Going aloft

Climbing the mast is not for the faint hearted but sometimes there is just no alternative. I don’t like heights but have become reasonably comfortable with being hoisted up the stick and I’ve done it at the dock, in the anchorage and under way.

Here’s a check list for going aloft in a bosun’s chair assisted by at least one crewmember.

1. Use a comfortable chair or harness. Some old salts prefer a plank but I like a hard bottomed, soft sided chair with back enclosure and tool pockets. Racy types like harnesses and you may, too – try both before buying. 2. Get familiar with the chair at deck level. Hook up to a halyard and bounce around like a baby in a baby-bouncer. 3. Load up the tools you’ll need in the pockets where you can best reach them. Attach heavy tools to the chair with lanyards – dropped tools can cause a lot of damage to decks and to anyone in the near vicinity. The salts with the plank chairs haul their tools up separately, usually in a canvas bucket. 4. Select the most appropriate halyard, check it for wear. Tie it to the chair using a bowline – check the knot yourself if someone else tied it. No offence will be taken, I’m sure. You don’t want to rely on the halyard shackle but once the bowline is secure clip it to the chair as an emergency back-up. Take a sharp knife with you because a bowline is difficult to undo under load and, should the halyard become jammed and you need to switch to another, you may have to cut it. 5. Some recommend that you have a second halyard connected as a safety line but I prefer not to have this complication. If it makes you feel more comfortable, go ahead but make sure the lazy halyard can’t get tangled with the working halyard. 6. Some climbers attach a downhaul to the base of their chair. I haven’t found this to be of any use but if you’ve forgotten to take a vital tool or part up with you it might come in handy as a hoisting line. 7. If you have an electric windlass to which the halyard tail can be led properly, this is your best choice for being lifted, particularly if you have only one crewmember available. To hoist someone aloft using a halyard winch or sheet winch is hard work and particularly difficult if that crewmember has to crank and tail at the same time. It is so much better to have a separate tailer – preferable big, strong and tied to the halyard tail so that you’d need to extrude him through the winch and the turning block before you could drop very far. 8. Before the hoist begins you’ll have discussed how you’re going to communicate if required – a set of simple hand signals is best, manic screaming is worst. You might consider prearranged stops at the spreaders to give the hauler a break. 9. Wear shoes or boots. Motion is exaggerated as you get higher and the ability to hook your feet around mast or shrouds to stabilise things is essential – not much fun with bare feet. 10. The climber can ease the burden on the hoisting crew by, well, climbing. 11. When the climber has reached the summit the hoister will cleat off the halyard. I don’t trust clutches, I insist on being cleated to a horn cleat. 12. When returning the climber to earth the hoister should try for a smooth continuous drop (controlled, obviously) rather than intermittent drops and halts.

13. Well done! Have a celebratory drink.