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Old 13-07-2017, 16:25   #1
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Mast climbing

I just bought the new issue of Cruising Outpost and on the cover is a guy using the spin halyard block to hang from. I thought rule #1 or 2 of mast climbing was to use a block in the mast head. If it fails you don't die. In this photo they are using the windlass and the spin halyard to climb with.
It looks simple and I don't see what could fail. Rock climbers hang from a nail stuck in a crack and we have a nice block and shackle up there on our boat. The guy in the cover photo doesn't enen have the pin in the shackle safe. This is the same set-up we use to hoist our dinghy and it works well. Safety wise it would be the person operating the windlass who is important. Wondering if some old rules are bad info?
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Old 13-07-2017, 17:28   #2
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Re: Mast climbing

Perhaps the major reason sailor are seeming paranoid, is that there is no way to inspect the masthead gear before climbing. We use multiple ropes, in part, because we cannot inspected the entire rope. BTW, I know of one sailor who decked-out using an in-mast halyard; the pulley failed, the line dropped, and it cut on the mast opening, so in-mast is not a guaranty. Climbers (except the stupid ones) inspect critical gear with each use and do NOT hang from a single nail in a crack, ever. There is nearly always some level of redundancy.

The first rule is to never clip to a snap shackle. Heck, there are probably mistakes even more stupid than that. An untrained belayer on the winch is even worse. Or using a boson's chair or harness that does not fit properly; I once saw a person fall out of a harness, from about 200 feet up.
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Old 13-07-2017, 18:13   #3
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Re: Mast climbing

I was wondering about mast-climbing myself. I'll soon take possession of my new (to me) boat so one of the first things I'll need to do is go up the mast. Never done that before but I have a background in mountaineering so I was wondering if I could employ techniques from that.

I'll be working alone so what I was thinking is to use prussik knots on a the main halyard and have them act as ascenders like I was climbing a rope up a wall (done that before but generally it was me that set the anchor so the element of the unknown is scary.)

Anyway I thought of making a cheap sit-harness out of some rope or webbing and using another couple of prussiks (there's that redundancy) on the spinnaker halyard as a sort of belay should the main halyard fail. I might employ a long warp cleated off at several deck fittings just like a self-belay system one would use while climbing just for added safety and tie off on the mast with klemheist knots but I've never done that before and it seems like one of those might be worthless in case of a fall.

But yeah, like I said, I've never climbed a mast before so I may be missing something here...opinions?
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Old 13-07-2017, 18:35   #4
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Re: Mast climbing

You should not take anything you see in Cruising Outpost as good practice. Or any other of the mags, for that matter. Mags are there to tell a story, to show that someone did something. But not always to preach about how it should be done. So they don't vet every single picture to make sure no one is doing anything unsafe or stupid.
That dude might go up that way a thousand times and not die, but that doesn't mean there's not problems with his method and gear--it just means his luck hasn't run out yet.
The important thing is to find a method which you are comfortable with, and will take responsibility for as you use it.
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Old 20-08-2017, 19:17   #5
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Re: Mast climbing

I, too, have some climbing questions, and so as not to hijack the thread but add to it, I will ask them in a relative fashion...

My boat is a mere 27' vessel, and the mast "I" is about 35-ish feet. That puts total mast height above waterline at the head someplace near 44 feet or less, if my math is right. Above deck, it is about 35 though. The cross section of the mast is rather narrow, and it is likely the original spar set.

I am dropping the mast in the coming month or so, and rewiring it as well as installing new running rigging. My question has to do with access once that is accomplished and the mast is repositioned atop the deck (it is deck-stepped). I have no illusion that I will surely forget something (like adding the third or fourth halyard, repairing the steaming lights aloft, or some such foolishness), and I will also want to maintain the masthead fittings if possible.

I am going to redesign and build a standing lift that I can prop against the mast near the peak to examine and work on the very top after I am aloft, akin to a device I once used to climb trees (a hunting trick), which essentially is a notch cut into a plank that is strapped to the feet, allowing me to stand higher at the last little bit, and using a safety tether around the mast to keep me close to it). I could use such a device to climb the mast if it was rougher, but it is slick as can be aluminum, so that will probably only be useful standing at the top, if at all... I may be able to apply a non-slip rubbery finish to the plank, though, so...??

I weigh a shade under 300 pounds, and am 6'2" tall. I am losing weight slowly, but let's for the sake of discussion keep me at 300 lbs. I need to determine what could benefit me to lift my plump arse up the mast, given that the Admiral does not have the strength, nor the desire (she is afraid, I believe, and that is not a winning situation), to be able to winch me up there, allow me to work, then retrieve me safely.

I have been considering if there is some way such as a motorized winch or perhaps another means of lifting myself, or using blocks and tackle, a chain hoist on a halyard (or better, two or three), or any number of other devices to lift myself to the top of this mast.

Currently, as stated, the running rigging is not installed, but I believe that the sheaves are still present, the halyards have just been removed. The PO was going to drop the mast, apparently, and repair some mast step compression in the cabin top, and the same is my goal at first.

Still, after the mast is restepped, I still will have to go aloft at times to handle things, change bulbs, etc., and I need to arrive upon a low cost, relatively safe method of doing so, and preferably that method can be stored aboard within reasonable space of storage. Items that can do double duty of course get better nods than those that are only useful for this single issue.

I currently do not have an anchor windlass, but may consider adding one. I also do not have but three single speed winches on deck (2 size 7's and a 6), and none are aimed such that they would directly put tension on lines that run up the mast. There are two winch mounting plates (one either side) at chest level (for me) on the sides of the mast itself, but I would need to add winches to these mounting points (also willing to do, and probably will do in fact, regardless of whether they factor into this issue).

The cabin top appears to be plenty solid with my 300 lbs standing upon it, only giving slightly at the mast step itself at the moment, and that is soon to be remedied with a great deal of fiberglass, epoxy, and ply material coring (or resin and glass alone, not sure yet) that I am about to install.

I am new to lifting myself aloft, but have used a bosun's chair (was lowered and lifted by someone else) in the distant past (US Navy service as well as work in other related fields), and was half this weight of body during those exercises.

I have not used pruissic knots or other climbing knots and ascension methods before, so would have to learn how to handle those should that be the best option. However, if I can use a winch of some sort and a remote, that may be best, I am unsure.

What options do I have, and what would be the first I should consider, if you have enough info to make a suggestion? Also, would that suggestion apply to the original and additional posters on this thread? What risks are present with that method? What benefits are present? What emergency procedures would be useful should that method fail to work as intended?
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Old 27-08-2017, 03:34   #6
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Re: Mast climbing

^^ an electric winch and remote is NOT and option IMO. Someone needs to be standing by the winch at all times. Even with someone else operating an electric winch there's dangers: what if the switch gets stuck on? It's been known to happen, and sails get ripped and lines snapped.
If your wife is uncomfortable winching you around, you need a method that is self-tending. Many threads here have described how to get aloft with ascenders and basic rockclimbing kit. I believe that is the simplest, best option. I wouldn't worry about versatility--keep your kit dedicated to that one use, and know that it's safe and secure.
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Old 27-08-2017, 04:53   #7
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Re: Mast climbing

If your boat is ashore try and use a "Cherry Picker" aka Access Lift to get to the top of the mast. Much safer and a lot more comfortable.


As an ex climber I never trusted anything I couldn't see and inspect and everything was doubled up. You may well have a single pin on the way up the cliff but it is one of a series and will at least slow you down as you drop.


When i climb the mast I use a top climber which is a great piece of kit and leaves me in control of my assent and decent. As an added safety measure i never use the halyard directly but use it to take a line to the masthead. If anything happened to me while I was at the top at least I could be lowered to the deck. Something you couldn't do if the halyard was just attached to a deck fitting directly.


I also wear a harness with a second line connected securely and that is led back to a winch with three turns around it and tailed by the Admiral.
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Old 27-08-2017, 05:07   #8
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Re: Mast climbing

I do NOT want to soon do rude.

Be sure to check the weight limit on anything you use. Even better bosun seats have rated limits.
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Old 27-08-2017, 05:56   #9
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Re: Mast climbing

another option Mastmate | A Skippers' First Mate is Self-Reliance
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Old 27-08-2017, 07:27   #10
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pirate Re: Mast climbing

OK ... someone has to say it: You should give up on going up til you get down a hundred #s or so. You could have a serious health issue aloft and not be able to climb back down. Then what?

I admire your attitude and the whole notion of taking care of things yourself but this goes beyond that by about a mile. There are real good riggers that do this for a living. In your case, hiring this out makes dollars and sense, IMHO.
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Old 27-08-2017, 08:59   #11
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Re: Mast climbing

I weigh about the same...hire the climbing work out.
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Old 27-08-2017, 09:29   #12
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Re: Mast climbing

I'm old and fat but I still can climb a ladder that's why I said mastmate.

I have a topclimber also, never have used it to climb the mast but I did try it out up a tree. I can tell you it does work, but at the same time it's a workout. Doesn't seem like it till you do it. Pretty much the same thing as climbing a ladder but it's not.

I don't have a mastmate yet, but I will be getting one before we leave.

So far I have just paid for others to climb the mast, but having a very good mechanical background it just grinds me to no end to watch the younger ones up there not really knowing what they are doing. Last guy was supposed to replace my wind indicator and run new wire. Ended up spending the afternoon for what should of been an hour job at tops!! I got a new vhf coax out of it because he couldn't figure out how to get the new wire up the mast....lol I guess he shouldn't of cut the old wire and dropped it down the mast!!!

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Old 27-08-2017, 09:39   #13
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Re: Mast climbing

The design basis for most recreational climbing gear systems is 80kg. Anything beyond that is getting into the safety factor. In fact, few rock climbers are much bigger than that, for obvious reasons.

I used to manage safety in a group of refineries, and I had no problem explaining to the personnel department that I would not have little guys move drums or big guys climb. It just didn't make sense.
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Old 27-08-2017, 10:50   #14
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Re: Mast climbing

SailingFan, as over the top as you usually are about safety, you need to rethink this one, seriously. From the whole power winch with a remote thing, to your other gear for going aloft. And in all likelihood you’re better off hiring a rigger. Since to be blunt, than should you somehow manage to get up to/near the masthead on a Hunter 27, at 300lbs, you’ll most likely capsize the boat. With you still tied to the masthead. And at that weight you'll probably not be able to self hoist that far anyway, even with some mechanical advantage.

I say this as she’s only got 3,000lbs of keel, drawing about 4’ right? So her ballpark righting moment (Rm 30) will be in the range of 9,000ftlbs. And since the mast is 35’ high, with it’s base about 5’ above the water, you’re looking at a 40’ lever. Apply 300lbs to that & the boat won’t stay vertical anymore.

Actually, on some smaller boats, it’s simply easier to use a halyard or line at the masthead to pull the boat over on her side far enough so that you can change out a bulb in a masthead fixture, with it at chest height. Though be sure that the boat still has some righting moment left after it gets to 90 degrees before you attempt this, otherwise it may want to turtle on you. Meaning fully invert, & put the mast where the keel should be, & vice versa. For example, in a J 24 once they get to 90 degrees of heel, you have to get out & stand on the keel to keep them from fully inverting.
So keep your hatches shut, just in case. No point in making her into a submarine.

As to powered winches, & this is for everyone out there. DO NOT use the built in self-tailing feature in them, Especially when hoisting someone aloft. Tail the winch by hand as you would a non self-tailing one. That way, so long as you’re paying attention, there’s virtually no chance of over hoisting someone, & sucking their family jewels through the masthead sheaves using hydraulics (or 24vdc). Nor will you accidentally slam them into the underside of a spreader at warp 9, because you were too slow in releasing the power button on the winch. Since the winch drum can spin all day without the man aloft (or sail) moving 1mm so long as you’re not pulling on the line at the same time. Nor can the line accidentally slip out of the self tailing jaws, thus dropping the man aloft (with dire consequences).

And it’s also a LOT easier to completely avoid overrides on the drum, if you’re tailing it by hand while using only 2-3 turns on the winch. Since the more turns you have on the drum, the greater the risk of overrides.
There's no need to be in a rush to get to the top, & you need to be sure that whoever is tailing the line on deck is pretty sharp, & has been well schooled on what to do, & what not to do. Plus the guy in the chair/harness should have a seperate safety line that he/she controls. In case anything goes awry with your other hardware, or with the deck crew hoisting you.

Also, it’s a good idea to know what kind of shape the winch base is in, along with the surface that it’s mounted to, & the condition of it’s mounting fasteners. Before going up the spar. As aluminum, even when anodized, does corrode. Often heavily on the undersides of winch bases. So that if a winch is bolted to the mast there can be degradation of the metal around the winch’s mounting bolts. Or if the winch itself is aluminum, there can be severe corrosion in it’s base that you’ll never know is there unless you take it apart & look. Either that, or you’ll find out when it pulls out of the deck/tears itself apart. Which tends to be in poor form
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Old 27-08-2017, 15:18   #15
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pirate Re: Mast climbing

And,again, here's why ya don't want to use your neighbor: ... you need to be sure that whoever is tailing the line on deck is pretty sharp, & has been well schooled on what to do, & what not to do.
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