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Old 22-02-2010, 05:32   #1
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Challenge: Climbing a Mast Using Prussik Knots

I usually have my 18 stone ex-rugby playing friend to haul me up the mast when required. However, in preparation for single handed cruising, I thought I would learn how to climb the mast single-handed.
There are loads of different systems one can try, but being the cheapskate I am, I did not want to spend dosh on some mountain climbing kit that might be very occasionally used. So use of two loops attached to a halyard using prussik knots seemed to provide the answer. One loop connects to the bosuns chair, while the second loop ends in two bowlines in which you insert your feet. Progress is made by standing on the feet loops taking the strain off the seat loop. Without any strain, the loop can be pushed along the halyard. One then sits into the seat and removes the strain from the foot loop. This in turn is pulled upwards. This "stand sit, stand sit" continues until you arrive at the height you require.
Simple but effective technique. Had I the strength to use it?

Boat being out of the water for the winter, I ventured forth to the nearest convenient tall tree, and threw a warp around a reasonably high branch. Two of my children looked on with great interest wondering what sort of crazy antics their old man was up to this time.
First effort saw them rolling around with laughter as dad twisted around inches from the ground due to poor length of foot loops unable to make any progress skywards.
Back to base for a new length of rope to use for the loop (the foot loop needs to be about twice the length of the seat loop) and hey presto a few minutes later I was well up the tree with the kids down below going "me next, me next!"

It is definitely something that requires practice as I found climbing the 5 metres or so I climbed quite tiring. But I was pleasantly surprised that it is fairly doable. A few more practice runs on the tree and it's up the mast with me!!
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Old 22-02-2010, 06:55   #2
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Yes, the Prussik and Klemeist are two useful knots (hitches) aboard.
When climbing, don't forget to secure the lower end of the halyard to the deck.

See also ➥ Climbing the Mast Safety

And ➥ Prussic hitch to secure achor bridle

And ➥ Single handed mast climb system

And ➥ Boson chair 101.
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Old 22-02-2010, 07:08   #3
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Or you can make mast steps.
1" aluminum, 18" long (each)
Bend at 2", 5", 9",2". 6 aluminum rivets to the mast. Need 2 at the top.
I used them on my 25Miura
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Old 22-02-2010, 08:36   #4
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When using ascenders like the Prussic knot it really helps to fasten the halyard to the deck at the mast and winch it tight. Use a safety loop around the mast to limit your drop if something goes wrong on the way up.
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Old 22-02-2010, 08:53   #5
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I used to be in the Ski Patrol in New Zealand. We trained using these knots for ascending in situations without the mechanical ascenders/descenders. The knots take lots of practice and as you discovered are very tiring. I had a friend wanting to save some money by using them I talked him out of it. Can you imagine trying to ascend and descend when its blowing 30+. I would go with the mechanical devices, just seems like a false economy with your life or health is on the line. No harm in knowing how to use them as a back up system. Just my humble. Jack
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Old 22-02-2010, 09:07   #6
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now you know why the climbing community went to the effort to develop mechanical ascenders. think about what prussik knots would be like for 500 feet!
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Old 22-02-2010, 09:55   #7
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Originally Posted by daddle View Post
When using ascenders like the Prussic knot it really helps to fasten the halyard to the deck at the mast and winch it tight. Use a safety loop around the mast to limit your drop if something goes wrong on the way up.
Thanks for your comment.
I note many people give the same advice re winching the halyard tight at the mast. What is the advantage of this? Stops the loose end twisting?
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Old 22-02-2010, 09:57   #8
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Gord May - thanks excellent links. Think I'm moving from the theory into the practical and seeing what I can manage comfortably!
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Old 22-02-2010, 10:20   #9
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A tight ascending line both makes sliding the knots up easier and keeps you near the mast.
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Old 22-02-2010, 10:55   #10
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me being my paranoid self .. I go with 2 halyards .. one serves as a spare with a prussik to the harness in case the main halyard lift system fails.
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Old 22-02-2010, 11:56   #11
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Quote:
It is definitely something that requires practice as I found climbing the 5 metres or so I climbed quite tiring. But I was pleasantly surprised that it is fairly doable. A few more practice runs on the tree and it's up the mast with me!!
You might try 12 meters on a tree swaying in the wind. What is possible on a tree in the back yard is not the same as mast on a boat in the water. There may be similarities but there are other better options. Making a ladder from nylon webbing that can be hoisted up the main sail track is not expensive and when a second halyard is added provides an easier and safer climb. The climbing is nothing compared to the falling. A simple prusik knot could also be used as a safety but isn't the easiest thing to manage at sea. As you noted you were tired at 5 meters how would it be at 12 when of course you also have a job up there to do. I think you want more going for you for such excursions rather than as cheap as possible. I doubt your family would consider you worthless.

Boats need safety gear that can save your life. You have it in many places and it's serious business. Best to have the good stuff. Practice also adds a great deal to the formula. If you can practice with the gear you'll be more ready to use it in a bad fix.
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Old 22-02-2010, 12:09   #12
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To anybody using Prusik, (I guess it is worth to) remember the Prusik knot/hitch was invented while the lines were much rougher than the new tech ropes. So, be very careful to transfer this technique to a Spectra halyard, if it is a bare/woven Spectra. Similarly, do not use Spectra for the Prusik loop(s).

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Old 22-02-2010, 12:59   #13
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The ATN Top Climber does the same thing as using Prussik Knots or climbing hardware. It costs more but everything comes in the bag and the problems are all worked out. If you have the time and the sewing skills, you can do it cheaper with climbing hardware. The key here is time and sewing skills. Living 2500 miles from my boat, the cost for a fully sorted out system was/is worth it.

I've gone up my mast more than 30 times with the Top Climber. A low stretch halyard pulled very tight makes the climb a lot faster and easier. It's not a hard thing to climb with the 'T/C' but does require some effort. Will admit that the seventh time I had to go up in one day installing a new headstay wasn't something that I looked forward to. I did get my 65 year old body to the mast head every time, however.

Steps up the mast are easiest to use but you still need a halyard supported bosun chair to do any real work. The big negative with that is it requires another person to haul the chair up and make the hoisting line fast. Suppose with some thought, you could figure out how to do it on your own without a great deal of expense. The solution, without a big infusion of bucks for hardware, hasn't come to me, though.

Running a ladder up the sail track is a non starter for my boat. I'd have to completely remove all the mainsail slugs from the mast to thread the ladder slugs in. Not something I want to do at a dock, let alone at sea. If the ladder is anchored only at deck and to the hoisting halyard, it's going to be pretty loosy goosy if there is any boat motion. You'll still need a bosun's chair to get work done.

Personally, I'll stick with the ATN Top Climber. It gets me up the mast without much drama, I don't need anyone helping me in doing it, and it worked the first time and every time..
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Old 28-02-2011, 15:01   #14
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Re: Challenge: Climbing a Mast Using Prussik Knots

I've also successfully and comfortably used Top Climber for the last several years when just wife and I were on board. She doesn't have the strength to winch me up. Got my 65-year-old body up the mast in a few minutes' time and without excessive effort. For safety, had a halyard attached with the other end around a winch, with wife keeping the slack out of it.
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