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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Learning to Sail
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Old 06-30-2004
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Bosuns chair

Never having used a bosuns chair this might sound like a dumb question but here goes anyway...

I am thinking about what it will take to properly rig a sailboat for singlehanded sailing. I was thinking what would happen if I needed to fix something at the masthead (and the gear required).

This made me think about ''what if I needed to repair/replace the forestay tang'' (or fix/mount something otherwise on the foward side of the mast).

Hauling a bosuns chair up (using a climber, etc.) using the main halyard places you on the aft side of the mast. Thus it seems that gaining access, working on something on the FORWARD side would be particulary difficult, *especially* at the masthead where you have only a very short length of halyard remaining between the chair and masthead sheeve (i.e. preventing one from working their way around forward).

Am I missing something elementary here?
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Old 06-30-2004
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Bosuns chair

I have never used a bosun''s chair myself but after reading your post my first thought is "another good reason" to have a hank on headsail...so you have that jib halyard to use!

bobbi.............alias kokopuff
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Old 06-30-2004
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Bosuns chair

Many boats (especialy those equiped with double-track luffs) will have two headsail halyards up the front of the mast. even if one of them is busy holding the top of your furled headsail, you still have a "spare"

If that is not an option, then there is always the spinnaker halyard. This is mounted to the very highest bit of the masthead, so as long as you are not running ridiculously undersized rope as your halyard, then it will be more then adequate.

If you plan to sail single handed, off-shore...then you may well want either the "spare" halyard or a decent capacity spinnaker halyard before you leave the dock...just in case.

It is not going to be to relevent to you in single-handing, but our spinnaker halyard is also our desegnated crew-overboard retrieval system if it should prove neccassary (this is on acount of havign a nice pivoting block for it at the masthead, instead of just the inset sheaves as on the headsail halyards).

As to your issues with bosun''s chairs. The self-climb systems tend to be varients of climber''s assent harnesses available form rock-climbing shops (only at a big markup to be called yachting gear) or are ladders made of nylon webbing sewn into looped foot-holes. This is then hoisted up the mast while secured firmly to the deck and a person can climb on up.
Even with powered winches, I would never rig a remote control and hoist myself up the mast if I was the only one on the boat, the potential for being the piniata on board the modern day Marie Celeste is just too great. I think being stuck up there would only be funny for the first 20 hours or so.

Sasha
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Old 06-30-2004
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Bosuns chair

Hours? I don''t think it would be funny after 20 MINTUES

Anyway, the thought of hoisting myself up via electric winch never crossed my mind. I''d definately require having total personal control over my ascent/descent.

And I was wondering about using a rock climbing climbers assist. Same principle, just different market (and pricing).

Using the headsail/spinnaker halyard makes all the sense in the world now that I think about it.
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Old 06-30-2004
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Bosuns chair

I only mention the lectric winch option because a genius at our marina rigged his halyard to his electric anchor windless and hoisted himself up in the bosun''s chair.....which worked really well until he went up further then the remote control unit''s cable. The plug promptly came out of its socket and the winch stopped winding...with him about 15 feet up the mast!

Fortunately this was actually in his pen....with more then a few people watching in amusement. We let him down, eventually (promises of beer were involved, as I recall). He had a good sense of humour about it, he was trying to change the bulb in his steaming light and thought the cable on the remote would be long enough....


Sasha
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Bosuns chair

A Bosun''s Chair is one of those necessary pieces of sailing gear that really need to be treated with respect.

Here are a couple of events involving them, one is an interesting story, the other from personal experience.

The story: I heard this one sitting around with a bunch of sailors swapping tall tails and feats of daring do. It involves an older couple on a 40-something foot sloop in the caribe. The wind had piped up as they approached their intended anchorage. When they attempted to lower their genny, it became appearant that the halyard was jammed and the sail would not come down. They spent the next hour or so reaching back and forth at the mouth of the anchorage with the wind at a steady 25 - 30 kts. The vessel was making a hardy 10kts+ as it sped back and forth. This drew the interest of some of the folks on shore, who watched with binoculars. With no way to get the sail down, and no way to get up the mast, they seemed to be in a pickle. The skipper''s ingenuity kicked in as the folks on shore watched as he rigged his drogue to one of his spare halyards. Then he hitched himself up with the Bosun''s Chair and had his mate toss the drogue over the side. Once the drogue bit, the skipper was launched at 10kts+ up the mast! His rapid ascent up the rig was too fast for him control and he was wedged, forcefully, between the backstay and the mast head. I believe he broke his collarbone, along with some nasty cuts and bruises. The folks shoreside scrambled immediately to assist.

The personal experience happened to me about 100 miles SE of Newport RI. I was young, and stupid, and quite lucky, as it turned out. It was around 1977 or so, comming up during an Annapolis/Newport race. Wind was about the upper teens to low twenties, with seas in the 8 foot range, nothing much for the 47'' sloop I was on. Due to a wind shift, we had dropped the ''chute and were close reaching on the genoa. Running the foredeck, I was concerned about the forward halyards. We had gybed the chute in the night, and when we hoisted the genoa, we had pretty much crossed up the halyards and someone would have to go aloft to straighten things out. No big deal, I hopped below, grabbed the Bosun''s Chair and prepared to go aloft. I had three crew on the main winches and things would be fixed in a moment or two. I was going up on one of the spinnaker halyards, with the offending halyard clipped to the same bail on the chair. As I went up, I noticed the increased motion as the higher up the mast I went, the greater the arc of motion from the 8'' seas. As I reached the upper spreaders, I had to clear the halyard from the jack stay we had rigged to prevent the mast from pumping. No big deal. I had the crew stop hoisting me and I stood, stradling the mast on the upper spreaders, probably about 50'' off the deck. I reached down and unclipped the halyard to be cleared from the chair and.... OH MY GOD!!!! I unclipped BOTH halyards and the Bosun''s Chair slipped past my knees and dropped to my ankles. OK, so now I am 50'' up the mast, standing on the upper spreaders, being whipped back and forth in 20kts of wind, I could not wrap my arms around the mast as the main used a bolt rope on the luff, one hand held both the halyards, and the Bosun''s Chair was at my feet! Much swearing and screaming (by me) ensued, as I tried to explain to the crew on deck that they had to ease both halyards, slowly, as I tried to get my hand to clip at least one of the halyards back on the bail on the chair. To this day, I still don''t know how I was able to do it. All I was thinking was that if I lost my grip or balance, I would have to make sure I shoved off hard enough to clear the deck and hit the water. Better to be MOB in the Atlantic than smashed on the deck! I somehow clipped one of the halyards to the chair, got the crew to take up slack, got both halyards on, finished going to the masthead to clear the cross, and made it back to the deck, alive.

The moral of these stories? First, THINK before you do ANYTHING and make sure you are aware of EVERYTHING that could go on as you go aloft. While the story of the skipper using his drogue may or maynot be true, it shows what can happen when you don''t think a bright idea all the way to it''s conclusion.

In my case, in the scores of times I have gone aloft since, I ALWAYS duct tape the shackle closed on the halyard I am going up on, weather at dock or at sea. No point in tempting fate twice.
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Old 07-01-2004
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Bosuns chair

Frightening stories! I personally never trust shackles when going aloft. I always tie a bowline through the rings of the bosun''s chair. Use an extra halyard for saftey too if possible.
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Old 07-01-2004
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Bosuns chair

I have heard good things about the ATN mast-climbing system. You can probably get one online at SailNet.
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Old 07-01-2004
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Bosuns chair

Absolutely agree re: treating bosuns chair with respect. *especially* if singlehanded.

Hard to believe someone would consider using the drogue to hoist himself up (how did he then expect get down?). But it''s a good story to underscore thinking things thru. It also underscores the vital importance of ''finding, fixing, replacing'' in the context of singlehanded sailing.

I just read where a U.S. Navy civilian worker fell 70'' to his death on Old Ironsides. While he was probably not in a bosuns chair the same principles apply (i.e. specifically, gravity)

No way would I EVER use a bosuns chair by myself without having thought things thru ''in general'', practiced extensively in a safe environment (calm, at the dock and ideally with ''spotters'') and even then, I would only go aloft by myself if I''d had *re-thought* the present situation thru completely. And then only if there was absolutely NO other choice.

In that particular situation of the ''stuck genny halyard inside a harbor'' in a singlehanded situation I think I would just have to cut the genny completely loose (and hopefully be able to recover it). Absurdly expensive solution, yes but otherwise providing a 100% chance I''d live to tell about it.

Finally, I appreciate your own personal experience. It reinforces my decision to obtain a ''harness'' type bosuns chair (and not just a simple slat seat).
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Old 07-01-2004
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Bosuns chair

I don''t have any hair raising tales to tell, but my experience with the bosuns chair and the ATN type climber, leave no doubt that the climber is the ONLY way to go aloft. (my english teacher would roll over in her grave if she read that looong sentence!)

The climber gives YOU complete control of your ascent and descent. It allows you to proceed at your own pace and physical ability.

As to working on the front of the mast when climbing from the aft side...I''ve never had a problem. At the top of the mast you can easily work on both sides and reach around to the front. I''ve always understood that it was bad practice to use any halyard other than one through a sheeve as the bail/swivel could fail and ruin your whole day.

My climber is a copy of the ATN. I used my old bosuns chair (with a lap belt to keep it strapped to my butt) and two ascenders purchased from a mountain climbing supply co. I fabricated the foot straps from some 2" webbing on my sewing machine and it works great!

The ability to go up and down the mast without being dependent on anyone is a BIG plus!

The climber wins hands down in my book!

Jim
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