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Old 18-01-2016, 18:03   #1
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Getting Up The Mast

Hi Dave,

How are you? I was thinking of you lately as I prepared to do a job on our boat. I remember you explaining to me that it was a concern to you how to get up the mast unassisted if you were out there on your own. That was when you told me of your friends solution: Prusik Loops.

Well having been 50 odd foot up our mast the other day (first time ever) to thread a new halyard down inside the mast from the top, via a light line, I can assure you if you haven't already tested them out, they are really reliable, it works a treat. I have been doing a bit of research on getting up the mast and have come across a variety of means to get there and thought I'd pass on some of what I'd learned. I have been looking at rock climbing gear, like rope ascenders, simpler (read cheaper) alternatives like your prusik loop, and ideas that arborists use as well. Also I came across an idea on youtube that really appealed for its simplicity (read cheap) and its speed.

I watched guys getting up there unassisted with rope ascenders and given that they weren't professional climbers the effort involved and the time consumed plus the clumsiness of it put me off. Winching a guy up is also hard on the person at the winch, and slow as well. At least that has been my experience. And of course cannot be done unassisted.

Here's is what I went up with:

I used an assisted method, so Sheryl was on the winch. But the beauty of this is that it can be done unassisted as well, but being a virgin mast climber I was happy to have assistance. Her only job on the winch was to take up slack as I got up the mast under my own steam. I attached the topping lift (10mm yacht braid) to a safety/fall arrest harness that I bought on Trademe for $42. It had a cert for June 2015, was made 2014, and the breakaway safety indicator stitching was clearly intact, so was confident it would do the job. (Plus I bounced on it a few times at the foot of the mast!) I used a double figure eight knot to tie-in to the harness. No bowlines here I'm afraid, the climbing experts say it's a bit of a nono for climbing, although I saw yachties using it. (Have never ever had issues with it myself but there you go) Apparently a double figure 8 is the way to go.

Sheryl lowered me down on the winch, but I could as easily come down on my own with her just giving me slack as needed for backup.

So on top of the safety harness I was wearing, I then stepped into my Bosun's Chair and strapped it on. We had lowered the main so had access to its halyard which was wire/rope. Then I tied a new length of 10mm yacht braid to the "d" shackle on the furling swivel, where the main'sl head usually attaches, (In mast furling ), using a double fishermans knot with a figure 8 stopper knot on the end. (apparently another must do for this application) and pulled it back to the top. Then I threaded the bottom end of this line through the new bit of kit I've made that I renamed the "Admirals Mate" (because this saves her so much work on the winch) I copied this "Easy Climb" from a youtube video showing how its used. I couldn't find his website so I guess he no longer markets the product or at least is unavailable where we are.

So then the bottom end of this line is cleated off at the bottom of the mast and tensioned up nice and tight with a winch. The video explains it really well but my system is a variation of this using your prusik hitch. In the video there is no safety backup. It's just one tightened line for the climbing aid, and one line for the bosun's chair. In my variation of this it is still only two lines going up the mast but one of them is used on the safety harness the other is used for the climbing aid and the bosuns chair. The bosun's chair is attached to the tensioned line using a prusik loop. A prusik loop I made from a roughly 2m length of 6mm polyester yacht braid. It's fairly important to use a rope one or two sizes smaller diameter than your tensioned up line, in this case 10mm. I tied the two ends of the line with double fishermans knots and then a fig. 8 stopper knot on each end for safety.

Make your prusik hitch on the taught line going up the mast above where you have placed the "Admiral's Mate" climbing aid. Pass a bight of your prusik loop through the eye of the chair and then pass the chair through the standing part of your loop and you're ready to rumble. (Or use a karabiner to attach chair) For my application I found three wraps of the friction hitch worked really well both in terms of gripping well and being able to de-tension the hitch when sliding the hitch further up the taut line or coming down.

For unassisted mast climb, the only difference is that you would tension up two lines running up the mast just the same but your safety harness attaches to another prusik loop which in turn is friction hitched with the prusik to that second line. So you have a friction hitch to work up and down each rope. The climbing aid which I copied I have adapted to make coming down the mast easy so that it can be used rather than winch assist down as in the original video. It worked really well.

The telling of it is far more complicated than the doing of it!

Due to my bumbling around I ended going up and down the mast twice to the top, and twice about two thirds up to fish out the light line I couldn't find further down. In all I must have been suspended for and hour or more, all this while anchored in a bay where the wind was getting up so while it wasn't quite like being at sea, there was definitely movement up there. At one point I had to swing around to the front of the mast (I was using main halyard tensioned so it tried to keep pulling me back) holding a tiny torch with one hand and a little wire hook with the other to fish out the light string from inside the mast which kept ducking behind the genoa halyard and the topping lift through an aperture not much bigger than my eyeball which incidently doesn't work so good these days either.

If you or anyone you know would be interested in this bit of kit for getting up there I have made a spare that I will sell for a little more than cost. It's a sturdy piece of work using tried and tested bits of gear that performed really well for a novice climber like me. I am not too keen to show my enhancements to anyone at this stage unless there is genuine interest in the kit. The climbing aid makes it really simple to get up, a vast improvement on putting your feet in rope loops as the line it goes up is tensioned holding you to the mast. You can slip your feet in and out at will, use toes to grip mast for extra stability, stand in the footholds to elevate you right above the mast head, whereas a bosun's chair will only get you to eyelevel or less, it can be used assisted or non assisted.

Anyone at all could make these things so there is no way that the price is going to be much more than what a person could make it for themselves.

Sheryl sends her love and asked me to tell you that Estella has had a beautiful bay colt with four white socks and a blaze, she is very proud of him. She absolutely loves Estella just as Alison said she would.

All the best,
Kerry.
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Old 19-01-2016, 11:41   #2
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

A climbing harness, and a 4 to1 purchase, with ratcheting blocks will be MUCH safer, than this set up.
It's ALL about the safety factor, be sure you use a harness and attach it along the way and tie yourself in when up top.
If you fall, it's a good chance it will be serious. DO NOT let it happen because of cheaper climbing gear or being in a hurry.


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Old 19-01-2016, 11:55   #3
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pirate Re: Getting Up The Mast

I use the electric anchor windlass and the main up-haul for the bosun's chair with the topping lift as self tended lifeline.
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Old 19-01-2016, 12:47   #4
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

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Originally Posted by boatman61 View Post
I use the electric anchor windlass and the main up-haul for the bosun's chair with the topping lift as self tended lifeline.
I've bought a couple of things, a Bosun's chair and an ATN mast climber.
I will have to have another block to use the windlass the way my boat is set up, but it is becoming apparent that is for me the most practical way, using another Halyard for a safe second of course.
The mast climber even wears out my 17 yr old, and me, well I'm not good for much for a couple of days just going up and down once, twice? Ain't happening.
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Old 19-01-2016, 14:09   #5
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

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Originally Posted by Boatyarddog View Post
A climbing harness, and a 4 to1 purchase, with ratcheting blocks will be MUCH safer, than this set up.
It's ALL about the safety factor, be sure you use a harness and attach it along the way and tie yourself in when up top.
If you fall, it's a good chance it will be serious. DO NOT let it happen because of cheaper climbing gear or being in a hurry.


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I have been criticized over this thread for being verbose, yet it seems to me that if one's life is to be at risk, then no amount of detail should be omitted. Your comment above re. the safety factor is unwarranted with regard to the setup I promote. Did you not read the very first paragraph in which I started to detail the setup? Let me spell it out for you again-

"I attached the topping lift (10mm yacht braid) to a safety/fall arrest harness"

The climbing aid I have dubbed "Admirals Mate" is just that- a climbing aid, and if people take the trouble to read with some discernment they will understand that my system has safety backup, uses the best ideas of those that constantly risk their lives such as rock climbers and arborists, takes advantage of the approved knots and other hazard limiting ideas. Simplicity and redundancy is a big safety advantage in any system, and this has that. A fatigued person on a winch grinding away over an extended period to get a person to the top is not a safety advantage. This system keeps reliance on the other person down to a minimum, and indeed can be operated without another person.

The climbing aid I promote is an add-on to a safe system, a bosun's chair and a safety harness with two lines each of which are capable of taking the full responsibility of a safe ascent/descent.

If you think the Prusik hitch is no good because it's cheap, then you need to speak with countless climbers who have been using it since 1931. If you think the rope jammer is a problem on the "Admiral's Mate" then ask yourself how long sailors have been using them. If the climbing aid is set up properly there is no safety issue with it because it is an aid, it is not the thing your life is reliant on. The Englishman who seems to have been its originator used it for twenty years before he shared it with the public.
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Old 19-01-2016, 15:13   #6
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

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Originally Posted by a64pilot View Post
I've bought a couple of things, a Bosun's chair and an ATN mast climber.
I will have to have another block to use the windlass the way my boat is set up, but it is becoming apparent that is for me the most practical way, using another Halyard for a safe second of course.
The mast climber even wears out my 17 yr old, and me, well I'm not good for much for a couple of days just going up and down once, twice? Ain't happening.
I looked at the ATN mast climber in this video and decided it was clumsy and slower. Rope ascenders as shown may also not be suited for the harsh marine environment although this has been other's observations, I cannot really say.

I like your idea of incorporating the electric windlass that someone else mentioned too. So long as there is a backup safety system in place- as my son says "it seems legit"!

My system is similar in that the climber "caterpillars" up the mast, however I prefer the simplicity of a prussik loop and hitch rather than the ascender for the Bosun's chair and the "Admiral's Mate" for the legs. His safety harness I couldn't make out how he adjusted the slack, but it was definitely clumsy, a prussik hitch there (as in my self-ascending variation of the system) also would make life much easier. I wouldn't place so much confidence in the hitch if it were not for the years of experienced climbers who still promote them despite the advent of all of these various ascenders. But as in any system it needs to be set up right and even tried at a safe level to make sure you have it right. (But is that any different from using ascenders?) You will appreciate from the above video that the climber doesn't need to use his legs (or any system for his legs) to descend, therefore that ascender is not a safety issue, same as in my system, it is simply an aid to climb, and may be used to descend. You will notice that he needs a free hand to bring the ascender attached to his feet via the webbing up whereas with the "Admirals Mate, simply lifting the feet automatically ratchets it up on the jammer.

My system also employs a backup safety harness, either using a winch person in the assisted version or a prussik loop on the solo-climb version. Of course this doesn't mean any variation on this cannot be used. Use an ascender on your safety line if you wish for example. There's so many variations. All I know is that my system is as safe as any that others have advocated and far cheaper.
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Old 20-01-2016, 09:56   #7
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

I tried the prusick knot system last year and by the time I reached the spreaders I was too exhausted to do the job and had to come back down. I did have on a fall arrest harness connected to the main halyard and an extra body for safety. I also did not sling a chair, may have helped.
I'm thinking that a rope ladder with ridged steps pulled taught by the main halyard may work and be a simple system, there seems to be many applications for doing this, guess it comes down to safety first and foremost.

Thanks Kerry1 for sharing the method that works for you, which is what these discussions are about!!
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Old 20-01-2016, 10:37   #8
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

As a safety FYI: Keep in mind that climbing gear (& techniques) are designed to used primarily with climbing ropes. Which have their cores & jackets bonded snugly together. Much more so than is the case with (most) nautical ropes. And that the various types of ascenders depend, to a fair degree (safety wise) on this stability between core & jacket.

Also, personally, I wouldn't even think about trying this technique on a bare Dyneema halyard. The type which has half of it's jacket stipped off, & with the cover on the lower end tapered back into the core, in order to save weight aloft.
Heck, even with Dyneema halyards which have full covers, the covers still move around a good bit. Just my $0.02

As to making it easy to see the masthead once your harness is as high up as it can get. All you need to do, is to take a locking gate carabiner, & attach 2 webbing loops to it, & clip it to your chair's D-rings.
The loops being sized for length, so that you can put your feet into them from the sitting position, & then from there, stand up.

It works, primarily because, you can only get a harness or chair, so close to the masthead, before your tie in lines, & chair hardware, bind up your vertical movement.
But when done right, said stirrups let you get another 1.5' or so of vertical reach, safely, sans getting out of your chair/harness.

And for the Gucci version, you can sew a couple of pieces of heavy wall, flexible plastic tubing, sleeved onto the webbing where your feet will rest in the stirrups. So that your arches are a bit more comfortable, if you're going to be standing for more than a minute or three.
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Old 20-01-2016, 11:21   #9
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

It's time for new halyards this year. I was thinking climbing clutches but now will rethink that. This method seems excellent. Think I will keep going to the gym though, who knows how many trips it will take up there.
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Old 20-01-2016, 12:02   #10
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

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And for the Gucci version, you can sew a couple of pieces of heavy wall, flexible plastic tubing, sleeved onto the webbing where your feet will rest in the stirrups. So that your arches are a bit more comfortable, if you're going to be standing for more than a minute or three.
My first attempt with the ATN was bare foot, that was not a good plan

I didn't like the look of mast steps, but I'm beginning to like them more and more.
I need to incorporate Boatie's plan and use the windlass.
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Old 20-01-2016, 13:31   #11
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

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My first attempt with the ATN was bare foot, that was not a good plan
Yeah, you ever see Lineman's Boots? There's a Lot of extra "boot" directly under the arch. Given that those guys spend a lot of time standing on the spikes in telephone poles.

As to info on "Going North", there's another thread (which You started) with plenty of ideas, here - Going up the Mast
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Old 20-01-2016, 13:54   #12
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

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Originally Posted by UNCIVILIZED View Post
As a safety FYI: Keep in mind that climbing gear (& techniques) are designed to used primarily with climbing ropes. Which have their cores & jackets bonded snugly together. Much more so than is the case with (most) nautical ropes. And that the various types of ascenders depend, to a fair degree (safety wise) on this stability between core & jacket.
I agree with all of the above, and your points are excellent, which brings to mind another advantage of my system. Although I only used yacht braid, you will notice I said that "I tied a new length of 10mm yacht braid to the "d" shackle on the furling swivel, where the main'sl head usually attaches, (In mast furling )"

There are reasons for this, first the halyard terminated in stranded wire which is no use to you in this situation, second, in order to thread the "Admiral's Mate" ("A.M.") through the jammer and eyes, you can't have any hardware like a snapshackle on the bitter end, hence a new line. This is the perfect place to introduce a dedicated climbing rope which will be an improvement in tandem with the prusik loops. Although I had no real issues with ordinary yacht braid your point is well taken, and I was aware of that weakness in bonding beween sleeve and core. At one point on the rope I did notice a tendency to slip in the jammer, but all it meant was that I took more care on ensuring it had locked before I put full weight on the "A.M." It was never a safety issue as your B.Chair and safety harness are always there anyway, so it was nothing more than a momentary inconvenience.

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Originally Posted by UNCIVILIZED View Post
Also, personally, I wouldn't even think about trying this technique on a bare Dyneema halyard. The type which has half of it's jacket stipped off, & with the cover on the lower end tapered back into the core, in order to save weight aloft.
Heck, even with Dyneema halyards which have full covers, the covers still move around a good bit. Just my $0.02
Point well taken, dyneema is not a good idea on any of this gear because it has extremely low melting point, and not a good mix with friction hitches. Perhaps all the more reason to have that dedicated climbing line. Any halyard or topping lift can be temporarily replaced with dedicated climbing lines. In my case I had deliberately replaced my topping lift with a heavier line as it's useful for lifting heavy objects out of water onto the deck.

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As to making it easy to see the masthead once your harness is as high up as it can get. All you need to do, is to take a locking gate carabiner, & attach 2 webbing loops to it, & clip it to your chair's D-rings.
The loops being sized for length, so that you can put your feet into them from the sitting position, & then from there, stand up.
Here is the advantage of the "A.M." with getting over the top of your masthead. The "A.M." is ratcheted up the mast on a line tightened with a winch. At the top end close to the masthead there is a lot less movement possible. As the "A.M." gets closer to the top it is more restricted in its movement both fore and aft, and athwartship. And so with feet firmly planted on a solid step in the foot stirrups and the board held close to the mast, it is not unlike standing on solid ground. I imagine it is much more comfortable than web loops which can afford movement in response to the inevitable motion up there.
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Old 20-01-2016, 14:11   #13
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

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Originally Posted by IdoraKeeper View Post
It's time for new halyards this year. I was thinking climbing clutches but now will rethink that. This method seems excellent. Think I will keep going to the gym though, who knows how many trips it will take up there.
Thanks. Did you watch the video originally quoted? I think from a safety perspective, gone are the days when you hop in a Bosun's Chair, bounce on it a few times and head North without any further considerations. This system is easily modified to work with at least one ascender for the B. Chair. Or for solo, one for the chair, and one for the safety harness, instead of the prusik loops. But it still doesn't negate the usefulness of the "Admiral's Mate" or make it obsolete.
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Old 20-01-2016, 14:29   #14
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

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Originally Posted by UNCIVILIZED View Post
Yeah, you ever see Lineman's Boots? There's a Lot of extra "boot" directly under the arch. Given that those guys spend a lot of time standing on the spikes in telephone poles.

As to info on "Going North", there's another thread (which You started) with plenty of ideas, here - Going up the Mast
Yes, and I still don't have it down to where it works for me.
Main halyard isn't an option on my boat as the way it is run amounts to high friction, it goes over a sheave , then down under another one, then over the one in the mast, strange, but I guess it makes it so the halyard can't jump over one.
Then I didn't have a windlass, so that point was mute, I now have one, so this is now an option, probably use the Genoa Halyard, with the main as a safety.
I'm too much of a wuss for the ATN
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Old 20-01-2016, 14:42   #15
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Re: Getting Up The Mast

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I tried the prusick knot system last year and by the time I reached the spreaders I was too exhausted to do the job and had to come back down. I did have on a fall arrest harness connected to the main halyard and an extra body for safety. I also did not sling a chair, may have helped.
I'm thinking that a rope ladder with ridged steps pulled taught by the main halyard may work and be a simple system, there seems to be many applications for doing this, guess it comes down to safety first and foremost.

Thanks Kerry1 for sharing the method that works for you, which is what these discussions are about!!
Thanks, and you are welcome. When I wrote this:"A prusik loop I made from a roughly 2m length of 6mm polyester yacht braid. It's fairly important to use a rope one or two sizes smaller diameter than your tensioned up line" I was aware that prusik loops can also be made from a superior product to yacht braid. Apparently it is super flexible which makes it's application easier in terms of its ability to lock onto the standing line, and also to loosen and slide up to the next position. It just wasn't available where I am, otherwise it might have been worthwhile.

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It's time for new halyards this year. I was thinking climbing clutches but now will rethink that. This method seems excellent. Think I will keep going to the gym though, who knows how many trips it will take up there.
I just did an experiment. I am roughly 5'6" (168cm) tall in my socks. If I go to a crouch position and then stand, the height difference is around two feet (60cm) that is the incremental gain possible up the mast using this system. I'm vertically challenged one end, so possiby for daddy-long-legs the gain will be more. If you divide the height you need to get up the mast by the figure of two feet (or whatever increment meets your height to crouch ratio) you will find how many times you need to do this in order to get where you want to go. In my case it will be roughly 25 times. Get to work. If you can do that consistently without having to call an ambulance you can get up the mast under your own steam.

Also the chair is brilliant for having a break, enjoying the view, while the "A.M" is great for taking the weight off the harness and/or chair while you adjust clothing or strap that's pinching, or just to get blood circulating in some part that's going numb.
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