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OCC Best Practices
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TOPIC: Best Practices in Mast Climbing

Best Practices in Mast Climbing 1 month 2 days ago #3801

  • David Tyler
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I approach this from the point of view of a single handed sailor, and also agree with Peter's comment: When the day comes that I can't get to the masthead unaided, that will be the day that I give up cruising.
My kit and method goes something like this:
1. Climber's harness. One with wide padded thigh loops is obviously more comfortable for a prolonged job of work.
2. A PETZL Grigri 2 attached to the harness with a screw-locking carabiner. The Grigri is a device that enables both ascent and descent. It has no teeth, but works by jamming the rope around a cam. There is a "dead man's lever" that will only permit descent when pulled, and gives very good control of the rate of descent ( too fast, and too much heat is generated, damaging the rope).
3. I keep a length of 9mm static climbing rope especially for this task, as it works better than yacht braid in the Grigri. I either hoist it to the masthead on the main halyard, or pull it through a block at the masthead using a messenger. If the latter, I use a large shackle to butt up against the block, so that the stretch is limited to one mast's length, not two.
4. A PETZL toothed ascender, with footloops attached. It is important to get the length right, depending on your height and reach. Two footloops are better than one, in a 'Y' formation, so that the climber can put a foot on either side of the mast.
5. The ascender is above the Grigri, and (importantly), the upper part of the footloop runs through a second carabiner attached to the harness. This helps to direct the push of the feet more vertically, and thus more efficiently.
6. Also importantly, there is a short strop connecting the ascender with the harness. The toothed ascender is very aggressive in its action on the rope, which means that whatever else happens, a fall is impossible until it is removed from the rope.
7.The hard part of the ascent is to get off the foredeck and above the height of the stowed mainsail, then it gets easier. As soon as possible, a short length of rope is tied around the mast to limit the swing.
8. Once at the masthead, the ascender is left in place for safety and security whilst working.
9. When the time comes to descend, the ascender is taken off the rope, and then only one device is holding the climber, so this is the time for full concentration. The lever of the Grigri is used to descend under full control at slow speed.

I feel safer using this kit than being hoisted by someone else using a self-tailing winch. Going up is not so bad, but easing a heavily loaded line around the winch for the full height of the mast without mishandling it takes a little skill and concentration, and if they are not present, it's my safety that is compromised.

Best Practices in Mast Climbing 1 month 2 days ago #3804

  • Dick
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Hi David,
Sounds like a basically good plan and very nicely stated. A couple of comments and one caveat:
You choose going aloft with your kit, in part, because of concern, when up high, about being left to the mercy of errors on the deck crew’s part. This concern was addressed by the protocol that I described (and others did so as well) whereby the aloft crew has a safety line with ascender. When the deck crew is facilitating descent, all the aloft crew need do to belay the descent, is release the grip on the ascender on the safety line and he/she is belayed in place. In this manner, safety aloft, is always in the hands of the aloft crew. He/she must release the ascender to come down and, as they are spring loaded, any release of the grip stops the descent. The deck crew facilitates the descent but does not control it.
My caveat is your description of removing the ascender from the rope leaving you with only one device, as you put it, between you and a fall to the deck. Your admonition that this is the time for full concentration is very pertinent, but full concentration is a slippery item, especially when attending to tasks that not done regularly, and I would not want full concentration to be a component of safety. The method I described (as did others) always have 2 belays possible for errors of judgment or device/rope failure: the crew on deck with the halyard tail and the ascender in the aloft crew’s hand on a safety halyard. Even single handing, (no crew on deck handling the halyard) one does not need to remove an ascender from a safety line to descend. Slower, for sure, but safer.
Finally, there are a multitude of things that we cannot do (or do so well) as we get older and, for sure, getting up a mast on one’s own is one of them. Single-handing may also be in that category. And at what moment in one’s decline an anchor is swallowed is a very personal and complex decision. I would want you to consider (and other readers), that getting up a mast single handed (as you and apparently, Peter, suggest) may not necessarily mean the end of a sailing/cruising career. It is, of course, your decision, but, for me, too many good and safe and enjoyable years of cruising might be lost by so demanding a pre-requisite.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Best Practices in Mast Climbing 1 month 2 days ago #3805

  • David Tyler
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Hi Dick,
Just to address the question of descent using the Grigri again: this is as foolproof and failsafe a device as I know, and this and a more "professional" version, the PETZL Rig, are widely used by tree surgeons, window cleaners and other roped-access workers, as well as by big wall climbers. It is used on its own, the professionals don't see a need to back it up with another device. I only mention concentration because when one is descending, one has nothing else to concentrate on but descending safely, so one may as well give one's whole mind to the job.
The following user(s) said Thank You: DariaBlackwell

Best Practices in Mast Climbing. Prussik knot 4 weeks 1 day ago #3812

  • neilm
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We find the prussik very practical for a safety line. We set a spare halyard up tight. Attach a short prussik loop of a line about half to 2/3 diameter of halyard, and shackle the prussik loop to a safety harness.
If you do not know the prussik knot, YouTube will show you better than I can)
As I go up (on steps on Milvina, but works just as well when being hauled up) I push the prussik up from below. Coming down, pull the knot down with just a finger. Do NOT grip the knot, since you would have to let go in event of a fall, which would take excessive presence of mind.
This is simpler that having a halyard tailed by crew, and avoids anyone standing at the base of the mast, in the line of fire of dropped tools.
I usually go up in a bosun' chair which attached to a halyard at my chest. This is completely separate from the above mentioned prussik to safety harness.
We added a webbing loop and a Wichard hook to the bosun's chair so that I can loop it around the mast and stand on steps hands free. Even if you dislike steps, a pair at the right height to stand and work both hands at the masthead is worthwhile

Best Practices in Mast Climbing. Prussik knot 4 weeks 1 day ago #3814

  • bwallace
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I like the idea to put a prussik knot on the spare halyard. That in combination with my shunts will be tried next time.
It also has the advantage of not needing complete domestic harmony if one has to ascend and decend!
Thanks for sharing that tip
s/v Darramy

Best Practices in Mast Climbing. Prussik knot 4 weeks 1 day ago #3815

  • simoncurrin
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Posted on behalf of Dick

Hi Neil,

Appreciate your thoughts and suggestions to having crew go aloft safely.

I am all for safety being in the hands of the aloft crew, which the prussic knot allows. It is a very tried and true knot, but generally not well known by sailors, primarily climbers, although climber’s techniques and equipment are slowly working their way into the sailing world. Where safety is concerned, I would suggest equipment that can belay a fall that is more in the “no-experience-necessary” category such as the mechanical ascenders I and others have mentioned.

If one want to use the prussic, I would suggest spending some time playing with it to get acquainted with its properties: how tight to make it? how quickly does it belay? Best ways to move it up or down? Drop onto the knot, how does the knot take up?, etc.

As for steps at masthead: this is a very practical solution to working at the truck if you are going up in a conventional chair where the halyard connection is chest height. As is the suggestion for a webbing loop.

If starting out or wishing to upgrade one’s equipment, I would suggest a harness. This allows for a halyard connection just above the waist giving access to the top of the mast. Steps could still be nice for stability, but in decades of use and removal/installation of all masthead equipment over the years, I have found steps un-necessary when using a harness. One can find reasonably priced harnesses on ebay or used at climbing equipment swaps or you can get ones more dedicated (and padded) for more money (mine was made by Brion Toss Rigging- amortized over decades of use it seems less expensive and is a positive joy to use). The above is an added benefit of a harness, but the choice of a harness can be driven solely by its increased safety over most (or all) chairs/seats in that they are impossible to fall or slip out of.

My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
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