Friday, March 27, 2009

Birds Below Me

At least once a year, I get to see Eolian from a very unique perspective: from 60 feet above her deck.

It is scary up there. From personal experience, I can tell you that it is at least twice as far, looking down from the masthead, as it is looking up at the masthead from the deck.

Here are some additional elements that add to the experience:
  • Your perch is a glorified child's swing seat
  • At the masthead, there is nothing above you to grab hold of, should you loose your balance
  • The top of the mast is 63 feet above the water... when the boat rocks (for example, due to a wake), the motion is greatly magnified at the masthead - it moves thru feet of swing in a rapid motion, seemingly trying to throw you
  • If you drop something (a tool...), you know it will cause significant damage below. On the other hand, from up there it looks like it would be difficult to drop something and actually hit the boat with it.
  • You see birds flying below you
But whether the lights at the masthead need attention or not, I make the trip at least annually to inspect the rigging for cracked fittings, broken strands in the rig wires, etc.

There are many ways to ascend the mast:
  • Some people have a partner winch them up using a halyard winch. This one frightens me, because without a third person to tail, there is the chance that the turns on the winch could slip
  • Some people have steps attached to the mast. This leaves you with at most one hand to do work at the top. If you wear a harness, then a second person can belay a halyard on the harness. When you get to the top, the belay line is made fast, and you can then have both hands to work. But two people are required for this.
  • Some people hoist a strap with footloops sewn into it using a halyard, and then climb that. Again, you will have at most one hand to do work. A second halyard and a second person can solve that problem here too.
But for unassisted climbing, I prefer to tie off a halyard, and then use a pair of Petzl mountaineering ascenders on that halyard. I like the comfort and "security" of a bosun's chair, so I hang that from the upper ascender, and a double footloop from the lower ascender. I can climb the halyard then by standing up, sliding up the upper ascender, sitting down, pulling up the lower ascender, etc., inchworming my way up using the biggest muscles in my body. Because the lower end of the halyard is free, I can easily pull myself out to the spreader tips, or swing outside of the shrouds as I get high on the mast where it gets crowded.

The view is breathtaking! Sometimes I go up there just for the view, especially at an anchorage if it is calm - here, we are in Port Madison - I was installing our new LED anchor and bow lights.

Typing this, I realize that I have never enjoyed a sunset from the masthead. This is a bucket list item I should really address this summer.

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