Take a look at the low-tech solution on my boat in the photo below. Ignore the nasty bridge-impact caused crack and the odd epoxy mast step. That was then and the second photo is now. The second photo reflects the repaired area, but get beyond that and take a look at the strange little aluminum cylinder in the first photo. That little guy was just pressed into a hole in the deck and then glassed or epoxied (probably epoxied) onto the deck on the outside of the cylinder. A cluster of four wires were then shoved up through the hole and the cylinder and the whole wire bundle was taped with two layers of black hard-to-remove tape, one layer of hard and brittle white tape and a final fourth layer of that sticky pliable white rigging tape (I applied that final layer and it never leaked after that.

    So low teach is an OK solution for wires. No tape solution is forever, but the section between the mast and deck is readily accessible and you can easily replace that small section of rigging tape every few years. What lies up the mast is another matter.

    That aluminum cylinder was removed to accommodate the deck repairs as can be seen in the second photo, which shows the two holes covered by blue tape, since it was drizzling this afternoon when I took the photo.

    Now if the wires and cable came out of the deck closer to the side of the mast, the wires would not flex quite so much, but they would be in the way of the blocks that run the halyards, boom vang and down haul back to the cockpit, so I will have to live with this wire deck port location.

    Please keep in mind that in the first photo the forward two holes in the (missing) mast step plate and the brown-colored epoxy base below it (shown in the first photo) are directly over the strong back. The bolts that ran through those holes ran into holesdrilled all the way through the strong back. The nuts that held those bolts are still captive inside the strong back. I am not sure whose bright idea that was, but perhaps that was the location of the original factory mast step plate bolts. I don't know. Drilling holes at that location would seem to weaken the strong back, so I am not sure why it was done.

    Those holes in the mast deck plate and deck will now be further forward in the V berth area. So that should give you some perspective when you are thinking about where else you could run wires though the deck without having them exposed in the main salon or inside of the strong back, in the way of the mast base blocks or underfoot.
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    Last edited by Scott Galloway; 09-30-2004 at 10:49 AM.
    Scott

  15. #15
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    So here is the promised second photo.

    I sure am glad for the advice on the foam SkipperJer. Mold in the mast sounds ugly. The wire ties sound devine. I intend to pull my new coaxial cable down the mast through that tiny exit hole, since I already have a nicely installed connector on the top end, and there wil be no other connector above deck, however I haven't yet figured out how to attach cable ties to it as I slip int into the hole. I have thought about hooking it with a wire and pulling up a loop through the main halyard sheave opening and then tying on the ties and slipping it back down on sectionat a time as I go.

    Or, ther eis some flexible corrigated plastic conduit that Orchard Supply sells that in 10 foot lengths for under $4.00 ($0.40 pr foot). West Marine charges more for what appears to be the same but a somewhat more nautically named product: "Anchor" as I recall, which is sort of an odd name for a product to run up your mast.

    So I thought that perhaps I could run the coaxial cable down from the top with a pull-line attached and then slip this flexible condiut over it from below with some cable ties strategically afixed, and use the line to pull the conduit and cable ties back up over the coaxial cable. That would protect the cable from chaffing and prevent the cable from making noise. These corrigated conduits are a hard plastic, split on one side and are almost weigtless. If allowed to fly free they would probably make appropriate bell clappers.
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    Scott

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