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Scaling new heights - Clipper [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Scaling new heights [Jun. 1st, 2009|11:35 am]


It was time for me to clamber into a climbing harness, put faith in my crewmates and let them haul me out to the end of a spinnaker pole to check whether any of the sheets were chafing.

There are a couple of climbing harnesses on the boat, used for getting people 90ft up to the top of the mast or for lowering over the side to the water so you can pick up a person who has fallen overboard (or, more likely and definitely more hopefully, a fender which the skipper has tossed over the side in a man overboard drill).

The harnesses Clipper uses are made by Spinlock and look like a giant uncomfortable pair of underpants with most of the fabric missing. You step into it, tighten it around both thighs and your waist and attach one of the halyards using a bowline. This is when you pray your knot-tying practice has paid off, as if it comes loose, there’s nothing between you and the sea. Except for the deck, mast boom, cars, winches and other painful landing mats...

You also have to have complete trust and faith in your crew as they haul you up by hand by sweating the halyard line to hoist you foot by foot and then slowly lower you again on the winch. It’s definitely not a time to get into arguments!

The spinnaker pole sits about 20ft up and diagonally out across the bow of the boat. I had to clamber over the guard rails, facing inwards, then let the harness take my weight, grab hold of the downhaul rope in both hands, warp my feet over the same line and move hand over hand backwards until I reached the pole, then swing my right arm over the pole, switch to the uphaul with my left and swing my leg over to end up sitting on top. Everyone made it look very easy and I don’t exactly have a head for heights but it was surprisingly easy. (In the marina. With no wind).

We didn’t have a chance to go to the top of the mast – the one thing I had been dreading the most – but I did have to climb up part way to attach the halyard to the main sail. There are little fold down supports on either side of the mast but when you get to the top you generally need both hands free to do the fiddly work. I dropped the shackle pin twice but luckily it didn’t roll overboard. I was also very grateful to Charles for leaning against the spare halyards so they could take my weight, no easy feat after all the biscuits I’ve consumed.