So I mentioned in my last post (Late Winter Check-up) that I need to remove the wheel from Errant. I’ve decided to forego replacing the stock Edson wheel with a Lewmar folding wheel. I still love so much about it, but
it adds one more thing to break and maintain,
it’s a slightly spendier gadget than I should justify now,
and I’d rather “test drive” one before committing.
But I’m ready to swap out the hot-or-cold-or-clammy feel of a stainless steel wheel, and adding a suede/leather cover seems like a smart upgrade. But first I needed to remove the wheel to take it home. (More on the new wheel cover soon.)
How to Remove the Wheel
I should start by acknowledging that I got lucky. Removing Errant’s wheel was quick and easy. Apparently that’s not always the case, but I’ll leave instructions for trickier removal to my unlucky counterpart wrestling the wheel free.
In my case, the task was completed in three simple steps:
To remove the wheel from Catalina 310 you will first need to remove the nut.
Once you have removed the nut you can slide the wheel off. (Note: You may need a gear puller to loosen the wheel.)
Once you remove the wheel from your Catalina 310 be careful not to misplace the key.
Here’s what it should look like.
What About the Autopilot?
Good question. I did skip explaining how to remove the autopilot prior to removing the wheel. Hope that doesn’t confuse anybody!
I have some autopilot maintenance (or replacement?) that I need to undertake and that I’ll report in a separate post. I’m still figuring out the best path forward. But, for the sake of clarity, if you have an autopilot that attaches to / syncs with your wheel you’ll obviously need to remove that before you remove the wheel.
My bride is an interior designer, and she was quick to decide when I purchased errant late last summer that the interior upholstery had to go. “It’s tired,” she said. “And ugly. And toxic!”
It’s fair to say that the old fading green polyester cushions were dated at best.
Toxic? Slight exaggeration? In my opinion, yes. And hers, no. Susan specializes in green design, and she is as concerned with synthetic materials, chemicals and outgassing as she is with ecologically responsible and environmentally sustainable production. She is personally sensitive to synthetic chemicals, experiencing asthmatic conditions (and worse) when exposed to noxious odors. But I can assure you, the cushions and upholstery and Errant are not new, and there are probably no longer outgassing since the boat was manufactured in 2012.
But, it’s fair to say that the old fading green polyester cushions were dated at best. And, as my friend Mark advised, don’t discourage her from taking an interest in the boat even if it’s more design than sailing.
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. (SailboatOwners.com)
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,,safety..safety..safety…. (SailboatOwners.com)
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. (Amazon.com)
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…)
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.