Category Archives: Rigging

Mooring Malaise

One month ago today I sailed Errant with my brother and nieces. An unchallenging but thoroughly enjoyable afternoon with moderate wind, plenty of sunshine, and leisurely hours to catch up after too long apart.

An almost perfect day of Lake Champlain sailing. Perfect except for bumping the keel on the bottom. Twice.

Lake Champlain Water Level

A virtually snowless winter, followed by a relatively drive spring and an extremely dry summer has resulted in the following precipitous drop to Lake Champlain water levels.

Lake Champlain Level, August 22, 2016
Lake Champlain Level, August 22, 2016

One month ago (July 21 recorded approximately 94.75 feet) I hit bottom exiting and entering my slip. Despite some recent upticks in water level due to heavy rain over the last week, Lake Champlain water level has nevertheless dropped below 94.5′ So at least a 3″ drop since I rubbed Errant’s keel on the bottom.

In other words, nature hasn’t solved my problem. Far from it!

Mooring Malaise

It’s an odd feeling, eleven thousand pounds (and change, plenty of change) of sailboat stuck in a slip at the marina. Unnerving really.

And my options were few. Haul out. Hang tight and hope for rain. Think about other problems. I’ve tried and applied all three options. Denial worked best. For a while.

A fellow sailor suggested that it’s possible to push Errant sideways away from the dock enough (6 feet? 12 feet?) that she’ll miss the “hump” when I reverse. He knows because he lived through the same problem some years ago when his sailboat was in my slip.

No other good ideas have presented, so the plan is to follow his instructions. I’ll be requisitioning helpful dockhands plus line handlers aboard. But given persistent reverse-steering troubles this summer, I’m not feeling overly optimistic.

And there’s another obvious problem. If/when I manage to liberate Errant from her slip, what then? There aren’t any other deep water slips available…

I’ve come across a hopefully viable solution. I’m replacing one of my existing moorings at Rosslyn with a Hazelett mooring system.

Hazelett Elastic Moorings

Classic Sailing Yachts on Hazelett Elastic Moorings
Classic Sailing Yachts on Hazelett Elastic Moorings

Relatively shallow water depth in front of our beach and boathouse combined with a relatively open moorage (we’re exposed to heavy seas especially during strong north winds) combined with a heavy sailboat with ample windage makes mooring challenging. Our existing 200 lb. mushrooms with conventional chain and buoy moorings are grossly inadequate for mooring Errant. But it turns out that industrial rubber bands offer some interesting advantages over chains and mushrooms.

Hazelett Mooring System
Hazelett Mooring System

Less scope. Less jerking. Less corrosion, wear and tear, ice damage, etc. I’ve spoken to a nearby sailer with similar exposure who’s had great luck with his sailboat on a Hazelett elastic mooring. Todd, the fellow who runs the waterfront at Point Bay Marina (across the lake) has also testified to the performance and reliability of the system. They’ve switched over their entire mooring field. Seems like I should have explore this route long ago.

The first installer recommended by Hazelett never followed up despite a half dozen communications and a couple of weeks, so Todd from Point Bay will be installing our new mooring. It’s a two elastic band model with a massive 4’x4’x2′ ballast. And it will hopefully be installed in the next few days. I’d been hoping for last week, but conditions delayed installation. A delay that ticked by painfully slowly as I monitored lake levels and worried about extracting Errant from her slip. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some good news soon!

One Month Lost

So today I’m checking in, performing some routine maintenance, and quietly consoling Errant. I’m apologizing for neglecting her. I’m promising to resolve her situation ASAP.

I’m admitting regrets, admitting and then letting them go. Moving on. Or planning to move on as soon as I have a mooring!

Tomorrow I’ll follow up with installer, and maybe the next day I’ll try to free Errant from her “landlocked” slip. Sideways. If I can muster an army of assistants. If I can overcome my hesitance to temporarily anchor her in front of our house until the permanent elastic mooring is installed. I have some reservations about that, but that soul-bearing another day.

Sails On: Spring Rigging 2016

Sails On: Spring Rigging 2016
Sails On: Spring Rigging 2016

The final mission critical item on my to do list before Saturday’s launch was to rig the sails. I had hoped to order and receive three new halyards for running up the sails, but my timing was off. The new halyards will arrive midweek.

So today I headed down to Willsboro Bay Marina and   Installed the canvas. Now I’m ready for a to launch Errant on Saturday morning for the summer 2016 shakedown sail to Essex Shipyard.

ATN Mastclimber Review

ATN Mastclimber ascender (as seen from top of the mast)
ATN Mastclimber ascender (as seen from top of the mast)

Sloppy manufacturing… [is hopeful not] not what I will experience when my ATN Mastclimber arrives next week. As with the other potential concerns addressed above, I will offer a personal review once I’ve gone aloft. Successfully. I hope… (ATN Mastclimber)

Okay, I have to admit that I’m still feeling that tingly, slightly electric feeling in my bones. All of them. Even though I’ve been down from the mast for a few hours. That’s the “bad news”.

The “good news” is that the ATN Mastclimber is an impressive piece of equipment. It seems well built; none of the obvious ATN Mastclimber quality concerns I cited in previous post. And it works! I was able to ascend like an “inchworm” all the way to the tippy top of the mast to recover the top of the roller-furler which gravity had stolen last autumn.

ATN Mastclimber tool bag (view from top of the mast)
ATN Mastclimber tool bag (view from top of the mast)

I won’t pretend that the experience was enjoyable enough to repeat for fun, but there was a certain thrill (laced with primal fear) that helped propel my cloud-ward. And while ascending isn’t necessarily easy, it’s not nearly as difficult as some other reviewers have suggested. Once I got the hang of the ascenders and fell into a rhythm, I was able to reach the top of the mast relatively quickly. Of course the omnipresent awareness that I could plunge to my demise served as a useful motivator!

But while ascending proved easier and quicker than I anticipated, descending proved slower and considerably more awkward than I anticipated. Several times I descended too far on my upper (harness) ascender, making it it tricky to release my foot ascender. And vice versa. In these cases it was necessary to slide one or the other ascender back up slightly. Aggravating. And slow.

But I did get the hang of it, and I did successfully accomplish my task atop the mast and then return safe and sound to the deck. That, after all, is the bottom line.

ATN Mastclimber harness (and tool bag)
ATN Mastclimber harness (and tool bag)

In general the seat and harness are more comfortable than I expected. They are sturdy and super secure. Tight webbing wrapped around my groin isn’t exactly the sort of experience I savor, but I’d rather feel secure than comfy when going up the mast. And the ATN Mastclimber’s storage bag which doubles as a gear/tool bag is a good idea, but a less-than-perfect compromise. It has to be large (long) enough to accommodate the rigid swing seat, but this then makes it slightly deeper than ideal. Locating items at the bottom while working at the top requires a bit more effort than ideal. But it works. And it’s sturdy. And it is attached to the harness with solid hardware.

So what about the ATN Mastclimber concerns that I discovered while researching this tool?

Construction Quality Concerns

As I mentioned above, I am confident that the workmanship is good. Yes, it’s premature to judge the quality construction. No, this is not my final and last word. But I carefully examined the harness, seat, ascenders/hardware, and stitching before entrusting my life and limbs to the ATN Mastclimber. I would not have gone up the mast unless I felt confident that it was well built. And I would not have kept it after making my initial ascent if anything gave me cause for concern. I would have shipped it back and requested a refund. I didn’t. I stowed it for the next time I have to go aloft.

Mast Damage Concerns

I mentioned previously that some reviewers expressed concerns about the ATN Mastclimber causing damage to the mast. I can verify that there are indeed abrasive edges that could gauge or scrape the mast. Knowing this in advance I was able to avoid contact between the ascenders and the mast. No damage. But I was on the hard, and there was virtually no wind. I can easily imagine a scenario where the variables are increased and the mast might endure damage.

ATN Mastclimber Harness
ATN Mastclimber Harness – Additional Impressions

I wondered beforehand if it would be easy or difficult to use the ATN Mastclimber. Easy or exercise? Both. In all honesty, it takes some doing, especially descending, but if you’re fit enough to sail, I suspect you’re fit enough to propel yourself aloft with the ATN Mastclimber. Just save some energy for the descent…

Another takeaway involves the potential wear and tear on the halyards. The teeth in the ascenders’ jammers/breaks abrade the line, no way around it. Observing this from on high at roughly the same time I discovered an especially worn section of my halyard triggered a line of reflection still ongoing: how can I develop a convenient and reliable backup? I’m wondering about a grigri on a secondary halyard. Research ongoing, and I’ll share my experience when the time comes.

At the very least, my venture aloft with the ATN Mastclimber definitely highlighted the value of replacing my halyards. ASAP!

Going Aloft with Brion Toss

Brion Toss looking through a new Colligo eye made with Dynex Dux for 48' wooden "Island Girl"... a whole new way of looking at it!
Brion Toss looking through a new Colligo eye made with Dynex Dux for 48′ wooden “Island Girl”… a whole new way of looking at it! (Source: Cruisers & Sailing Forums)

I deliberated. I researched. I deliberated some more. Finally I made the decision yesterday to order an ATN Mastclimber. I breathed a sigh of relief and started to wait for the gravity-challenging gizmo to arrive.

Last night as I started to fall asleep — as I tried to fall asleep — my restless mind flitted idly through to-do lists and then settled on my upcoming adventure up the mast.

Needless to say, it was a shade or two shy of a lullaby. My spine tingled. My palms and feet soles dampened. My heart thumped and my mind raced. Why am I going to go aloft? Why am I going to go aloft solo?!?!

Going Aloft Solo

As a teenager I spent my summers as a dock boy at the Westport Marina. I loved it! Boats, water, sunshine and there always seemed to be a new adventure waiting to happen.

I remember perfectly the first time I was sent aloft in a bosun’s chair. The slow, halting ascent. The breeze. The view. The worry that I’d drop the crescent wrench. The slow, halting descent.

I may have gone up masts a half dozen times in those years. I was willing and sometimes even enthusiastic, and many of my colleagues were more than happy to have me pinch-hit for them.

I also remember a couple of spookier descents. Sudden drops. Always recovered, and probably shorter than they felt. But I grew increasingly aware of my precarious fate, totally dependent on somebody else to pay attention, to man the winch faultlessly. And of course there’s always the risk that the equipment itself could fail.

I grew increasingly aware of my precarious fate, totally dependent on somebody else to pay attention, to man the winch faultlessly.

Years later while climbing with a partner at a rock gym, I came off the wall about 50′ off the ground. I plunged as rope slipped through my partner’s belay device, and when she got control the combination of my momentum and her light weigh lifted her off the ground. It slowed my fall enough that I wasn’t injured when I met the floor, but it shook some sense into me. She hadn’t been paying attention, and the extra fraction of a second made a difference. Happy ending, but lesson learned.

As I adapt to owning and maintaining Errant, I’m reminded that sometimes it’s better to trust yourself. There are no guarantees that I can avoid accidents 100% of the time, but nobody has as vested an interest in my safety as I do. Learning to go aloft on my own obviously makes sense to me. And given that I intend to become an able shorthanded sailor, it’s likely enough that I may one day find myself in need of high altitude repairs without the benefit of an assistant. I hope to be ready!

Going Aloft with a Master Rigger

Following a night of less-than-perfect sleep peppered with bosun’s chair nightmares, I decided that I need a bit of “mentoring”. I’ve trolled around YouTube already, and there’s actually a good bit of learning to be had for free. But I wanted something more.

All roads lead to Brion Toss.

Going aloft is a necessary part of maintenance that sailors often neglect. Brion Toss covers all aspects of going aloft, from safety, types of climbing rigs, and useful tools, in his book Rigger’s Apprentice. Great book to have in any sailor’s library.  (

We have going aloft video…great learner! […]  i have a climbing harness, with 2 acenders from a mouintain climbing web site..inchworm style….along with a repelling horn. for coming down…my wife belays me with the main halyard and I use a seperate haylard for my assecnt…allways double every connection and halyard,,…. (

For professional guidance on going aloft, Brion Toss’s DVD on mast climbing safety is as good as it gets without taking a course. Toss is a well-known professional rigger and has spent countless days high above the spreaders. The DVD offers essential tips that not only make working aloft safer, not just for the person in the air, but also the people below on deck. (Practical Sailor)

Sailors, yacht owners, and charteres will appreciate this hour long lesson in working aloft. Don’t wait until an emergency to learn the proper safety routines and teamwork for climbing the mast. Get details on methods, and related knots, gear, and tips. (

I headed off to Brion Toss’ website and discovered all sorts of *essentials* in addition to his Going Aloft DVD. Here’s what I purchased (and what I’m now eagerly awaiting…)

Perhaps I’ll sleep better tonight?

ATN Mastclimber

After several days of research I finally pulled the trigger on the ATN Mastclimber. It’s a solo bosun’s chair that draws upon conventional sailing and mountain climbing toolkits, to solve a common problem with going aloft on a sailboat.

I know, you’re probably thinking the main problem with going aloft is gravity. Unfortunately nothing except hiring a rigger or shipyard travel lift or crane operator to solve your mast-top foibles will diminish the gravity problem. Sorry.

ATN Mastclimber Solo Bosun’s Chair

Let’s take a look at the ATN Mastclimber description.

ATN AscenderThe only bosun’s chair that allows solo, unassisted ascents of the mast, the Mastclimber fits over any taut 3/8″ to 5/8″ rope halyard. Constructed from 1 1/2″ ballistic nylon webbing with a fiberglass-reinforced seat, Mastclimber combines a bosun’s chair and leg straps with a pair of one-way anodized aluminum/stainless jammers, located at the chair seat and the intersection of the leg straps. Climb the mast quickly and safely using only leg muscles. With no need for static lines, the easy-to-use climber is operated by alternatively standing up on the leg straps, which allows you to slide up the one-way jammer of the bosun’s chair. To descend the mast, the procedure is reversed. Recommended by Practical Sailor in June 2010. Maximum waist size 50″.

That golden gadget, the ATN Ascender is the “secret sauce” borrowed from big wall sport climbers. But these ascenders have been manufactured with anodized aluminum and stainless Steel so that they won’t rust or degrade in the damp marine environment. Here’s another detail shot.

ATN Ascender

The system uses two parts, each with its own ascender: One supports the durable fiber-reinforced plastic seat; the other supports a pair of webbed stirrups for the feet. Under load, the ascenders grip the line just like a rope clutch. To go up, you put your weight on one ascender while sliding the other one up a few feet, alternating as you climb. The stand-sit process of climbing is less strenuous than it looks, though it requires a fair degree of fitness, flexibility, and coordination. (Practical Sailor)

Ease or Exercise?

In researching this solo alternative to a traditional bosun’s chair which requires at least one additional person to crank the body-filled gadget up the mast, I repeatedly read grumbles about the difficulty in using the equipment. (I will address a couple of other concerns below.) It’s clear from videos and reviews that a fair amount of exertion is necessary to effectively climb a halyard to the top of the mast, even with a snazzy ATN Mastclimber.

But I spent a couple of years in my twenties rock/wall climbing, and I’m hoping that it’ll be a little bit like riding a bike. And a little exercise seems like a fair swap for being able to service the mast and rigging without an assistant.

Here’s  another video that makes the whole process look pretty painless. It’s worth noting that the fellow in the video is Etienne Giroire who founded ATN. The video description anticipates consumers questions about the difficulty of ascending and descending with the ATN Mastclimbler.

The ATN Mastclimber is for a sailor to ascend the mast safely and with minimal effort…

I’ll address this question difficulty in a follow-up post once I have firsthand experience.

Mast Damage Concerns

In addition to concerns with the physical demands of using the ATN Mastclimbler, I read multiple reviews about damage it the mast caused by the ascenders. Basically sharp metal edges pinned tightly between halyard and mast by body weight result in scrapes and gouges in the paint and/or aluminum. To date I’ve been unable to find anyone who has devised an effective workaround.

The new device can scratch mast paint or anodizing, and—unlike the original—can’t be easily “de-clawed” with a leather chafe guard. (Practical Sailor)

In the video above Etienne Giroire secures the climbing halyard to the starboard gunnel which would likely alleviates the mast scratching concern. Others have secured the line to the base of the mast. Perhaps this is the solution?

Construction Quality Concerns

Although some reviewers have praised the robust design and construction of the ATN Mastclimer, I’ve also read a couple of troubling reviews from users who experienced extremely poor manufacturing. The following photograph and review appeared in the Ericson Yachts forum.

ATN Mastclimber failure by Rob Thomas
ATN Mastclimber failure by Rob Thomas

Purchased ATN’s new version of the “top climber” called the Mastclimber. Worked reasonably well once you get the hang of it. The downside is the clutches scratch the heck out of the mast when you get near the top. There is no way I can see to keep them from rubbing on the mast as you ascend/descend.

Now the scary part. As I started to descend, during some of the gymnastics that are required to operate the system, I heard a pretty disconcerting “pop, pop, pop”!!! In the pic attached you will see my hand, I’m holding the back support section of the bosun’s chair part. The stitching just let go! Now I wasn’t in any danger once I realized what was happening, I was very careful not to lean back the rest of the way down.

The really creepy part is that I can see NO difference in the stitching anywhere else on the rig. This bloody thing could have let go at any of the far more critical sections and I would not be typing this post. So the next step is emailing ATN and returning it. Too bad, its not a bad idea and the seat is very comfy. I just don’t trust it and won’t ever use on again.

Lifes too short to be killed by something dumb like this.

Rob Thomas from Wakefield, Rhode Island (

Sobering. Disturbing. And hopefully an isolated example of sloppy manufacturing and not what I will experience when my ATN Mastclimber arrives next week.

As with the other potential concerns addressed above, I will offer a personal review once I’ve gone aloft. Successfully. I hope…

[Read my “ATN Mastclimber Review“.]

Late March Check-in

On the Hard: Errant winter storage at Willsboro Bay Marina, March 8, 2015
On the Hard: Errant winter storage at Willsboro Bay Marina, March 8, 2015

I keep feeling the hankering to visit my lonely vessel, so I drove up to Willsboro Bay Marina where Errant is still snug in winter storage.

Pleased to see that her winter cover remains intact despite the whipping winds, and the interior is totally dry. So many boats in the shipyard have flapping covers and loose straps/lines, but fortunately our slow, concentrated effort last fall learning how to install and secure the winter storage cover has paid off. We’re not 100% out of the woods yet – at least one more snowstorm in mid/late March (or even early April) is likely – so we’ll keep Da Capo/Errant weatherproof until at least Easter. Then the spring work begins!

I unzipped the cover and climbed inside to ensure that everything was shipshape. I expect to come back in a week or two with my bride to take some measurements for interior cushions and curtains that she is reupholstering before we launch.

Reminders to Self

The “to do” list is already swelling! Here are some reminders: check on sail repairs; check in regarding fiberglass/gelcoat repair schedule; remove v-birth door hardware to determine why door is binding; order new cockpit cushions; continue researching folding help; and look into re-rigging to ensure safe lines throughout.

Sail Removal 2014

Sail removal time....
Sail removal time….

Finally a day with sunshine, warmer temperatures and lower winds. Finally it’s winter sail removal time. I’ve been anxious about leaving the sails up while traveling abroad. And now I’ve been home almost a week, but the weather’s been rainy, cold and windy. Not optimal de-rigging conditions.

Of course, there’s still that pesky winter storage cover that I need to install. (Read: […] that I need to learn how to install.) But that will hopefully happen by week’s end. First, those sails need to come down and get stored for the winter.

Get the Sails Off the Boat!

No matter where you sail… if you’re planning to be away from your boat for any length of time, take the sails down and pack them up… That’s particularly true, say the sailmakers with whom I spoke, for seasonal sailors who store their boat for the winter, either on the hard or in the water.

English: Vessal seen from below
Vessal seen from below (Photo: Wikipedia)

“The biggest thing you’ve got to do is get them off the boat for the wintertime. Never, never leave a sailed furled or on the mast,” says UK Halsey Sailmakers’ Adam Loory.

When sails are left furled for long periods of time, water can find its way into them, and they won’t dry. Where there’s water, mildew soon follows, and eventually it gets into the laminates, where it can do serious damage and even cause the laminates to separate. Not to mention that winter gales can turn a mainsail cover to rags or find a way to unfurl even a tightly wrapped headsail. (Cruising World)

I know it’s true. And I probably should have had the boat hauled earlier so that I could remove the sails before exiting to France and Italy. But having bought her so recently I wanted to squeeze in all possible sailing time before abbreviating the season. Now I was paying the piper…

Once your sailing’s done, strip off the sails as soon as you can, advises Chris Pitts at North Atlantic Sails, in Newport, Rhode Island… [The Sails should] be stored in a dry place in which the temperature is relatively constant. A dry basement is ideal. Don’t leave them in the boat… In very cold climes, notes Pitts, the windows in a headsail can crack if the mercury dips too low. (Cruising World)

So today was finally my chance to remove the mainsail and headsail for the winter.

Early this afternoon I headed off to the marina where Errant is hibernating on the hard. I was surprised to discover how many boats and docks had filled in the boatyard. Not much space left! Fortunately I was able to drive to within about 20′ of my boat which made the afternoon’s chores easier. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

You see, the trouble was that I’d never before removed the sails from a vessel this size. Smaller boats, yes, but this was new territory. I poured over the manuals, but nothing explained the process.

Sail Removal Instructions

So I turned to the internets. I searched for instructions on removing sails from a Catalina 310. Nothing. So I tried to find instructions on removing sails in general. I managed to garner some general pointers, but it was this video that helped most of all.

I would have preferred less Charlie Chaplin and more verbal guidance, but beggars can’t be choosers, right?

I also came across a pair of helpful videos posted by members of the Navy Sailing crew. Derigging the Main and Derigging the Jib offer detailed instructions for a smaller, simpler vessel, but both offered helpful instruction that accelerated my learning curve.

Time to head off to the Willsboro Bay Marina to remove my sails. I’ll post a progress report soon. I hope…