From the time I mentioned to friends I would be making a voyage on a replica sailing ship, their early question that was always spoken with a note of challenge was, ’Will you be climbing the mast?’. Typically I responded that I hoped to get the chance and, if so, then I would. Often my friends’ shoulders would slump , they would laugh albeit a little nervously, and then declare they could never do it. After my experience I feel sure most could – perhaps not as nimbly as a goat but slowly and surely I am confident most could clamber up at least the first part.
On the day when five of us went aloft and one went out on the forward boom, I recall someone asking me if I was nervous. Heavens no, I thought. The thought had never occurred to me. I was excited and hoped my body wouldn’t let me down and that I would be physically capable.
Initially we were instructed how to fit and wear protective harnesses. Rob’s photo below shows a happy expectant group of us.
The First Mate demonstrated and explained how to climb the shrouds: three points on the ship at all time – either two feet and a hand or two hands and a foot. She stayed aloft supported by various ropes below the first platform, ready to help us clamber further should we wish. Another two crew members raced up the ropes on the other side and one propelled himself onto the platform ready to help climbers at that level and then escort them over the platform so they could descend to the deck.
I watched the first volunteer tackling the climb, and learning from her experience began to see where the obstacles for me might be. Rob photographed her in action.
When she reached the First Mate and attached her harness to the safety rope, she stayed talking a long while, then descended. I volunteered next.
I remember thinking that I have to get up onto the railing and with my short legs that wouldn’t be easy. An extra plank was located a little lower so that I was able to kneel then lift myself until I stood on the railing. Problem one solved. I swivelled around so I was on the outside of the railing with the rope ladder before me, and the water behind.Rob’s photo caught me grinning almost maniacally.
Now holding onto the vertical black ropes (never the horizontal) I needed to step onto the tiny first horizontal plank which was above my comfort zone. Yes I could get one foot onto it, but at a long stretch. How to get the other foot up there, with limited upper body strength to lift? Suggestions flowed from those on deck. My only memory is that it was will and determination that got me onto that ‘ledge’. I was not going to be defeated. Later I wondered if I could ever repeat it. Standing there, already I felt a surge from the achievement.
Stepping up onto each of the salt and tar hardened black ropes seemed simple and easy, and I felt safe (they didn’t move so I didn’t sway to lose balance). Then another horizontal wooden bar was again almost out of reach for my legs. Encouraged from my success on gaining the first horizontal bar and the good feeling I had as I climbed, again with no memory of how I made that move, I found myself standing on the second wooden bar relatively quickly. Up more rope steps, onto an even smaller third wooden bar, up more rope steps until I had reached the platform. Rob’s photos show me reaching the platform while others waited below.
After hooking my safety harness, the First Mate explained the process for ‘hanging’ out a little while stepping up, reaching ropes above and hauling the body onto the platform. I considered this option and felt sure my short legs, and perhaps lack of agility, would make going further stressful if not impossible. I had climbed, and I chose to descend.
Back on deck, quietly satisfied, I watched those with longer legs and arms navigate ascending up and onto the platform, and then descending. I could see the slowness and care they took. Ralph’s photo below shows another starting the ascent at the rail.
Rob also took great photos of these performances.
Serena’s photos picture the agility and the shaping which the body needs to clamber over the platform.
Another passenger assented to clambering out on the forward boom. I watched and believed this was not for short people like myself with minimal core strength. Her performance under the tutelage of the First Mate was exemplary. I recorded the start of that journey-how to get up there.
Rob’s photos tell a good story.
The six of us who tackled these climbs were well satisfied.