Ever since we bought the boat, there’s a few things I’ve been meaning to go up the mast and take a look at. Lights, rigging, VHF antenna, wind transducer, etc. All that stuff you can’t inspect or repair from deck level. We plan on pulling the stick next year when we haul out and it’d be nice to have an idea of what we’re going to need to fix or replace.
Our boat came with a pretty decent bosun’s chair but I (and Jeni as well) was always a little bit skeptical of having her winch me up the mast on a halyard (or vice versa). Not that I don’t trust her with my life, but more like I don’t completely trust our gear. The tailing winch on the mast needs to be rebuilt and adjusted to grip our oversized main halyard, and all of our cabin top winches are non-tailing. I wouldn’t trust my life, or anyone else’s with a couple wraps on the drum and a firm grip on the rope. Add in a secondary “safety” line to simultaneously hoist and manage, and now you’re talking some serious spaghetti on deck for the grinder to keep track of while their significant other is hanging 50 feet up.
We considered trying a solo ascending kit like the ATN Mastclimber but after watching the vendor at the boat show, to me it seemed a bit awkward going up and way too long getting down. One of my buddies loaned me his Mastmate, which is basically a stitched webbing ladder you haul up the main sail track, but using that involved pulling all the existing sail slugs out of the track on order run it up. Again, very time consuming. Both of those systems also limit your ability to get out to the spreader tips when needed, and neither consider the option of a second safety line should something happen to your main climbing line. Which means you should still have a tailer on deck. I want to be able to do this unassisted.
I did quite a bit of research on the topic of “solo mast climbing” and it turns out that a lot of sailors and riggers are using basic rock climbing gear. Cheaper, lighter, faster, and easier to use singlehanded than other methods I looked into. Aloft Alone, a company from New Zealand even puts together everything you need as a kit for about $800 US. I went to REI and picked up pretty much the same stuff for roughly $430 (minus the bag and helmet). My basic gear consists of 75′ of 11mm climbing rope (because it works better than ascending on a stretchy halyard), a climbing harness, a few caribiners, a small pulley to give me a 2:1 advantage, an ascender device attached to two foot loops to climb up, and a Petzl GriGri belay device to come back down. I tied up a 3 foot loop of 1/4″ Dyneema which knots to the topping lift and clips to the harness as a safety tether.
There’s way better descriptions than I could write on how to use all this stuff, and if you’re interested in more information just Google “solo mast climbing”. A couple good references I found were L-36.com and BethandEvans.com, but there’s tons of info out there. Also check out Animated Knots dot com for the Klemheist friction knot I used for my safety line to the toping lift, as well as hundreds of other useful rope tricks.