Since releasing our river episodes, lots of you have asked: “Where’s your mast?!” The short answer: We shipped our mast via semi-truck from Chicago to Mobile.

If you’re curious as to why we decided to ship the mast, how we prepared it for shipping, and how much it cost, then settle in for the long answer…

During the planning stages of becoming cruisers, before we bought our Tartan 37, we hoped to be in Lake Michigan at the very beginning of sailing season (spring time). This would give us ample time to cruise around before heading south.

There is so much to see in the Great Lakes! And we wanted to make sure we actually spent some time enjoying it. So when our boat buying plans took a sudden turn and we didn’t end up closing on our boat until July, we realized we had nowhere near as much time as we needed to see them all, and decided we’d focus just on cruising Lake Michigan.

It was that decision that put us on a path to take the 1,300 mile long ‘River Trip’ down the Illinois, Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee, & Tombigbee waterways.

After a bit of research we found out we needed to clear a 19′ bridge just south of Chicago, and while many of the other bridges along the way are moveable or provide the necessary clearance, there are very few services available to re-step a mast. And, even if we did re-step our mast somewhere along the route, the opportunities for sailing are very limited. Long story short, we knew the mast was coming down, we just had to figure out what we wanted to do with it:

Option 1 – Carry it with us on deck, including the boom and all the rigging.

Option 2 – Ship it via truck along with a pile of other masts taking the same route.

Why we shipped our mast from Chicago to Mobile

We have a Tartan 37, which has a very beefy, keel-stepped mast. I’m always amazed when looking at similar-sized sailboats how modest their masts look compared to our gargantuan tree trunk. We have an air draft of ~52 feet, and when you add a bit more to to reach the keel below the waterline, we’re looking at ~54′.  As we dove into researching the logistics of it all, we decided it just didn’t make sense to carry the mast on deck, for a number of reasons:


  1. We did not like the idea of having 17′ of mast hanging over the bow and/or stern of our boat.  Maneuvering a boat in tight places is already difficult, adding a massive jousting pole onto the front and back of our boat didn’t sound like the greatest idea.
  2. Carrying it on deck would require us to jump over or duck under all the rigging, mast and boom. In a situation that required swift action, all that clutter on deck seemed like an opportunity for injury. There were already a lot of unknowns and firsts we were going to face on this trip. Keeping our decks clear would make things easier on ourselves.
  3. The mast weighs a few hundred pounds. Figuring out how to secure that load in a position it was never intended to be on the boat and snug enough that it could handle the motion of crashing through giant towboat wakes felt like more risk than we wanted to undertake.


  1. The logistics of actually building the supports to hold the mast for the duration of the trip were a little tricky. We had already gotten rid of our car, so we had no vehicle to run to Home Depot to pick up the wood, tie-down straps, etc.  Also, figuring out where we would unstep the mast and actually put it on deck got to be difficult.  We could do it at our home marina and save a few bucks, but then we’d have to travel 60 miles south on the open waters of Lake Michigan with the mast on deck. Or, we could unstep the mast in Chicago, but either we’d have to carry the raw materials for the supports with us, or construct something and hope it worked, or make something that could be modified before leaving our home port…. It just started getting complicated.
  2. The difference in cost was actually not all that much when it came down to it. To get down the river we knew we had to unstep the mast up north, and re-step it down south. So all of those costs equaled out, no matter which option we went with.
    1. We called a few marinas and confirmed they would indeed charge us for overall length — jousting poles included. In other words, we would no longer be a 37′ boat, we’d be a ~54′ boat, and since marinas charge by the foot, each night in a marina would be more expensive. Additionally, finding marinas that were capable of slipping a 37′ boat were not difficult, but a number of them didn’t have slips or availability to host a “~54′” boat.
  3. We estimated that the cost to purchase materials, time to construct the supports, the added costs of marina stays down the river, and the time and effort needed to build the cradle to carry it all on deck very nearly rivaled the cost to ship it.


  1. All the other reasons aside, we determined that our experience would be much more comfortable and enjoyable, both mentally and physically, if we had clean, clear decks and the space to move about freely.

Like all choices in which we have to plop down a significant chunk of change, we fretted over this decision for far too long. In the end, we are happy with the decision we made.

How to prepare your mast for transport

We read everything we could before unstepping our mast.  The entire process was new to us, so we photographed every detail, to ensure we put everything back together correctly. In addition to taking photos, as we disassembled all the running and standing rigging, we also labeled it all so we’d know what went where when we got to Mobile.

First we removed the sails and running rigging.

The standing rigging and the boom went with the mast.

After the mast was unstepped we removed the VHF, wind indicator and wind instrument, and stored them in the boat. We then ran messenger lines to replace our halyards with sacrificial lines to protect them while the mast was in transit. We took the turnbuckles off the stays and stored them in our “rigging box” in the boat.

We bought a big ball of twine, a couple rolls of duct tape, a bunch of foam pipe insulation, a giant roll of industrial packing wrap and a bunch of old towels and carpet square pieces to pack up the mast.

We bundled up all the standing rigging and secured it to the mast every couple of feet with the twine. We cut the foam pipe insulation up into little sections and wrapped them around the furling foil and the rigging to provide padding between everything and the mast itself. We used any leftovers to cover cleats and eyes on the mast and boom.

We cut the carpet squares up and wrapped the winches and the ends of the mast and boom, and used the duct tape to hold it all on.  After it looked like everything was pretty well secured and protected, we wrapped it all up in a few layers of shrink wrap nice and tight.  And finally, we added a ribbon of duct tape over the the top as a belt and suspenders approach.

It may have been a bit overkill, but it was the best damn looking mast awaiting shipment in the yard. We felt like we had done a pretty good job, and that feeling was confirmed when Albert Logistics arrived to pick up the mast and asked us if we had it “professionally packed” — so I guess we did alright.

The other masts in the yard awaiting shipment.

Watch the full episode

For more details check out the full episode to see the entire process of unstepping the mast and preparing it for shipping step by step.

What it cost to ship our mast from Chicago to Mobile

The shipping itself was $850. It felt like a lot of money at the time, but to us it was worth it. As noted above, after running the calculations, we felt like the cost difference between shipping the mast and carrying it on deck wasn’t really that much different.

If you’re interested in a what it costs to live and travel aboard a sailboat, checkout our Monthly Cruising Budget posts for a summarized view of all our expenses.  We’ve also made all of our detailed financial information right down to the last dollar available to Patrons.

View All Episodes from the River Trip