Selden Mast’s Susannah Hart explains why Maiden chose a carbon rig over aluminium.
When Tracy Edwards’ crew set sail around the world on the newly revamped Maiden yacht they will do so with a carbon rig, made by Seldén Mast Ltd.
But why? Especially when originally Maiden had aluminium spars, which served her so well in the epic 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race and subsequent sailing endeavours.
The Maiden Factor’s iconic Farr 58’s original mast was a bespoke aluminium mast, the likes of which are not made nowadays as manufacturing technology has moved forwards and developed. To achieve the same level of customisation and design today the best option was to use modern composite processes to make a carbon mast.
Maiden’s age and layout were also factors in the decision-making process. The original spar was heavily tapered and the new rig was required to have the same look – something that could only be achieved by manufacturing in carbon.
Seldén’s unique computer-controlled mandrel filament winding technique facilitated the necessary laminate and reinforcement specifications to achieve exactly what was needed.
More generally, carbon masts are lighter but not at the expense of stiffness. The weight and stiffness of a mast can greatly affect the sailing experience; lessening the weight in the rig increases the righting moment and reduces pitching for more performance and more comfortable sailing, so reducing weight benefits for cruising and racing sailors alike.
Carbon masts are also stiffer for the same weight; improving control of mast bend enhances sail shape and diminishes forestay sag, leading to better performance.
All Seldén carbon spars are made from pre-preg carbon, meaning that the fibre is coated in the precise amount of epoxy resin for optimum lamination. This ensures a lighter, stronger spar because for a given weight there is a higher ratio of carbon to resin.
The carbon winding process is also fully automated and computer controlled for ultimate accuracy, consistency and repeatability ensuring that each mast produced continually meets the exacting requirements of its owner or class.
With all these amazing benefits of carbon masts why does every boat not have a carbon rig? Cost is a major factor. A carbon rig is currently three to four times more expensive than the same rig in aluminium.
Carbon spars also require a great deal more maintenance than their aluminium counterparts. The epoxy resin in a carbon laminate is susceptible to discolouration upon continued exposure to sunlight and will generally need repainting every seven to 10 years.
An aluminium mast, on the other hand, is not only anodized to provide corrosion protection it also has a natural level of corrosion resistance once it has oxidized meaning it needs almost no maintenance in this area during its life.
Maiden’s new rig, however, will be less susceptible to this particular concern as it will receive a custom silver paint finish to maintain the aesthetic of the original mast and boom.
Damage detection is another issue with carbon spars. On an aluminium rig the majority of damage can be seen with the naked eye and therefore remedial measures can be taken before it is too late. On a carbon mast the only way to identify damage is through an ultrasound and often the first indication that there is a problem is when the rig goes over the side.
THE RIGHT CHOICE
On balance, there are many positives to a having a carbon rig on your boat, but the advantages need to be weighed up against your budget, usage and sailing ambitions.
Maiden’s new mast will serve her well on her mission to highlight a girl’s right to an education. Although the exacting requirements of the re-rigging project meant that carbon was really the only option, the benefits of a lighter and stiffer rig will certainly be felt on those ocean passages.