Going Aloft Sans Butterflies
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:34PM - Comments: (5)
July 29, 2014
As a result of a lost spinnaker halyard and loose spreader light, I found myself leaning into a halyard winch last weekend, hoisting a friend 65 feet aloft on his 42-foot Endeavour. The grueling exercise (due to the tremendous amount of friction in the mainsail halyard where it exited the mast) reminded me again of the risks involved when carrying out even simple projects aloft.
The bosun’s chair we used for the project was one that was overlooked in our last bosun’s chair test. Made by the Connecticut-based sailmaker Hathaway, Reiser, and Raymond (makers of the Galerider drogue), the chair is constructed of heavily reinforced Dacron that can be adjusted to fit snugly around the thighs. A thick, adjustable webbing strap supports the back, and a safety tether and heavy-duty snap-hook is stitched onto the lifting ring. Velcro pockets on either side hold tools.
As we noted in our bosun’s chair tests, these harness-type chairs are more comfortable than the conventional swing-type seats, making them a good choice for riggers or anyone who spends more than a few sweaty moments high off the deck. They also bring you closer to the top of the mast ... and cost a fair bit more money. Our Best Choice in that test was a modified tree-climber’s harness designed by renowned rigger Brion Toss, which retailed for $400. Chairs of this echelon, in our opinion, are principally for professionals who make their living climbing masts. But if you got the bread ...
We, of course, flagged several other less-expensive products worth considering.
In an upcoming issue this fall, we will look at some less-expensive ways to get aloft, assisted and unassisted, using conventional bosun’s chairs or modified climbing ascenders, like the one popularly marketed as the ATN Mastclimber.
A good investment for anyone who plans to go aloft is Toss’s excellent video on the topic. Available at his website, the one-hour video covers the essential skills and procedures forgoing aloft safely.
Here are few of tips Toss shares:
• Harnesses: Although not as comfortable as traditional chairs, harnesses bring you closer to the top of the mast and are more secure. Wear long pants and good shoes.
• Halyards: Use two halyards—one primary, one safety. One should be an external halyard on a ratchet block leading from your harness back to you, so that you can have control over your own safety and ascent/descent.
• Shackles and winches: Don’t rely on snap shackles or self-tailing jaws on winches. To attach the halyard to the harness, use locking screw-pin shackles or a buntline knot, which brings you closer to the masthead sheave than a bowline.
• Tools: Always take vice grips and a non-folding rigging knife aloft. Toss also takes a crescent wrench welded to a marlin spike. Attach lanyards to all tools.
• Going aloft at sea: To reduce swinging, use a carabiner to secure your harness to a jackline halyard run tightly from the masthead to deck.
• Mast steps: Steps are a good idea at the mast bottom, for handling the main, and at the top of the mast, for relieving weight on the harness or chair while working at the masthead.