There is no definitive be-all and end-all to climbing a mast. We are always moulding and melding styles and equipment, but there is a right way and an effective way, and that is what we are trying to achieve here.
Mast steps are an efficient and practical way to climb a mast, but are still dangerous unless you are tied on somewhere else. They also increase weight and windage above, often trap and rub halyards, and are simply just not for everyone, or every mast. The Aloft Alone system can and does work in tandem with steps, it’s a great way to back yourself up as you climb, and to hold you safely in your work position when you’re aloft.
The block and tackle system works but can be scary: you need to lock yourself off when up, you need both hands, you can’t rest, and if anything goes wrong – like a sudden, surge, slip, or roll of the boat – the deck comes up fast!
There are a multitude of styles of harness out there. For just that reason, we have chosen a specific harness that is designed for hanging and working in for extended periods of time. It is an extremely comfortable climber’s harness, with extra padding in the legs and waist belt, while remaining light and simple to put on. Used in conjunction with the double foot loop to support the body’s weight, you will find it very comfortable to work aloft for extended time.
A1. Bored partner? Novice crew? No-one around? A2. Wouldn’t you rather that rope you’re going up was locked off all the time? A3. This is about self-reliance, what to do when no-one else [who you trust] is around, and who and what you trust with your life.
Quite true: for industrial abseilers, cavers, and for long ascents, that is the preferred method for climbing a rope. The difficulty comes in descent. Ascenders (also known as “jammers”) grab the rope with teeth which often catch and pull individual threads. It is also a slow and clumsy method of down-climbing. The CT Sparrow (device for descent) is designed for a smooth, accurate and sweet-as operation.
The beauty of this kit is that it can be used in conjunction with your chair…. but still gives you the ability to ascend or descend on your own. There is an accessory available – the dyneema sling – that allows you to integrate a bosun’s chair into the Aloft Alone system so that you are still wearing the harness (as a backup) but sitting in your bosun’s chair. The basic process is as follows:
1. Connect the sling to the harness using a larks foot (our recommendation is alongside the triangular (delta) maillion on your harness); 2. Connect the bosuns chair rings to the the short link on the dyneema sling using the karabiner that comes standard with the kit (connected to the Grigri2); 3. You are now hard linked from the Grigri2 to your harness and the bosun’s chair. This mean that if your bosuns chair fails, or you slip out, you will still be attached via the sling and can descend normally.
Those are called prusiks. There are indeed a few methods of prusiking using the klemhiest knot, the bachmann knot, and the auto-block knot. They are all good at the right time and place. When I go on long mountaineering trips, where glacier travel is a must and weight is an issue, I carry a selection of loops for exactly that purpose. But when was weight ever a problem on a boat (haaaa!)? Seriously, an ascender/ jammer is twice as fast and is just right for the job. Go ask that climbing buddy what he or she would do again.
NB For added safety, the Aloft Alone kit comes with a backup system that involves attaching a prusik to a different halyard. This is essential and is covered in the instructional video, including how to self rescue with a second prusik which is also provided in your kit. We recommend the English prusik as shown in this diagram:
Now seriously – think about the situation in any reasonable sea with a halyard and shackle winging around above you. Would you want to risk getting knocked out by that on deck, let alone 30ft up your mast? It’s in the kit, it’s your call.
Not at all. Descend sedately, close in to the mast. It’s generally on the descent that I thoroughly check the rest of the rig; split pins, spreaders etc. Just go easy – you are not trying to recreate an SAS style entry through a window here. Slow and steady wins the race.
The carabiners, grigri, and ascender are all made from Aluminum. That said, all of the equipment is anodized and the ascender does have a steel spring inside.
I recommend that you regularly wash the mechanical equipment in fresh water, dry it, and apply WD-40. Wash the other items with webbing (such as the harness, foot loop, and helmet) as well as the rope, in fresh water and dry in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Then re-attach the components to the harness and pop back in the bag. Note – it’s not a problem if the rope gets salty and has to wait a while ’til a fresh wash – it’s sunlight and UV that’s the killer here. I’m still using the same gear I’ve had for over ten years, six of which it has been living aboard, and it’s still in good working condition.
It should last you a lifetime if correctly maintained and stored in the bag, out of sunlight. Industrial abseilers give their working ropes a ‘rope life’ a 100 hours of hard-out use, or when it starts to go due to chafe or accident. It will last you a very long time if only being used for a simple and straight ‘up and down’ on a mast.
OK – perhaps a little dramatic. Still, I believe that you, as a responsible skipper who goes about his or her business in a professional way (either as racer, cruiser, or single-hander), will see the value in incorporating into your yacht’s safety gear a stand-alone kit that is tucked away (yet readily accessible) and will ensure that anyone – and most importantly YOU – going up your mast will always be safe.