Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Up and Down and Up again

I must admit that I really don't like heights... standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon gives me the willies. The kids seem to love hoping from one perch of "instant death" to another, and make any excuse to scare me to the point of nausea. I guess that having no fear is a benefit of being young and carefree... because I do remember falling out of a few trees in my youth.

But, if you have a sail boat, then getting comfortable going up the mast is essential. There are three reasons to go up and swing around like a rag doll... the first is to make sure that everything is in good shape and ready for sailing, the second is to fix anything that's not. The third and most important reason is to become comfortable going up and down and up again, not just you but your crew. Going up on a dead calm day is one thing, swinging about in a light breeze is another, but you can guarantee that when something breaks and you have to go up, you'll be rocking about in the middle of the ocean somewhere.

So, in this case I had to lash the spreader tips, sew on the leather boots that Doreen had so lovingly cleaned, and check all of the new rigging and attachments before we head out to tune the rig and do a bit of sailing. There was a lot of work to do, so we did several ups and downs, and took the opportunity to find the best route through the rigging, the best pulling points for the one going up, and most importantly to give the crew/family some winch time to get experience in the safety procedures and confidence in holding someones life in your hands.

It's just as important that the guys doing the winching are as comfortable as the guy going up. Doreen isn't good at letting you down, she doesn't like letting the line go through her hands and trusting the winch to do it's job.  Devon on the other hand is as smooth as silk, as long as he stays focused and doesn't get distracted.

Before anyone goes up, the crew should confirm calls, hand signals and exactly what each persons job is. It's safe when everyone knows what's going on and actually a lot of fun when it goes smoothly.

Winching doesn't mean that you winch all the way up. The guy going up needs to pull their own weight and the guy(s) on the winch pull by hand and take up slack quickly. It's the fastest and most efficient way up because trying to winch up a dead weight is very tiring, and to be honest it's uncomfortable for the guy going up.

I prefer using a halyard that's on a rope clutch so that if something goes awry with the winchers, I'm not coming down all of a sudden. But there are times when it's not possible, so choose a halyard that will take you up on the right side to do the work. Spinnaker halyards are good because they're on a free swinging block at the mast head and allow you to move easily from side to side.

Some stuff on the mast is sensitive, so care needs to be taken to work your way around things like self leveling radar and with any electrical wires etc. Also, spreaders are designed to be strong for horizontal compression and not rigid vertically, so don't sit, hang or bounce around on your spreaders, you can step on them close to the mast.

With sailing I've found that anything that's tough to do or requires a lot of effort, ultimately has a great reward. The view is always amazing and being suspended is very relaxing... time to think.

I'm sure it will be a different story in 30 knots, with a pounding ocean and a jammed mainsail halyard... but we'll be as prepared as you can be. The "we" is important, and everyone on the crew should go up and down and up again, just in case there's a time when they have no choice.

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