End of day, 2345 UTC, 53/08S 89/45W, 6.2 knots@142T. Light winds all day today as a high pressure system smothers large area. Huge thunderheads, but further spaced apart than yesterday. Cold. Very odd to have these conditions on approach to Cape Horn, but will get much more wind in 24-36 hours. Had a bit of a blast of wind an hour ago and were making 12.5 knots with solent and 2 reefs. It was very satisfying to sail fast in smooth seas. Can’t remember when we last had smooth seas.
Bit of a momentous day here actually. Had that potentially very serious problem earlier in the week with the runner and the spreader. If the running backstays were winched on with that runner hooked, it would break the spreader and bring down the mast. I unhooked the wrapped runner that day, but I still had to deal with the shock cord that I left up there–it could cause a lot of problems if left up there.
I had come up with a partial solution, after each gybe/tack to take the whole set of 3 running backstays to the mast, keeping hard tension on the topmast, and lashing them there. But a slip en route could allow the topmast to swing out and hook the spreader. Another solution would be simply to not use any masthead sails again, and not use the topmast if it got hooked again, detach it from the bundle. Both solutions were sub-optimal to say the least. So I had to climb the mast, and here’s what I did.
We’d tried several systems at the dock for mast climbing, and none were very good. Tried the webbing ladder, with another line and a jumar on it, but trying to find your footholds with the swinging webbing ladder just doesn’t work. So went to the system that I’d had in my mind in these last few days. Used Jacques’ paragliding harness with the over the shoulder straps. Hoisted 3 ropes up the back side of the mast on our spare over the topmast halyard. The 2nd reef was in so the mainsail was up to beyond the second spreader. Winched hard on 2 of the ropes, the 3rd was loose. Got my hiking boots on, brought especially for this, put on the new 2 foot ascenders, essentially 2 mini-jumars strapped one to each ankle. These then get hooked onto the two taut lines. Then put a carabinier up high on the harness and around the three lines, so that I could climb up the two ropes and not be hanging on with my hands, or that was the idea. Worked fairly well. Had then a jumar on the harness ready to go, but the main belay was the petzl grigri descender, and I took up the slack line through that one as I went.
Went up about 8′ and came down to make sure everything worked. Tautened the lines again. Bore the boat off to make it more stable. Went up about 15 feet, came down. Canted the keel to leeward 2/3 so that I could be up against the mainsail. Got two small spring carabiniers on a line from the harness so that once I got up there I could hook on easily to stop the swinging. got the Leatherman all-in-one tool that Bob Shotwell kindly gave me. Got on the ropes again, no huge thunderclouds nearby, and started up. Key is to just focus on the motions and not how far or not far you/ve gone.
Tried to take big steps, but my weakened legs couldn’t do it, so did small steps. Couple of small steps, then pull the slack line up through the descender. Going well up to first spreader, going well beyond, until the boat took a couple of lurches, and I was at the midpoint of the halyard span from deck to top of mast, and I started swinging back and forth, along the mainsail, which was good, but then out away from it, and got spun around, but when I came back to the mainsail was able to straighten myself out, keep going, keep going, sweating like crazy inside the helmet and padded clothes, got up to the second spreader, then went for the Leatherman.
Finally got it out of my pocket, opened the knife and cut the shock cord, the two sides slid neatly to the deck, done, now I just have to get back down. Stand up on the foot ascenders, take up all slack in the descender, sit on the harness seat, then bring each foot up and detach the foot ascender from each rope, now I’m free and hanging on the descender. Take the lever and slowly open with my hand on the loose rope as a control. Very hard to do smoothly, so after a few jerks of a foot descent or so, decided to accept that and went jerky foot by jerky foot down. Hands so tired at this point could almost not open the descender lever. Kept going, started swinging again, caught the lower runner with my foot and then lower down, the lazy jacks, to stop the worst of the swinging, then down into the skirt of the mainsail. 20 minutes up and down round trip about, and one cut of the shock cord, so a simple task for sure, but still, I was pretty amazed.
I’m pretty sure that for most of the sailors, its not such a big deal to go up, but for me it was. On Great American II, the 50-foot trimaran, we had the best system, tripod steps, and we planned to install these on Great American III‘s mast, but we didn’t get the right fabricator. So anyway, I joined the club at 52/50S 90W of mast climbers. And I don’t have to worry about that shock cord anymore.