The Mast Mate slides in the mainsail track.
Up top, you can stand comfortably with both feet at the same level and you can easily work above the top of the mast. You can see the lineman’s belt secured around the mast.
This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Southwinds magazine. www.southwindsmagazine.com
The Mast Mate: An Easy-to-Use Mast-Climbing System
By Steve Morrell
For many years, I’ve seen the ad with the
picture of the guy climbing the mast stepping in these triangular
steps. It’s a picture worth a thousand words. One day I went to the Web
site and decided to get one. At the time, I was postponing going up my
mast because I didn’t always have someone nearby to hoist me up in a
chair. The Mast Mate was a do-it-on-your-own system—just what I needed.
The product comes all rolled up compactly in a
flat spiral less than two feet across. The Mast Mate is essentially one
long piece of very strong nylon webbing, like super strong seat belt
webbing, with even stronger alternating nylon triangular steps sewn
into the sides. It comes in different lengths depending on your mast
length. Along the main webbing is a series of grommets into which are
plastic shackles to which you secure slides—just like the slides you
secure to your mainsail. The buyer supplies the slides depending on his
track size. The main webbing has a D-ring at the top to which you
secure your main halyard. You simply raise the Mast Mate up the mast
track. You have to remove the mainsail from the track and then feed the
Mast Mate slides into it.
The first time I used the Mast Mate, I was able
to remove my mainsail and raise the system up to the top in 10 to 15
minutes. It was very simple and very fast.
The Mast Mate also comes with a lineman’s belt,
with tool pouch, that allows you to strap yourself around the mast and
securely lean back and work hands-free when you are aloft.
The first time I went aloft it was very
comfortable and very easy, although I had to search a little bit with
my feet to find the steps, but once you get used to it, your feet find
them quickly. On the first few trips up, I was also a bit cautious,
because I knew that I had to be careful to not let go with my hands
unless I had the lineman’s belt strapped around the mast. Consequently,
I secured myself after each set of spreaders. Later, I just climbed up
and secured myself when I reached my destination.
At the top of the Mast Mate, there are two
triangular steps that do not alternate but are directly across from
each other. This is so you can more comfortably stand up aloft and work
with your feet at the same level. One advantage of the system is that
you are standing above the top of the mast, making work up there easier.
I find the system has many advantages over
others. Of course, one of the main advantages is that you can use it on
your own. Although a boatswain’s chair is hooked up very quickly, it
takes a bit to hoist somebody up to the top. And if you don’t have
somebody strong enough, they tire quickly. The chair is probably a
little bit faster but not by much. Once the Mast Mate is installed,
other methods can’t beat it, and it is impressive how quickly you can
go up and down—almost as easily as a ladder.
The Mast Mate Web site has a good discussion of
using the system in various situations. If you have a stuck halyard or
need to replace a halyard, they suggest using your jib halyard to raise
the Mast Mate up. The company acknowledges that there is no going up
the mast with in-mast furling. And if your mainsail is stuck in the
raised position, of course, you could raise the Mast Mate up without
securing it in the track, but that is not recommended. So there are
some limitations to its use—like most systems.
I found the Mast Mate was also well-liked by a
professional rigger who worked on my boat recently. I had used the Mast
Mate to inspect the rigging and left it in the raised position. I told
the rigger he was in no way obligated to use the system, but he was
very interested in testing it. By the time the job was done, he was
pleased enough that he was interested in purchasing one.
Mast Mate will also be enjoying a bit of fame
this year because Rich Wilson will be using a custom-made Mast Mate on
his 60-foot boat that he will be sailing in the 2008 Vendee Globe.
For more information on the Mast Mate, go to