Here you go! My first-ever climbing the yacht mast happened almost on my sailing anniversary – a year after I took my fist sailing class at the Royal Geelong Sailing Club (RGYC). How did it go? (For a video – scroll down.)

It was another yacht racing day. Finally, we’ve got wind, which meant a good chance of running fast on water. If only I knew that we would want no wind later on that day!

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After tacking (moving the yacht around a special buoy), we put a spinnaker (a light sail flying at the front of the yacht) to make the yacht move faster.

Once the right time came, we needed to get the spinnaker down and put the head sail up. If only we could do that!

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Due to the chain of things, the spinnaker got wrapped around the forestay (a wire going at an angle the spinnaker is attached to).

The guys tried hard to unwrap it and pull the spinnaker down. The wind was very strong, making it impossible to get the sail down on the deck. We tried a few options to release it. That didn’t work. Something was not right.

(Photo: Looking up at the top of the mast with the spinnaker pushed against it by the wind.)

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At one moment the spinnaker flew free. It became clear that something happened to its forestay sheet (rope). The spinnaker’s sheet got wrapped around the top of the forestay.

Somebody had to climb the mast (which is the tall “pole” in the middle of the yacht) to release the spinnaker and unwrap the rope.

I volunteered :) Here I’m holding a bosun’s chair in which I will climb the yacht’s mast:

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One day I climbed the mast ropes on the tall ship Tenacious. It was VERY windy, cold, and scary. (Although, the view was worth the climb!) I roughly knew what I was up to.

I also know that wind is strong and you can’t beat its power. What you need is to plan the route ahead, know what you are supposed to do at the top, practise while your feet are on the deck, and get a great team behind you. Get prepared, get focused, get a cool head, and get the job done. Safely. You can laugh or get emotional afterwards.

The guys show how to use the bosun’s chair, as I’ve never used it:

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Attaching the safety line and making a bowline knot (the knot attaches the chair with me to a rope that another crew member will winch to get me up):

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Photo: Triple-checking the “life knot” – better safe than sorry :)

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That’s the height I had to climb – the very top is about 18m on the Catalina yacht, if I’m correct:

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Climbing The Yacht Mast – Video

Notes on the video:

  • Close to the beginning of the video you will see a white “ribbon”. This, or a similar thing, can be quite useful for attaching yourself to the mast. In high winds, I would say it’s something you would need to do! When I was midway up, at some moment the wind was pushing hard, making it challenging for me to keep “hugging” the mast. In high winds, an additional rope around you and the mast can prevent you from from swinging.
  • Midway, you might see how I struggle to get my legs between the mast and the spinnaker sail. I had to grab the mast with my legs to continue. It was challenging as the wind was pushing the sail against the mast. You can’t fight the wind’s power. Imagine you need to push your leg between a wall and a thick rigid plastic sheet right next to it. The only way is to squeeze your leg in-between, as you can’t bend the rigid plastic sheet. That’s how it felt. It looks like the guys wheeled the yacht to the right, which changed the angle the wind was attacking the sail. That moved the sail farther from the mast, making it easier for me to keep going.
  • On the way down, after releasing the spinnaker and unwrapping its rope, I was trying to attach the rope to the chair as it was a bit difficult to pull the rope down, sometimes it would not go. I had to do attach the metal clutch to the chair with one hand (as another was hugging the mast). I could not do that as the clutch was bent a bit. All went well at the end.
  • Big thanks to the team! And to Alex for taking the video.

For better view, see the video in the full screen mode:

Safely and with no injuries we got back to the marina.

Finale

I felt quite safe climbing the mast in the bosun’s chair for the first time. (Although, I still cannot believe the height I went to, when I look at the top of the mast from the deck!)

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It was nice and warm up there. The whole experience was a bit different to what I had when climbing the rope ladder on the tall ship Tenacious. If you sail and have a chance, do both. Those are little things that you never know you might need next time!

Climbing the yacht mast, you say? It is like going to a shop around the corner! :) (It’s good to have a good laugh afterwards!)

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Afterword

Like in business and life, a strategy, preparation, and teamwork will safely get you half way there. Remember to:

  • Plan ahead. You need to know where you go and what you supposed to do. Visualise it and practise the mechanical stuff while you are still on the deck.
  • Check your gear and tools – the harness and ropes, anything that ensures your safety. If things go wrong, getting into water would be the best option. The least wanted would be to fall on the deck. You want to get down, but you want to stay one piece :)
  • Have somebody who knows what to do. Do ask questions.
  • Think solutions. What should happen so we overcome that obstacle? How can we get that? What are the options? If we do this, what will happen next? Concentrate on finding a way. Use your energy and time wisely.
  • Focus on the task and keep your head cool. Your brain needs you as much as you need it. You can always get emotional afterwards.
  • Don’t rush. Even when you don’t have time, you have time.
  • Avoid looking down while going up :)
  • Afterwards – analyse, recap, and make conclusions. Use the received experience as a learning exercise to get better at things or to do them differently the next time.
  • Enjoy the journey!

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