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Climbing the Mast

Jan 20, 2017
78
Yamaha 33 Vancouver
With an extensive background in rock climbing, I sat in amazement watching someone being winched up their mast. The solution to this cumbersome arrangement seemed simple: 4:1 pulley system; etriers; and a belay on the spinnaker halyard.

I bought the gear (heavy duty rescue pulleys, full body harness, etc.), and it works like a charm. I can be at the top of the mast in minutes, unassisted if circumstances dictate.

The etriers are used at the top, and allow you to work above your anchoring point.
Stop me from blathering on if this is common knowledge.
 

jviss

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Feb 5, 2004
4,597
Tartan 3800 Westport, MA
What do you sit on when you get up there? There's a lot to be said for a bosun's chair.
 

JRacer

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Aug 9, 2011
1,124
Beneteau 310 Cheney KS (Wichita)
Would like to see pictures of the setup and equipment.
 
Jan 20, 2017
78
Yamaha 33 Vancouver
The bodyharness/etriers. With this arrangement clipped at the waist, you are above the mast truck...in comfort. Well, minus the disconcerting feeling that the whole mast could come tumbling down around you on a whim.
 
Jan 20, 2017
78
Yamaha 33 Vancouver
Would like to see pictures of the setup and equipment.
I'll get on that for you.

The pulley system is raised to the top of the mast, and then one hauls themselves upwards. My system is for cliff rescue, so it cams the rope at the top as I ascend.

I have a trip line to release the cam at any point, but due to the 4:1 arrangement, find that it's a very simple task to keep the cam open, tie the occasional safety not on my way up, and simply hand-over-hand my way to the top.

Getting up and down is so simple that I've been up my mast several times this week.
 

bshock

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Jan 18, 2013
126
Beneteau 361 Sandusky Harbor Marina
I'd be interested in seeing how you do it too. I have an ATN Mastclimber so that I can go up and down the mast unassisted if/when necessary; but I'm not as fit as I used to be and it is exhausting. Mostly descending. Going up the mast isn't too tough, but it's much more difficult for me to come down. Likely because of this huge gut I have in front of me.
 
Feb 20, 2011
7,453
Island Packet 35 Tucson, AZ/San Carlos, MX
Well, minus the disconcerting feeling that the whole mast could come tumbling down around you on a whim.
I find having someone around, cellphone in hand, having dialed "9-1" and their thumb on the "1" button less disconcerting.
 
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Aug 2, 2005
1,012
Celebrity Class 19 Penn Yan, NY (Seneca Lake SP)
This summer we helped a nearby sailboat owner attempt to replace or adjust a rope to wire halyard. We prepared our climbing equipment and chose the lightest and youngest person to have the honor of the climb. Needless to say I struck out on both criteria! But, I digress. He started the climb, but ran out of time to continue due to a part time job responsibility. Good thing too, because subsequent investigation revealed squirrel damage to the rope section at a place inside the mast where it had not been revealed during the preparation for the climb.

So.....what's my point? I have used both a nylon mast ladder and a climbing harness with ascenders to reach the top of several masts of different and exciting heights in my younger years. Without any unfortunate incidents, if I may add. All these climbs relied on the integrity of the halyard used to hoist the nylon ladder or the orange safety line that is used with the climbing belt and the ascenders. Foolhardiness of youth? Stupidity? Who knows?

The most safe climbing arrangement I have seen used a dedicated climbing line of adequate strength that was sewn to the end of the boat's halyard and then pulled up and through the blocks at the top of the mast AND back to deck level where it was cleated so that all the climbing weight was on a line that was designed for the purpose and could be inspected thoroughly prior to and just after any climbing was attempted. Following the work the climbing line was uncleated and pulled the other direction so the halyard was back in place and the climbing line could be unstitched. This method allows the owner to inspect and replace the halyard if necessary.
 
Jan 20, 2017
78
Yamaha 33 Vancouver
Very good points, and I'll have to incorporate your halyard method in the future.

Regarding safety, I borrowed a technique from aid climbing before setting off: the shock load.

Several trials of shock loading your main anchor, and being belayed on another while ascending, eliminates most of the worry, as the load is static on from then on.

Until I reach the top in safety, I assume I am dealing with a loaded weapon.

However, with my method, there is almost complete autonomy, and a reduction in dynamically loading the system. I tried the jumar method, but it ruins your rope, and each move is a bounce.
 
Aug 2, 2005
1,012
Celebrity Class 19 Penn Yan, NY (Seneca Lake SP)
I tried the jumar method, but it ruins your rope, and each move is a bounce.[/QUOTE]

Hello kampuniform, Thanks for considering my ideas and for replying.

RE: ruins your rope. I climbed on an orange safety line bought strictly for climbing and matched to the size of the jumars (or vice versa). I was a bit disappointed by the red marks up and down my mast due to the ascenders scraping along the aluminum, but I believed that came with the "territory" since I was not using the equipment exactly for what they were designed. I did not use the equipment often enough to think about line wear.

RE: each move is a bounce. The halyard should not stretch very much if the proper type of line (low stretch) was used for the halyard. We hauled tight on the halyard when the bowlin (sp?) reached the blocks at the top of the mast. There was always a concern that the knot would jamb up there, but it never happened. Furthermore, it was easier to climb when the climbing line was secured reasonably tightly near the mast. That avoided most swaying or swinging and it kept the climber near the mast. I also used a lineman's belt to keep me in position near the mast. Our system is like the "Top Climber" system in that we had stirrups attached to the second ascender so legs could be used to climb. I believe that is common, although I am not now nor have I ever been a rock climber.

RE: belaying with another line. Using the jib halyard or a spinnaker halyard for that second line was always our choice. All those lines require the person on deck to stay alert and busy while the climber is on the line. Also, it is useful to have anyone on deck give the climber a warning when stepping onto or off of the boat!

Stay Safe.
 

jviss

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Feb 5, 2004
4,597
Tartan 3800 Westport, MA
I always use two halyards, one as a safety on my harness, the other on the bosun's seat. But, i don't go up there as often as I used to. If I need something done up there, the yard has a crane and a worker will take care of it. It's just not worth the risk of injury.
 

JRacer

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Aug 9, 2011
1,124
Beneteau 310 Cheney KS (Wichita)
Last year, I had to go up. Hired the local electrical contractor to bring out his bucket truck and drive it for me. Was worth the price! Particularly valuable when I had to make a round trip for different sized drill bits! ;-) But, I am interested in your setup and equipment for those times when there is the need to briefly go up and down.
 

jviss

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Feb 5, 2004
4,597
Tartan 3800 Westport, MA
I always thought a contraption that would ride the sail track, and go up and down on electrical power would be cool, but its just a wacky fantasy. Some day we will have robots that go up, and we can fix things remotely.
 

capta

.
Jun 4, 2009
3,905
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
When I began sailing every boat had it's own, at the least, 4:1 block & tackle system aboard to go aloft. And we each had our own proper bosun's chair, often custom made for you by your sailmaker (commonly as a gift). If the boat didn't have a block & tackle system aboard when you bought it, this was one of your first purchases. Nice wooden Merriman roller bearing blocks and three strand Dacron. There's even a "proper" knot to secure one aloft.
My chair has a wooden seat, two tool pockets and three nylon lines with carabiners to keep me off the mast as I go aloft in heavy weather at sea, and to secure me once there. It is comfortable enough to spend a considerable amount of time aloft, should it be necessary.
I have never been, nor would I ever go aloft in a rock climber's harness. Different equipment for a different application, IMO.
 

Joe

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Jun 1, 2004
7,108
Catalina 27 Mission Bay, San Diego
I'll get on that for you.

The pulley system is raised to the top of the mast, and then one hauls themselves upwards. My system is for cliff rescue, so it cams the rope at the top as I ascend.

I have a trip line to release the cam at any point, but due to the 4:1 arrangement, find that it's a very simple task to keep the cam open, tie the occasional safety not on my way up, and simply hand-over-hand my way to the top.

Getting up and down is so simple that I've been up my mast several times this week.
It's cool that you are a rock climber..... unfortunately... most of us aren't.... not even close. So the "ascender" method can be a challenge. I've listed a link to an article that discusses a number of different methods to go up the mast? http://www.pbo.co.uk/gear/7-mast-climbing-kits-on-test-49797
I have an ascender type kit, it's not for the plus 250#, over 60 (70 now) crowd. A bosun's chair and an electric winch would be ideal... or a couple crew to crank me up.
P.S. Has anyone ever seen a professional rigger use anything but a bosun's chair and a multi purchase block and tackle to pull himself up. A climbing harness maybe.. but the chair allows them to swing out to the spreader tips or around to the back side of the mast.. You can't do that on a static line.
 
Last edited:
Nov 8, 2007
1,317
Hunter 27_75-84 Sandusky Harbor Marina, Ohio
I'd still go with a bosun's chair, a halyard, a winch, and a second halyard as a safety line.

A halyard is far stronger than any load from hoisting a 300+ pound person. I've never felt nervous doing this.
 
Nov 14, 2016
18
Hunter 30 (1978) Milwaukee, WI
The bosun's chair seems reasonably safe to me. The trick though seems to be finding 2 people to help you (one for the primary halyard and one for the backup halyard) who you feel have proficient winching skills to get you up and down. With what currency do you convince someone to hoist you 40 feet in the air? The rock climbing experience might make it seem less daunting.
 

capta

.
Jun 4, 2009
3,905
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
[QUOTE="ripperbone, post: 1398962, member: 136133")The trick though seems to be finding 2 people to help you (one for the primary halyard and one for the backup halyard) who you feel have proficient winching skills to get you up and down. [/QUOTE]
Even the weakest and most frail of us can winch someone up the mast in just a minute or so, IF the boat has drum on their electric anchor windlass, using an external spinnaker halyard. If it isn't a fair lead (we're thinking over-ride here) from the masthead, a snatch block or two can remedy that problem. A few minutes of explanation and almost anyone can safely help you aloft. This really takes the chore out of getting someone aloft.
You can tend your own safety line.