Franco shins up the mast

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Fri 30 Mar 2018 23:11

(Good) Friday 30 March 2018 - 12 days at sea
Position: 21:21.6S 77:34.4W
1,443 nautical miles

Beautiful hot sunshine at last! For the past few days a thick cloud cover has hung over our corner of the Pacific making the days gloomy and the nights pitch black. We passed the tropic a couple of days ago and last night Franco spotted our first Pacific flying fish. Today they are all around. 

Yesterday we were very busy, this is what happened:

At lunchtime Franco announced his plan; he would climb up the back of the mast, quickly swivel round to the front, attach the new pulley, feed the repaired halyard through and quickly descend back to the deck.

I glanced at the sea, it wasn’t what I would call ‘calm’, the top end of a Force 4 (15 knots), with a large swell coming through. The forecast suggested that it was the lightest winds we would get.

“Franco is clearly a lot braver than me”, I thought, but didn’t say anything.

I looked at him.

“You’ll see, it will be fine.” He said, confidently.

There was a bit of re-ordering to do downstairs, to get at the climbing gear but soon we were ready. We dropped the mainsail to try and make Caramor more stable, it helped a bit.

Franco set off up the mast. Immediately it became clear it wasn’t going to be easy. As the waves rolled through, Caramor lurched from side to side and the violent motion was amplified up the mast. He needed all his strength to cling on and not get thrown off against the stays, this despite the sling holding him tightly to the mast. Watching from below, I could feel the pain.

At last he got to the cross-trees. When climbing the mast in a quiet harbour, the cross-trees are easy to step up onto. In these conditions, they were just another obstacle. A wave rolled through and dislodged Franco who banged his head against the cross-tree. He groaned.

He asked me to reef the Genoa, it slowed Caramor down but didn’t help with the rolling. We tried going downwind but it was worse so we went back to a beam reach.

Franco grunted to the top of the mast, I was impressed he had made it. By now, on the journey, we have adapted to our sleep shifts and the daytime nap is essential, this exercise was eating into  Franco’s siesta time so he was beginning to tire. Getting to the top wasn’t enough. Now, somehow, he needed to let go of the shrouds he was clinging to and make the knots to attach the pulley. From below, I wished he could sprout a couple of extra arms. Against the odds he succeeded. Hurrah!

To come back down, he tied into another halyard and I lowered him using the winch. This meant he only needed to concentrate on protecting himself. Unfortunately once down, we realised the halyard he had been lowered down on, now passed the wrong side of the mast. Up to the cross-trees he went again, this time, winch assisted.

“Now I know why Ellen MacArthur cried, it bloody hurts.” He said, once back on the deck.

His arms were raw, red and blue with nasty scratches (though not as bruised as Ellen’s, if I remember the TV footage correctly).

“I won’t be doing that again in a hurry”, he concluded.

Comment from Franco:

I suppose the sensible thing would have been to forget about twin headsails and wait until the Marquesas to sort the extra halyard. After all we can go downwind goose-winged (mainsail on one side and Genoa on the other. However twin headsails are more stable and it doesn’t wear the sails, even if it can be tough on halyards. The truth is I love the concept of ‘Vogon poetry’ (if you haven’t read the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you should). In other words, sheer bloody mindedness! 

Note: to climb the mast, Franco used a set of jumars. One is attached to the harness, the other to a loop on the foot. Both jumars were clipped onto the main halyard. He had a back-up Petzl shunt attached to the topping lift. Both lines were fastened to the deck to reduce the swing.

Franco up the mast