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.  (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…)

Perhaps I’ll sleep better tonight?

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