How To Climb the Mast Solo – Part 2

The first time I climbed the mast, I was surprised how tiring and somewhat frightening it was. Since then I’ve gone up twice more, and it was much much easier! I’ve worked out a good system that I can setup in 5-10 minutes, climb in 10-15 minutes, and do that safely with just me (no one else onboard).

The biggest thing I did wrong initially was use a dynamic climbing rope. I used that because I had one unused from my climbing days, and wanted to avoid the abrasion of ascenders on my working halyards. But a dynamic rope stretches a lot when you put your weight on it, so I was basically doing twice the work. I’ve now switched to a spare 7/16” line I had in the cabin, with the spinnaker halyard as backup.

Also instead of having someone raise the backup halyard as I climb, I just fix it next to the climbing halyard and use a Prusik knot with webbing connected to my harness to act as a stopper – that way I can be completely self-reliant.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 ascenders – I used Petzl Ascension, about $55 each on sale at REI.
  • Climbing harness.
  • 2 lengths of climbing webbing or accessory cord, about 3’ and 6’, for waist harness and foot loops.
  • 1 length of accessory cord, about 6’, for backup Prusik line.
  • 2-4 carabiners for attaching to the ascenders and harness.
  • 2 halyards, plus a spare line if you don’t want to use ascenders on a working halyard.
  • Gloves (belaying gloves are great, but sailing gloves will do if that’s all you have – note belaying gloves are better made than sailing gloves and are the same price or cheaper).

Here’s the setup:

  1. Find a low-stretch spare line (this will be the climbing line and tie with a bowline to the main halyard clasp, then raise the main halyard to masthead. (Note if you don’t have a spare line you can use the main halyard instead, but I prefer to avoid wear and tear to it).
  2. Anchor the climbing line to a deck tie-down ring. Make the line as taut as you can comfortably get it.

    Halyard anchored through U bolt and run to cleat. Backup halyard connected with a snap shackle (not load bearing - if it came undone it wouldn't really matter, because the top is anchored and the Prusik will work reasonably well with a slack line).

    Halyard anchored through U bolt and run to cleat.
    Backup halyard connected with a snap shackle (not load bearing – if it came undone it wouldn’t really matter, because the top is anchored and the Prusik will work reasonably well with a slack line).

  3. Attach 2 ascenders to climbing line.
  4. Attach upper ascender to your harness tie-in point, using about 1-2’ of webbing and carabiners if you have them.

    Upper ascender with webbing attached to harness

    Upper ascender with webbing attached to harness

  5. Attach lower ascender to a nylon cord that is formed into a V shape with two foot loops. It should be about 3’ from foot loops to ascender.

    Accessory cord foot loops attached to lower ascender

    Accessory cord foot loops attached to lower ascender

  6. Anchor a backup halyard next to the climbing line. Spinnaker halyard works well.
  7. Attach webbing with a Prusik knot to the backup line, then attach webbing to harness. Webbing length should be about 4-5’ so you have some slack and don’t need to be constantly moving it.

    Prusik with webbing (a bit messy - I would've rather used cord, but was out - webbing still works fine but doesn't look as neat)

    Prusik with webbing (a bit messy – I would’ve rather used cord, but was out – webbing still works fine but doesn’t look as neat)

  8. Climb using inchworm / squat technique – move the upper ascender (waist attachment) as high as you can get it, then move the lower ascender to within a few inches of upper. Stand up in foot loops, using your hands to pull laterally on the climbing line to help stand up. Then repeat, starting with moving up the upper ascender again.
  9. As you move up, slide the Prusik knot up the backup line. Remember to do this before it’s out of reach, and slide it as high as you can reach.
  10. To descend, just reverse the climbing technique. When lowering the feet ascender make sure you don’t lower too far such that when you stand you can’t unweight the waist ascender. If you don’t unload an ascender you won’t be able to unlock it, and will need to readjust your position.
Gloves make things much easier on your hands

Gloves make things much easier on your hands

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