Up the Mast

Day 133/11

Noon Position: 44 52S 178 51E

Course/Speed: NMNE4

Wind: SSW10

Bar: 1027, steady

Sea: W5+ (old rollers)

Sky: Partly Cloudy

Cabin Temperature: 60

Water Temperature: 55

Sail: Twins poled out ful.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 127

Miles this leg: 1,389

Avg. Miles this leg: 126

Miles since departure: 18,644

I came on deck this morning to find a small washer lying near the mast. Mo made slow way northeast with the twin headsails poled out and mostly full. Wind was light but steady, the sky, blue, the water too. A lovely day to be at sea. Except for this discovery.

It is never a happy thing to find random parts scattered on deck. I searched the mast and its hardware thoroughly but couldn’t find anything amiss. Mystified, I left the washer where it fell by way of reminder. No chance of it being swept overboard today.

In the early afternoon, the donor revealed himself. I was at the bow preparing to renew the headsail sheet ends when I noticed the radar reflector at the second set of spreaders swinging as we rolled. One of the two bolts attaching it to the mast flange had, over the months, come apart.

I sat down and watched for a time. What if I just left it? But it was no use. There were too many miles to go and too much possibility for lines to foul. There was nothing for it but to climb the mast and remove the reflector.

Have I mentioned that I’m afraid of heights? I’ve been meaning to practice an ascent to the very top since…since I bought the boat. Each time I crash land in some exotic port, it’s on the to-do list. But somehow the priority is not very high.

Today the priority changed.

I donned my harness, a few wrenches I guessed might be the right size, and climbed.

Once at the reflector, it quickly became clear unbolting the remaning fastener was not in the cards. The job required two hands, and though the sea was not in any sense boisterous, the background swell, magnified by 40 foot of mast, meant one hand and both legs were always hanging on for grim death.

I descended and dug out a hack-saw. I’d cut the plastic housing from around the nut, I reasoned.

Once at the top again, I made several cuts only to find that the saw met a stainless steel reenforcement plate inside the reflector. Of course. Well made piece of kit.

Hmm. Can’t undo the bolt. Can’t cut it (can’t get the right angle). Can’t cut away its support. Ideas? We’re running out of light.

The only one that remained was to cut the stainless flange holding the reflector to the mast, a simple job on deck. But here it took an hour. I’d cut with the hacksaw to the count of 45. Then rest. Then cut again to the count of 45. Ooop. Here’s a roller. Hang on. Then cut again.

Finally done. Radar reflector off the mast. And the jagged flange pieces pressed back and out of the way.

Only then did I look around. What a sight. A seemingly endless horizon all to ourselves.

On deck, my legs quivered. I went below and had a beer.

Dark. The sea is nearly still. I’d wanted to get up to 45S by the time the northerlies set in and we’ve done that and more. We’re now ghosting along at 44 30S where we await wind currently piling in over the top of New Zealand. Will be here by morning.

This position should mean an easy reach the remaining 200 miles to The Chatham Islands and give us a reasonable shot at getting above the worst of the coming lows. I’ve never seen such a succession of ugliness as is making for South Island this week. It is fortunate we rounded Steward Island when we did. Now if we can just be far enough north…

7 Comments on “Up the Mast

  1. I was wondering the same thing! How did you get that photo of you up the mast? Following you, Randall and MO, is just so great. Your logs each day are something I look forward to! They are terrific. I read again my husband, Andy Wall’s, logs of going around Cape Horn and your descriptions are so similar, the joy, the challenges, the shear glory and immensity of the Southern Ocean! Thank you, Randall!

  2. I realize this is a day late and a dollar short, but why not find a similar sized nut/bolt that you could have removed from a less-important location and use it on the reflector?

  3. Watching your progress from the bay of islands, what great adventure! You’ll have company to French Polynesia, many yachts headed that way this year. All the best. Mike & Marni (formally sv Picara)

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