Soon after we brought La Creole to her mooring in Crown Bay we scheduled a rigging inspection to fully assess what repairs were needed to the support structure critical to sailing her safely on the high seas.

Two inspectors from a recommended St. Thomas rigging company came aboard in early May and provided us with a thorough inspection of her masts, stays, shrouds and fittings, including the 14 chain plates that support her two masts, 8 for the main mast and 6 for the mizzen. One fellow was a wiry little Aussie named Ian (aka “Nauti”) who scurried up the mast so easily he almost didn’t need a bosun’s chair. The other was a tall, lanky fellow named Jay whose deck shoes and knowledge suggest he’s been around boats for some time. There are some colorful folks here in St. Thomas.

Carrie and I took the extra step of removing the cosmetic bulkheads that would normally hide the chain plates so that both we and our inspectors could easily view these critical elements of the rigging support structure.

Wall torn out to show chainplates

Wall torn out to show chainplates

We’re very thankful we did.

The plates that support the main mast showed considerable rust, and the inspectors suggested we remove one or two of them later to do a more thorough inspection for cracks or further deterioration. Later when I removed three plates we found one with a very small crack, a second with a more prominent crack, and the third came apart in my hands as I removed it. Pretty quickly we decided to replace all of the chain plates.

Old Chain Plates

Old Chain Plates

Chain plates come in about as many different configurations as there are brands of sailboats with regards to size, shape, orientation and ease of access. La Creole’s are all made of stainless steel flat bar about 2-3 inches wide, 15-18 inches long and either 1/4” thick for the mizzen or 3/8” thick for the main. The plates are all attached by through-bolts to vertical ribs molded perpendicular to the inner side of the hull. They all protrude through the deck and attach via clevis pins to the turnbuckles supporting the shrouds and stays.

We now faced a logistical juggling act of which plates to remove and replace with new ones as quickly as possible without adversely affecting the support they provide. We also had to ship in new hardware from the States since we couldn’t find enough on island in 316-grade stainless steel. Remember it is now June and we were approaching hurricane season with the prospect of having to run from an impending storm with two boats. We had not sold Sanctuary as yet.

I removed three plates, one from each side of the main mast and one from the mizzen, and delivered them to a local machine shop as patterns for the new ones. The bill was over $700. Ouch. While nursing our wounded wallet we began searching for a less expensive alternative for the remaining 11 plates. Did I mention that hurricane season was approaching?

Through another cruiser we met a local fellow named Charlie who ran a small machine shop near the marina with a long history of work in the marine trade and lots of good stories to tell. After seeing some of his work and explaining my dilemma he helped me purchase the raw bar on the internet and we agreed on a very reasonable price for the remaining plates.

We fortunately found a one-time opportunity to ship the bar down on the back of a larger shipment by a local business, but the shipment that was originally scheduled to arrive in early July slipped to delivery in mid-August. Did I mention that hurricane season was upon us?

Thankfully the weather gods were kind to us and the Virgin Islands during the 2012 season. Although there were many named storms we only experienced winds over 40 one time as several systems, including one named Sandy, passed by the VI as Tropical Depressions and didn’t gain strength until much later.

Once the flat bar arrived Charlie turned out the new plates quickly and did a bang-up job for us. After work at night I bolted in our new chain plates and removed the next batch to deliver to Charlie the following day. Thank you, Charlie.

As I installed each new set, Carrie was right behind me sealing up the deck fittings and replacing the cosmetic bulkheads that hide the plates, making our salon look like home once again and not like a hurricane had ripped through it.

Wall Replaced

Wall Replaced