Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.
emo_snal

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Such Great Heights



September, 2009: "That's impossible!" I exclaimed to my friend Aaron on the phone, standing on the dock in front of the brig Pilgrim, staring up at the top of the mast 98 feet above me. From this vantage point the jibboom on the front loomed above me, the figurehead of Richard Henry Dana with a squire-cut serenely gazing past me whilst holding a giant burrito.
   My friend Aaron had joined the coastguard a few years earlier and been assigned to the Coast Guard's sail-training ship, the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle. He was a professional sailor of an actual sailing ship. I had just volunteered for the first time on the brig Pilgrim and proudly told him I'd climbed to the highest point on the mast one can get to while climbing the regular rigging, but he deflated me a bit by saying that's NOT as high as one can go, that the highest one can go on the mast is actually to the "truck" on the very top of it.
   "It's just a bare pole for ten feet above there though, how do you get to the top I inquired"
   "You shimmy!" he responded and I could picture his grin.


A crewmate lounges on the royal yard just off Avalon, Catalina Island.

One week later: "All hands aloft who can go aloft!" the bosun called out, with his white beard he looked like the fearsome embodiment of neptune himeself to me. The ship tossed erratically in the ominous dark seas, the sky was painted with the dark purple hues of the rapidly diminishing twilight, and a few miles off the starboard side the lights of Dana Point twinkled. I looked up the mast nervously, I had only been up once before, and that was when the ship was calmly at dock and I hadn't even gone out on the yards. I gulped nervously but, having just bought a climbing harness I was definitely one who "can go aloft" and there was no time for excuses. With a great deal of nervousness I joined the line of crewmembers climbing up the swaying rigging. Laying out onto the footrope with the traditional call of "laying on!" I found that not only does this single rope sway wildly as I step on it, it sways wildly every time someone else steps onto it!
   I sidled out sideways halfway out the yard, with another sailor on either side of me, clinging for dear life to the yard itself as the footrope below me bounced with people's shifting weight. The nearly black sea and the dark dark blue sky seemed joined in a world of dark and spray around me as I leaned forward over the yard to grab armfuls of the sail in coordination with my crewmates and haul it up in unison. As we leaned forward together the footrope shot backwards behind us. But that wasn't the worst of it, once we had the sail all bundled up against the mast we had to tie it in place to furl it, and I didn't yet know any knots! I anxiously hung there in the air gripping my armful of sail until the salty sailor beside me finished and then meekly asked him to show me how to tie the requisite knot. He did so without complaint. By the time we descended again after only a few minutes aloft I was exhausted from the strain.


View down to deck on a sunnier day

Eight Months Later, in Bellingham, Washington: "Uh, that doesn't look safe at all" I say, looking out at the cold water under the mizzen boom. It extends about 10 feet aft behind the boat, and the captain has just told me to go to the very end of it to tie off the flag halyard. There doesn't appear to be any way to get there other than either shimmying on the boom or walking on the "running rigging," the moveable line that runs out to a block on the end of the boom and back. Aboardship there's "standing rigging" which is fixed in place and suitable for holding onto or stepping on, and "running rigging" which is lines that move and one generally does not use them as a hand or foothold.
   "Well of course it's not safe, this is a tallship!" exclaims Captain Jigger, grinning nefariously from the dock. Truly confidence-inspiring. But captain's orders are captain's orders, so I empty my pockets, make sure the sheet (the running line in question) is very taut and very well belayed (tied off) and set off. Holding the flag halyward with one hand, which leads off way above me as if I'm holding a balloon or a kite, I make my way along the sheet to the end of the boom, and in this precarious position secure the end of the flag halyard to the end of the boom.


Queso doing the same thing while at sea off Seattle

Two weeks later: "Sir, George is fouled" I report to the captain, regarding the green Washington State flag with George Washington's face upon it, which flies from the top of the main-mast.
   "well then, I guess you need to unfoul him!" he says and walks off. At this point I had actually been waiting for an excuse to go to the truck of the mast, but they don't let you just go up there for no reason. My chance had finally come!!

   I scurried up the regular rigging, swarming over the difficult futtock shrouds like a rat, up past the main yard, the lower and upper topsail yards, up to the point where the ratlines ended with just bare pole above me. I stopped there and looked upward thoughtfully. I reckoned the thing to do was shimmy, though I'd never really tried to shimmy anything. Great time to start! I wrapped my arms and legs around the mast and tried to do this "shimmy" thing ... and immediately both my legs cramped up.
   I regrouped, stretched a bit, and tried again ... and slid right back down to the shrouds immediately -- I couldn't get enough traction on the mast!
   I stood there looking at the flag. So close and yet so far. I could actually unfoul it from here, but that would be giving up a golden opportunity.
   Several lines called "stays" connect to the top of the mast like guy-wires, taught lines coming from multiple directions to keep it securely in place. I reached up and grabbed the mast and placed a foot on either side of two opposite stays. The lines are at least as slippery and tractionless as the mast but because they form he apex of a triangle here I can keep myself from slipping downyard by not letting my feet get pushed any further apart. Because I'm not completely crazy I wrapped my safety lanyard around the mast so I couldn't fall to my death 80 feet below. Thus I was able to inch up toward the very top. Unfortunately at the top I had to unclip my lanyard because it was under the stays, and while gripping the mast with one hand move the lanyard to be outside the stays and reclip it. And there I was, at the truck!!! I unfouled George and took a moment to savor the view and accomplishment ... and take the below photograph:



And here's a picture of a crewmate trying to do a similar thing, as taken looking back from the foremast:

Man what small resolution photos cameras took back then


   And then it was time to descend again, which was a bit easier though it involved some of the same difficulties such as unclipping the lanyard and reclipping it again.

   From thence I gradually got more comfortable with such precarious antics, eventually doing aloft training for new sailors back on the brig Pilgrim, before coming here to Australia where they won't let me go aloft on the brig Enterprize because haven't done _their_ aloft training which never seems to be available ::eyeroll::

   But here's a tour of going aloft I made back on the Pilgrim. Heartbreakingly the video stopped recording just when I started the fun part climbing the bare pole at the top ):


Tags: lj idol entry, sailing
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