Monthly Archives: August 2015

Cobalt. Yeah, That’s The Ticket.

Our bimini (the fabric awning that shades Eagle Too’s cockpit) is big enough to play tennis on. Well OK, that’s probably an exaggeration. But I’ll bet you could play badminton on it. It’s definitely big enough for badminton. Anyway, it’s pretty large, and it’s supported by four stainless steel frames, or bows. Now the fittings that hold these bows in place are the type that use small Allen screws to pinch the end of the tubes and keep them from pulling loose. I’ll bet you probably have some on your boat as well.

BiminiRivet1So the only thing holding the bimini frame bow in place is the pressure of that little Allen screw against the frame tube. Interesting thing about that little screw. It can’t handle the force of a 50 knot wind. At least, not when you have a bimini big enough to play badminton on.

How do we know? Because as we described in Our Perfect Storm, we actually had the chance to try it out and see what happens. And what happened is that as the wind topped 50 knots, the bimini frames started pulling out of those fittings. If it hadn’t been for Rhonda holding on to it for dear life, it would have probably become our dear departed bimini.

I knew I could improve the strength of that connection. My plan was to remove those little Allen screws, drill holes though the frame tubes, and insert stainless steel rivets to replace the little screws. There’s no way they would pull loose. I figured the fabric would be blown to tatters before the rivets would shear off.

So one recent blistering hot afternoon, I pulled out my DeWalt cordless drill (love that thing a lot!) and my Craftsman drill bit set. The set that was clearly labeled “Suitable for all metals.”

Removing the first Allen screw, I shot some Boeshield T-9 (my lubricant of choice) into the hole and then started to drill. And drill. And drill some more. And sweat a lot. And then drill a bit more, while sweating profusely. And then alternate drilling and sweating, with just a touch of swearing.

After about 10 minutes, I stopped to check my progress. If I looked really close, I could just make out where my “suitable for all metals” Craftsman drill bit had scratched the surface of the stainless steel frame tube. Maybe. Just a little.

This obviously wasn’t going to work. Such is often the way of things when it comes to boat jobs.

After laying below, cooling off, and putting on a dry shirt, I started doing some research on how in the hell you drill a hole in stainless steel. What I basically discovered is that your only hope of accomplishing it without industrial tools is to use cobalt steel drill bits, along with a good lubricant and lots of pressure. Not having any cobalt steel drill bits handy, I moved this job back to the bottom of my “to do” list.

So I happened to find myself at Lowe’s the other day, and I actually remembered that I had this job hanging out there that I had started and had given up on for lack of cobalt drill bits. So I popped into the tool section, and sure enough, they had a nice fourteen piece cobalt drill bit set for $29.98 made by Rigid, which is one of the better names in cheap Chinese tools.

And you know what? They worked. I switched to WD-40 rather than Boeshield T-9 to lubricate the bit, and with steady pressure and a moderate speed, I was rewarded with the sight of shiny little metal spirals falling from the hole as I bored through the first frame bow in a couple of minutes. The rest fell quickly into line. I then inserted the 5/16ths stainless steel rivets I’d picked up some time back at West Marine (stainless and not aluminum to reduce the chance of corrosion from dissimilar metals) and with the help of my handy rivet tool:

BiminiRivet3I “popped” rivets into each of the frame bow fittings.

BiminiRivet2Now truthfully, I hope we’ve crossed “ride out 60 mile per hour winds at anchor” off our list of life experiences and don’t ever have to test these fittings. But if a next time ever comes, well, I feel pretty confident that a flying flailing bimini will be one thing we won’t have to deal with.

Hmmm. I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This…

Screenshot_2015-08-27-06-46-27It was sunny and 65° (18°C) when we awoke this morning. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining one bit. It felt wonderful. After enduring over a month of 95° (35°C) days, it was nice to see the air conditioner put its feet up and take a little break. But I have to admit it’s just a little…unsettling.

Dirt dwellers experience weather. Sailors seek to understand it. It’s not enough to step outside, take a deep breath, and say, “What a refreshingly cool day!” We want to know why it’s suddenly cooler, and what it means for the wind and seas. This morning’s delightful weather is brought to us courtesy of a cold front that slid through the area yesterday, and is now deep in the Gulf of Mexico. Hence the reason I’m feeling a bit ill at ease.

You see, cold fronts are a winter phenomena. Usually from late October until early April, one marches through on a more or less weekly basis. In fact, next spring we’re hoping to harness the strong north winds that follow behind a passing cold front to make our grand departure.

But this is August. We’re not really supposed to be having cold fronts sweep through this early. Which has me wondering. Wondering what type of winter we have coming up. Wondering if it’s going to be another freeze-your-tongue-to-the-lamppost season like we wrote about in Waiting For Global Warming. The type of weather that’s the exact opposite of what a couple who live on a boat searching for perpetual summer cares to experience again.

One cold front does not a prediction make. But like I said at the top, I’ve got a bad feeling about this…


The Evolution Of A Possible Plan

We previously outlined the proposed path for our upcoming sail-about in the post The Beginning Of A Possible Plan. Since writing that post, we’re still pushing pins around on the map, but it looks like the plan is solid to jump from the Keys over to Cuba, then westward to Mexico, followed by a turn south to Belize for the Placencia Lobster Fest in June. Then we’ll tuck into the Rio Dulce in Guatemala for hurricane season. But when we poke our heads back out in November, rather than head further south as originally proposed, it’s looking more like we’ll pop over to the Bay Islands of Honduras, and then shoot back up to Cuba, the Caymans or Jamaica depending on the wind, and then work eastward to the Virgin Islands along the south shore of Cuba and Hispaniola. Once there, we can turn south and head down island, arriving in Grenada for the following hurricane season, where we’ll be south of the major storm tracks.

We still plan to visit Cartagena, Columbia eventually, but everything I read says it’s much easier to get there by heading west from Grenada than to try to work eastward from the Rio Dulce. If we do that, then we can continue on to the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama, then a stop in Costa Rica (because who doesn’t want to see Costa Rica?) and then work our way back around to Honduras, where we’ll have completed a circle of the entire Caribbean.


That should keep us busy until, oh, summer of 2018 or so.

Free Is Good. I Like Free.

Now that we’re down to about seven months and counting until departure, I’ve actively started seeking current navigational guides and references for the first year of our sail-about. One of our readers recently contacted me to ask about the types of charts and cruising guides we’re intending to use on our upcoming adventure. That reminded me that I’ve been wanting to pass along this terrific site to anyone who’s planning a Caribbean cruise:


These are pretty terrific little guides, especially for the price. The data are pretty recent, and the provided diagrams and navigational info is very comprehensive. The author personally visited each of the locations described. Even if you never plan to leave the dock, reading about all the fascinating places described makes for a terrific armchair vacation!


Overcoming Tyranny

In the continuing struggle to protect and preserve our liberties, the crew of Eagle Too has struck a significant blow for freedom. I feel I’ve been channeling my inner William Wallace.


In a bold act of defiance, we have successfully escaped from the oppressive tyranny of artificial expiration dates.


Let me explain. As I’m sure most of you are aware,  boaters are required to carry daytime and nighttime signaling devices for emergencies. The most common one carried is the handheld flare.


As emergency signaling devices go, these are probably among the worst things possible to use. Why? Because they’re flat out dangerous. They burn at something like 2000°F, and you have to be darn careful to not set your boat or yourself on fire, which we can safely say would make an already bad situation worse.


In addition to being extremely hazardous, they also only burn for about 90 seconds. The requirement is to have a minimum of three day/night signals onboard, which is only going to give you about five minutes of use. Past that point, you’re back to waving your arms and yelling to try and summon help. So why are they so popular? Because it’s about the cheapest and easiest way to meet the USCG requirement to have signaling devices onboard.

Preferring something a bit less hazardous to our health, we’ve always opted to carry a flare gun. The flares are launched higher in the air where they can be more easily seen, and I have this crazy idea that in a pinch it might even make a handy defensive weapon if we ever needed to repel boarders.


A big concern with any pyrotechnic signaling device though, its Achilles Heel, is that they expire 42 months after their manufacture date.  Not three years. Not four years. Forty-two months. Why? Who knows. It’s a government requirement, so it doesn’t necessarily have to make sense. But this means that not only do you need to make sure that you have the proper number onboard, but you also have to keep track of when they expire. If you’re ever stopped by the Coast Guard for an inspection, there’s a simple formula that applies to these devices:

Expired flares = No flares = $Fines$

Now I know it’s all about safety, and assigning an arbitrary expiration date is probably the easiest way to ensure they’ll work if you need them. But that 42 month thing really bothers me. It bothers me because I’ve dug flares out of moldy boxes kept for years in a damp garage, flares that were 15 years past their expiration date, and they worked just fine.

I’ve always hated being held hostage by those damn expiration dates. So we rebelled. And you can too. Here’s how to free yourself once and for all from the tyranny of emergency signal expiration dates.

See this?

SignalFlagThis is an large vinyl flag that meets the USCG requirements for a day emergency signal device. And it never expires!

It gets better. See this?

SignalLightIt’s a USCG approved night emergency signaling device. And it never expires either! 

Here’s a look at it doing its job.

And it can do that for days, rather than minutes. Now I can hear some of you saying, “But you need to keep fresh batteries in it.” Why yes, you do. But a four pack of C cells is less than ten bucks and have an expiration of much greater than 42 months, while a fresh set of flares will set you back $30 or more.  And IF  the Coast Guard ever pays us a visit, all they’re going to need to see is that the device works, which I’m certain it would do. Unlike flares with their arbitrary expiration dates, as long as the light lights, there’s no fine.

So OK, I’ll admit that as grand gestures go, this one probably wasn’t as significant as I let on initially. But it does feel so good to get out from under those darn expiration dates. And we’ll still keep the flare gun we currently have onboard. We’ll just no longer care when the shells it shoots were born.

How Big Is Your Hat Locker?

You have to wear a lot of hats to keep a boat going. Engineer, navigator, bosun, mechanic, plumber, rigger. Yesterday I had to break out my shipwright hat.

shipwright  \ˈship-ˌrīt\    noun

a carpenter skilled in ship construction and repair

I didn’t have a major project planned for the day, and since nature (particularly boats, apparently) abhor a vacuum, the microwave oven decided to cook itself in order to fill the empty hole in my schedule.

Microwave1Having tackled this job on our previous boat, I had a pretty good idea how Hunter had probably installed the unit. They use some alarmingly long wood screws through the bottom of the cabinet and up into the base of the microwave.

Yes, seriously. Think about that for a moment. How would you feel about shooting two inch long stainless steel screws through the bottom of a microwave oven?

I think I’d have been holding my breath and shielding my eyes the first time I pushed the “On” button. But the little Goldstar appliance had been happily nuking food for 18 years, so I guess you can call Hunter’s approach crude but effective. Sure enough, when I felt along the underside of the cabinet, I found four screws, which I removed. Then I disassembled the cabinet. It’s good sailboat design to assemble all the furniture with screws only, so that it can be taken apart if there’s ever a need to get to areas of the hull covered by cabinets.

Microwave2Naturally they don’t make a microwave with the same dimensions as an 18 year old Goldstar. That would have been too easy, as it would have allowed me to just swap out the units.  After a few hours researching online, the closest I could find was a unit from LG, that BestBuy actually had in stock, and it was even on sale this week.

It was close, but it was going to require some carpentry to make it work.

Microwave3I keep a jig saw onboard for quick and dirty wood butchering, and I was able to do the rough framing for the opening on the dock. But the finish trim required a run to a former neighbor’s house, who has graciously given me free run of his woodshop whenever I need.

Microwave4Not bad for a day’s work.

Yes, we’ve learned that in order to prepare a boat for cruising, you either need a big hat locker or a big bankroll. Fortunately, shipwright is a hat I wear comfortably.

I wonder what hat I’m going to have to wear tomorrow…


Gear Review – ATN Mastclimber

I finally had the opportunity to try out the ATN Mastclimber we purchased earlier this year. While I can’t exactly say I was flying through the air with the greatest of ease, this daring (not so) young man on his flying trapeze (or set of ascenders, actually) had no trouble attaining the highest of heights.


As advertised on the ATN site, you simple clip the ascenders onto a taught halyard, and start climbing. In this case, I clipped the spinnaker halyard to a block at the base of the mast, and then tensioned it with a winch. Once at the desired height, it’s easy to just settle down into your bosun’s seat and get to work.


The video on the ATN website shows someone working without a net (i.e. no safety line), and I suppose that would probably be OK since it’s a redundant system using two ascenders. Unless your running rigging is total crap, it’s very unlikely that your halyard would pick that exact moment to exit the scene. But because I’m Navy trained, I usually take a belt-and-suspenders approach to safety. So I clipped the boom vang to the chair as a safety line, took it to a winch, and had my brother tend it while I went aloft. It was just one less thing to worry about while I was up there.

I’d received a tip from a reader about using gloves to avoid finger pinches, so I donned some sailing gloves before starting to climb. I did learn that next time, I’ll want to put some knee socks on. I felt more stable with the loop stirrups under the arches of my feet rather than the balls, but this caused the nylon loops to chafe and cut into my lower shins, which were pretty raw by the time I descended.


While it might have been a fashion faux pas, I think a pair of tube socks would have helped immensely.

I always felt this device was a bit pricy for what you got, but I discovered that they make it in two flavors, one with and one without a bosun’s seat. Since I already had a really nice seat, I went with the “bring your own seat” version, which was significantly less expensive, and then bought it from Defender on sale. At about $225 total, I figured it would pay for itself after just one or two uses.


It’s a solidly built tool that lets you confidently climb the mast in reasonable comfort, and we highly recommend it as essential maintenance gear on any cruising boat out there. We give it the LOTH™ Seal of Approval.


A Large Order Of Bureaucracy Please, Hold The Common Sense

quote-bureaucracy“Yes sir, how can I help you today?” the clerk at the tax collector’s office pleasantly asked as I stepped up to the counter when my number was called.

“I’d like to update my driver’s license to reflect that I now live on my boat,” I said.

“May I see your license, please?” the clerk asked with a frown. Studying it for a moment, she asked, “Is this no longer a good address for you?”

“No, we sold that house last December and don’t live there anymore. We live on our boat now,” I replied.

The clerk’s frown deepened, “I’m afraid we can’t use your boat as your legal address. You’ll have to provide a physical address.”

“We have a Post Office box up the street, can I use that?”

“No sir, you have to provide a physical address. You can’t use a Post Office box.”

“Well the Post Office gave me a street address to use when I need packages delivered, can I use that?” I asked. It’s a service the Post Office provides and I have had success in giving this address in other situations where a PO box wasn’t acceptable.

“And what is that address?” she asked. I gave it to her.

“No sir, that’s still the Post Office, and that can’t be your physical address.”

“Well I don’t have one then. We get our mail at the Post Office box, and we live on our boat. Meanwhile I need to get this license changed since I don’t live at that address anymore.”

The clerk thought for a minute. “Where do you keep your boat, sir?”

“At the marina down the street,”

“Ah, well, you’ll have to list the marina as your address. Have them provide you with a letter on their letterhead stating that you reside there and then we’ll change your license to that address.”

“Why would I want to do that?” I asked.

“Excuse me, sir?” she asked, startled.

“I don’t live at the marina. I live on my boat. It just happens to be parked at that marina at the moment. I might change marinas tomorrow. Or I might go anchor in Big Lagoon and stay there for a while. And I’m not going to come in here and pay you $32 to change the address on my license every time I decide to move to a different marina.”

“Excuse me sir, I need to talk to my supervisor,” she said, and left. Five minutes later, she was back. “If you won’t list the marina as your residence, then you’ll have to use a friend’s or relative’s address, someplace where you can receive mail. That’s what we commonly do for homeless people.”

“What’s your address?” I asked with a smile. Unfortunately, she wasn’t amused by my comment.

“You can’t use my address,” she said sternly. “It will have to be a friend or relative.”

“So if I just give you somebody’s address, you’ll be happy and give me a license?”

“No sir, you’ll have to prove that you live there.”

“And how would I do that, since I don’t?”

“You’ll have to bring in two utility bills or other official mail delivered to you at that address. Then you can sign a self-certification stating that that is your physical address.”

“Look, this is ridiculous,” I said. “I’m not going to sign a form that says I live somewhere I don’t. I had no problem changing my voter’s registration,” I added, pulling my voter’s card from my wallet. “They said they see this all the time, and made the county courthouse my address. So how about we use that?” I stated.

“Sir, you can’t use the courthouse as your address.”

“Why not? The Supervisor of Elections is fine with it.”

“Sir, we need a physical address so that if the state of Florida needs to find you, there’s a door they can knock on and the person who answers will know where you are.”

I just stared at her for a moment. “Are you serious?” I said. “If I gave you a letter from the marina so that you can check your little box, you’d give me a license. But if I’m off sailing around, I guarantee you if you went knocking on the marina office door looking for me, they wouldn’t have a clue where I was.”

Nothing pisses off a bureaucrat more than undermining their petty rules with logic. I could see in her face that I was now the enemy. Turning to her computer, she started typing furiously.

“Sir, I’m preparing a letter of instruction stating that you have two options. You can either provide a letter from your marina stating that you reside there, or you can provide the address of a friend or relative to use as your physical address.” With that, she printed out the document which stated exactly that, along with an additional page outlining the applicable laws governing the address requirements for issuing licenses.

This was my third visit to the tax collector’s office over two months. Each time I had left empty handed. I was stuck in administrative hell. I was in violation of the law, because it states that you have 30 days to change your license to reflect a new address. But I was unwilling to lie about where I lived so that a clerk could check a box on a form. I was on a mission, and I was determined to prevail.

Three times the outcome had been the same. But this time, they made an error fatal to their cause. It was the mistake of inadvertently imparting knowledge, with which I was empowered. I’d often stated in my dealings with the tax collector’s office, “This is Florida, surely I can’t be the only person in the entire state who lives on a boat.” As it turns out, the answer was right there in the additional page of applicable law they had provided, something I had never before been given. It said (I paraphrase):

For persons dwelling in a vehicle or vessel, the applicant must provide a copy of the vehicle or vessel’s state registration to establish residency, and then complete an address self-certification claiming the vehicle or vessel as their legal residence. The listed address will then be the vehicle or vessel’s registration number, along with the city and zip code where the vehicle or vessel is normally kept.

It took me two and a half months and four trips to the tax collector’s office (three of them frustratingly fruitless), but I am now the proud holder of a newly issued Florida driver’s license. My address is listed as Eagle Too’s USCG documentation number, Pensacola, Florida 32501. Since I had finally cleared the path, Rhonda was able to get her license issued in just one trip.

In retrospect, my biggest mistake was in assuming that the clerks at the tax collector’s office knew what they were talking about. But through patience and determination, we ultimately prevailed. And the best part is that if for some reason the state of Florida ever does decide to try and track me down, my address isn’t going to lead to a door to knock on, which suits me just fine. 🙂

Waddaya Mean We Need A Stinkin’ License?

RadioLicenseIf you sail, you probably have a VHF radio on board. Like many (most?) sailors, you probably don’t have an FCC ship’s station license. Which is fine, because you don’t need one to operate a VHF radio or radar in US waters. Besides, a license costs $215, so why spend the money if you don’t need one?

Editor’s note—a check of the logs shows that LOTH™ has been visited by readers from 80 different countries. The following post is very USA-centric. If you’re currently living somewhere else, you’ll have to research your local laws.

So you’re cruising along just minding your own business, and you decide to jump over to Bimini for a few days. But did you know that if you’re in the Bahamas or Mexico or pretty much anywhere outside the US and you use your VHF without having a ship’s station license, you’ve committed a criminal act? In the US, the Federal Communications Commission manages the radio airwaves, and they don’t really want to be bothered with having to issue a license to every person out there with a VHF radio on their boat. But in the rest of the world, the International Telecommunications Union, or ITU, calls the shots. And they want to see a license for that there radio.

Now if that was all there was to it, then I really wouldn’t care about it much. Even though we intend to visit foreign countries on our upcoming sail-about, I somehow doubt we’d ever run into the radio police demanding to see a copy of our ship’s station license. Passports and ship’s documentation definitely, crew manifest probably, but some piece of paper from the FCC? I seriously doubt it. Besides, there are reasons why we have a pirate flag onboard Eagle Too. Some of them have to do with a sailor’s natural libertarian tendencies and general contempt for bureaucracy. This would be one of those cases where we’d hoist the Jolly Roger and become broadcast scofflaws.

But after almost being run over by a barge one night, we started talking about adding an Automatic Identification System, or AIS as it’s known. Knowing we have some overnight passages in our future, we thought adding AIS would improve our safety by making us very visible to all the tugs, tankers, and freighters out there plying the seaways of the world.

To purchase a Class B AIS system (the kind that actively transmits your vessel’s name, course and speed to all the other AIS equipped vessels out there), you have to give the vendor your craft’s Maritime Mobile Service Identity number, or MMSI. Think of it as your boat’s very own phone number, and AIS as caller ID. Under US law, they aren’t allowed to sell you a Class B AIS system without that number, because they have to program the unit with your identifying information before they can ship it to you.

So we needed an MMSI number. It turns out that you can get an MMSI number from BoatUS for free (after 8/20/2015, free to BoatUS members, $20 to others). Fill out the form on their website, and wham-bam-thank-you-very-much, you have your very own number. Marine electronics dealers will happily take that number and use it to program your device. Easy peasy.

But then we started looking at Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, or EPIRBs. If you’re not familiar, these are handy little devices that you carry on your boat that, when activated, will send out an emergency message via satellite that basically says “Help! Please Come Rescue Me!” It’s all about safety after all, and it’s one more layer of protection in case something unexpected were to happen out there. Your EPIRB also has to be programmed with your boat’s MMSI number.

So you’re out cruising the briny blue feeling all snug and safe with your recently purchased EPIRB programmed with your free MMSI number. Suddenly a lonely humpback whale decides that from below, your boat looks just like his former girlfriend Stella, and decides that he wants to have some hot monkey love for old times sake. By the time he figures out your boat is not his former paramour, it’s sinking, much the worse for wear. So you activate your EPIRB to call for a rescue. The signal is relayed by satellite to international search and rescue. Who have no idea who you are or what type of boat you’re on. Because you don’t appear in the ITU database.

Why is that? Well, because that free MMSI number that you received from BoatUS got reported to the Coast Guard, but the Coast Guard did not forward that information along to the ITU for registration in their international SAR database. That’s the FCC’s job. But you didn’t get your MMSI number from the FCC. Because that would have required that you buy the $215 license.

See where I’m going with this?

Here’s one more little wrinkle in the sheets. Say you never intend to venture outside US waters. Your VHF is unlicensed, and it, your AIS system, and your EPIRB are all programmed with your free BoatUS obtained MMSI number. But one day you feel the call of distant shores, spread your wings and head for Georgetown in the Bahamas. You decide to suck it up, buy the $215 FCC ship’s station license, and receive a real MMSI number that’s actually registered with the ITU (no, you can’t use the one you already have, because it’s not official and you’re graduating to the big boy/girl club now). Guess what? Most electronic devices limit the ability to reprogram the MMSI once it’s entered. Some limit the changes to two, many require the device to be returned to a service center, and some (like most EPIRBs) just plain don’t allow it. And oh by the way, it’s illegal to have two MMSIs for the same boat.

Fortunately I had the time during our long cold winter to research all this and realize the futility of trying to resist. We paid the fee, got the license and our very official and internationally registered MMSI number, and then programmed all our gear. If you ultimately come to the same conclusion, you’ll find everything you need to get started here:

I give up. Please take my money and give me a license.

One last little thing I feel the need to mention. Once you start down this path, you’re going to be dealing with the US Government, in the form of the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC runs a program called the Universal Licensing System, or ULS. You use the ULS to apply for and manage your ships station license. But the system is set up for the FCC’s convenience, not yours. Before you can ask permission to pay the fee to get the license, you have to first apply for an FCC Registration Number, or FRN. You then use your FRN to access all the FCC sites. They don’t want your name. Just your FRN. Because they’re the Government, and that’s just the way they are.


Adventurous Aerial Activities Ahead

I knew this day would eventually arrive. It’s time to go up the mast. It’s an unavoidable part of owning a sailboat. Things that are way too high to reach from the deck occasionally need to be inspected, repaired, or in this case, installed. The parts are finally all here for the radar mount, and it’s time to put it up.


By the way, this is the special adapter that we had to order to make the standard Scanstrut radar mount work on our Z-Spar furling mast:


Now when the need to go aloft arises, you can either pay someone to do it for you, or work out a way to do it yourself. Since climbing a mast doesn’t require any special skills, and being the self-sufficient types that we are, we’d rather do it ourselves. Besides, you never know when the need to go aloft to fix something might arise when we’re off on distant shores and there’s no one but us to do it.

Normally the way you’d go about this is to have someone take a halyard (rope used to raise a sail) to one of the boat’s winches and crank the other person aloft. Now while Rhonda might be pretty handy with tools (she has her own toolbox after all), the types of things that need to be done aloft, like drilling metal and installing pop rivets, is more in my skill set than hers. But there’s no physical way she’s going to be able to crank my 190 pounds 30 feet (or more) up the mast. So after looking at a few alternatives, we went with this:


The ATN Mastclimber is a set of rope ascenders similar to those that rock climbers use. One has a set of stirrups attached that you can stand in, and the other one you attach to your bosun’s chair. You slide the ascenders onto a halyard and basically inch-worm your way up the line by standing in the stirrups in order to slide the seat higher, and then sitting in the seat to raise the stirrups. Reverse the process to descend. In theory, I should be able to use these to climb the mast by myself, while Rhonda takes a safety line to a winch as a precaution to ensure I won’t fall if something doesn’t work with the ascenders.

That’s the theory, anyway. We’re about to put theory to practice. Stay tuned dear reader!