How are you? I was thinking of you lately as I prepared to do a job on our boat. I remember you explaining to me that it was a concern to you how to get up the mast unassisted if you were out there on your own. That was when you told me of your friends solution: Prusik Loops.
Well having been 50 odd foot up our mast the other day (first time ever) to thread a new halyard down inside the mast from the top, via a light line, I can assure you if you haven't already tested them out, they are really reliable, it works a treat. I have been doing a bit of research on getting up the mast and have come across a variety of means to get there and thought I'd pass on some of what I'd learned. I have been looking at rock climbing gear, like rope ascenders,
simpler (read cheaper) alternatives like your prusik loop, and ideas that arborists use as well. Also I came across an idea on youtube that really appealed for its simplicity (read cheap) and its speed.
I watched guys getting up there unassisted with rope ascenders and given that they weren't professional climbers the effort involved and the time consumed plus the clumsiness of it put me off. Winching a guy up is also hard on the person at the winch, and slow as well.
At least that has been my experience. And of course cannot be done unassisted.
Here's is what I went up with:
I used an assisted method, so Sheryl was on the winch. But the beauty of this is that it can be done unassisted as well, but being a virgin mast climber I was happy to have assistance. Her only job on the winch was to take up slack as I got up the mast under my own steam. I attached the topping lift (10mm yacht braid) to a safety/fall arrest harness that I bought on Trademe for $42. It had a cert for June 2015, was made 2014, and the breakaway safety indicator stitching was clearly intact, so was confident it would do the job. (Plus I bounced on it a few times at the foot of the mast!) I used a double figure eight knot to tie-in to the harness. No bowlines here I'm afraid, the climbing experts say it's a bit of a nono for climbing, although I saw yachties using it. (Have never ever had issues with it myself but there you go) Apparently a double figure 8 is the way to go.
Sheryl lowered me down on the winch, but I could as easily come down on my own with her just giving me slack as needed for backup.
So on top of the safety harness I was wearing, I then stepped into my Bosun's Chair and strapped it on. We had lowered the main so had access to its halyard which was wire/rope. Then I tied a new length of 10mm yacht braid to the "d" shackle on the furling swivel, where the main'sl head usually attaches, (In mast furling ), using a double fishermans knot with a figure 8 stopper knot on the end. (apparently another must do for this application)
and pulled it back to the top. Then I threaded the bottom end of this line through the new bit of kit I've made that I renamed the "Admirals Mate" (because this saves her so much work on the winch) I copied this "Easy Climb" from a youtube video showing how its used. I couldn't find his website so I guess he no longer markets the product or at least is unavailable where we are.
So then the bottom end of this line is cleated off at the bottom of the mast and tensioned up nice and tight with a winch. The video explains it really well but my system is a variation of this using your prusik hitch. In the video there is no safety backup. It's just one tightened line for the climbing aid, and one line for the bosun's chair. In my variation of this it is still only two lines going up the mast but one of them is used on the safety harness the other is used for the climbing aid and the bosuns chair. The bosun's chair is attached to the tensioned line using a prusik loop. A prusik loop I made from a roughly 2m length of 6mm polyester yacht braid. It's fairly important to use a rope one or two sizes smaller diameter than your tensioned up line, in this case 10mm.
I tied the two ends of the line with double fishermans knots and then a fig. 8 stopper knot on each end for safety.
Make your prusik hitch on the taught line going up the mast above where you have placed the "Admiral's Mate" climbing aid. Pass a bight of your prusik loop through the eye of the chair and then pass the chair through the standing part of your loop and you're ready to rumble. (Or use a karabiner to attach chair) For my application I found three wraps of the friction hitch worked really well both in terms of gripping well and being able to de-tension the hitch when sliding the hitch further up the taut line or coming down.
For unassisted mast climb, the only difference is that you would tension up two lines running up the mast just the same but your safety harness attaches to another prusik loop which in turn is friction hitched with the prusik to that second line. So you have a friction hitch to work up and down each rope. The climbing aid which I copied I have adapted to make coming down the mast easy so that it can be used rather than winch assist down as in the original video. It worked really well.
The telling of it is far more complicated than the doing of it!
Due to my bumbling around I ended going up and down the mast twice to the top, and twice about two thirds up to fish out the light line I couldn't find further down. In all I must have been suspended for and hour or more, all this while anchored in a bay where the wind was getting up so while it wasn't quite like being at sea, there was definitely movement up there. At one point I had to swing around to the front of the mast (I was using main halyard tensioned so it tried to keep pulling me back) holding a tiny torch with one hand and a little wire hook with the other to fish out the light string from inside the mast which kept ducking behind the genoa halyard and the topping lift through an aperture not much bigger than my eyeball which incidently doesn't work so good these days either.
If you or anyone you know would be interested in this bit of kit for getting up there I have made a spare that I will sell for a little more than cost. It's a sturdy piece of work using tried and tested bits of gear that performed really well for a novice climber like me. I am not too keen to show my enhancements to anyone at this stage unless there is genuine interest in the kit. The climbing aid makes it really simple to get up, a vast improvement on putting your feet in rope loops as the line it goes up is tensioned holding you to the mast. You can slip your feet in and out at will, use toes to grip mast for extra stability, stand in the footholds to elevate you right above the mast head, whereas a bosun's chair will only get you to eyelevel or less, it can be used assisted or non assisted.
Anyone at all could make these things so there is no way that the price is going to be much more than what a person could make it for themselves.
Sheryl sends her love and asked me to tell you that Estella has had a beautiful bay colt with four white socks and a blaze, she is very proud of him. She absolutely loves Estella just as Alison said she would.
All the best,