shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Mast Climbing Options

May 4, 2015

Some of us do our own stunts. Others hire professionals to do the lofty work. But even if you never plan to climb your mast, you should still have the gear, knowledge, and practice necessary to go as far as the masthead should some emergency arise when there is no one around to hire. For years, Dave was one of those, "Sure, I'll do that" guys who didn't mind climbing. Then there was a recall on his bosun's chair, he replaced it with a new model, and his confidence went the way of the wind. He still climbed our mast if he had to, but he no longer did it for pay. And if our son was around to climb for him, well, all the better.

The gear

When something bothers us on the boat, it doesn't usually take long before one of us says, "Stop. Think. What is the real problem?" Sometimes it's as simple as having stowed an important piece of equipment where the amount of sweat and bruises to retrieve it is not proportionate to its importance. So we move it. Other times it is a system that requires too much maintenance, electricity, room, or some other price we are tired of paying. In that case, we change or eliminate the system. So when our son's injury required that Dave climb to our masthead after having already pawned off the job, we decided it was time to think about what the problem really was.

Raise arm and leg together.

A traditional bosun's chair leaves Dave feeling as though he could slide out, flip upside down, or be subjected to some other improbable acrobatics that caused him to plummet to the deck. The question was how to fix it. There is no rationalizing a fear like that. He can't just talk himself out of it any more than I can simply talk myself out of eating another fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie. So if he can't change, we need to change the circumstances.

Pull out the slack.

When he was climbing rigs professionally, he needed a way to raise and lower himself without help. For this trick, he visited a rock climbing section of a sports store and bought an ascender and a descender. The ascender consists of a handhold connected to a loop for your foot, plus a piece of gear connected to your harnass. Raise your (in our case, right) arm and right leg at the same time, sliding the ascender up the line. Stand on the foot strap to bring your body weight a foot or so higher. Pull the slack out of the line at your harnass. Repeat as you inch your way up the line. It was so easy we let our 10 year-old climb the mast. His original descender, however, required a bit more juggling than he felt comfortable with on a normal basis, so when possible, I lowered him down using the winch. Since he had incorporated so much rock climbing gear into his original system 15 years ago, we decided to try the same area for a more comfortable climbing harness.

New descender

At the risk of sounding like an REI employee, let me put out the proper disclaimer: We can't tell you how YOU should use YOUR gear, or how YOU should climb YOUR mast. All we can tell you is how HE climbs OURS. Interpolate as you see fit.

What we walked away with was a rock climbing harnass that supports you at the waist and around each thigh. You could try your hand at trapeze work and not fall out of this thing. Or so it makes Dave feel. Because he has never been very comfortable with his descender, he bought a new one of those that doesn't require hanging from one arm while you disconnect your harnass 45 feet in the air. The descender goes up with him, already attached or to be attached later. Either way, he feels much more secure when switching over at the top of the mast.

Lowering himself with his new descender

Feeling more secure

Dave usually wears his offshore chest harnass as a backup, connecting a line around the mast above each spreader as he gets there. That way, even if he falls, he can only fall a few feet.

The difference in size of JUST the chair vs. his entire set up

Our son is replacing his rigging, so he is spending a lot of time in a bosun's chair. He is young and hasn't yet developed Dave's newfound fear of bosun's chairs, so he is getting Dave's old one. Dave's new climbing gear is a much smaller package to store, and though his legs go to sleep if he dallies too long, he feels much safer in climbing gear that holds him securely, instead of just providing a platform for him to sit on.

For all your mast work, for emergencies when there's no one else to call, or for those times when you just want a better view, every boat should have aboard at least one way to get to the masthead. Make sure it's one that you and your crew are comfortable with and can use alone. Just in case.

I post one picture on our Facebook page and about 20 people contact me, asking what is wrong with me. MONDAY we'll share a little secret: things change.

Recent Articles



People and Places

Yarns and Opinions




Bolger AS-29


Can't find your favorite post?

Did you find something of interest? Consider donating $1.
Thank you.