Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How to: Climb a mast

D%*$@ birds!

This weekend, sailing along close-hauled, I was watching the wind direction indicator, and was amazed at my ability to keep the boat exactly on the right course.  While congratulating myself, some doubt began to creep in.  Am I really that good?  Able to track even the slightest wind shift?  Then I noticed that the wind vane was missing from the mast head.  Cue ego deflation.  Some plus-sized bird must have sat on it and broke it off.  So it wasn't my ability after all - without the vane, the sensor was reporting a constant wind direction.

So now I have to make a trip up the mast, to the mast head.  You probably have had to do it too.

Jane watches me, up at the top
There are some irrational fears (and some rational ones) that I have to get past to do this.  At the top, I am 6 and a half stories above the water.  It is crowded - all the stays, shrouds and halyards terminate there.  And yet, working at the very top of the mast, there is nothing at all around me.  Nothing to reach out and grab, should I want to.  No mistakes are allowed.

I've written about mast climbing before, but I've never gone into the gear I use.

Petzl ascender
First, I securely cleat off a halyard which passes over the masthead.  I want one that does not depend on a pin to stay up there.  (Do you trust your own knots?)   Then, I use a pair of Petzl ascenders (think: rope clutch on steroids) to climb the uncleated end of the halyard.

Both ascenders on the
halyard - ready to climb
My bosun's chair (it has an integral seat belt) hangs from one ascender via a locking carabiner.  From the second ascender hangs (via another locking carabiner) a line with two foot loops in it.  The footloop ascender is on the halyard below the bosun's chair ascender.

To climb, I stand up in the foot loops and raise the seat ascender.  Then I sit down in the seat and raise the footloop ascender.  In this way, there is always on ascender clamped on the halyard - most of the time there are two, except when one is being moved.  Ascenders are impossible to release when there is tension on them, so it is not possible to release the wrong one by accident.

Interlocked loops
bracing against the mast
The footloop is really two interlocked loops - this keeps them from spreading out, and allows me to prop myself against the mast.  (I always wear these white tennis shoes when climbing, to avoid marking the mast.)

Where's the vane?
Yup, the vane is gone - it used to be on the top.  D*&% fat birds! Now the fun starts - how to find another mast head transducer for a Standard Horizon WS1.

Update: I am making a new vane.


Dennis @ Discount Marine Electronics said...

What an adventure. I can't imagine your disappointment after feeling so good about your navigational skills because you thought you were staying the course only to find out that your equipment was not functioning correctly :) Good luck with your repairs.

Robert Salnick said...

I am giving up hope of finding another transducer. I think I'll take a shot at repairing this one. Let's see... I think I'll need a copper pipe cap, some epoxy, some sheet brass, some brass rod...

ben said...

I use this method too but can't seem to get high enough to do work on the top of the mast... any suggestions?

Also - how do you get down? I've found transition from ascenders to the figure 8 to be pretty sketchy/difficult.

Robert Salnick said...

Sorry Ben - just noticed your comment.

Climbers use ascenders by putting a footloop on each one - that is not what I am doing here. When the top ascender is as far up as it will go, and the bottom ascender is a few inches away, I am sitting in my bosun's chair with my shoulders about level with the mast head. If I stand up in the footloops, I can be above the masthead... with nothing around to hang on to. I don't usually pull the footloops up that far.

Going down, I do just as I went up, but in reverse (there is no figure 8): Sit in the bosun's chair and release the lower ascender and drop it down a couple of feet. Stand in the footloops and now release the upper ascender and drop it a couple of feet. Lather, rinse, repeat.


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