The real point of the masts is to hold up the sails, which on a square rigger means the yards. These are the big wooden beams from which the square sails hang.
When the sails are not in use they are furled away – bundled up and tied firmly to the yards. Part of the bundling is done from the deck: the clewlines attached to each lower corner hoick up the outer edges and then buntlines (up to six on the big sails) coil round and bag it up. But the real furling, making it tight against bad weather, is done by climbing out along the yards and tying gaskets around the unwieldy, heavy canvas.So the point to climbing the mast is to get out on the yards and manage the sails.
We have been busy and in some wind so my climbing endeavors have been limited since South Georgia, or even since Antartica, but I have been determined to resume. A lot of the voyage crew are up and down in all weathers and I need to catch up (with my own ambitions if not with them.)
Today is a beautiful sunny day. There’s a wee bit of roll from swell but not much breeze. Perfect. So I clambered up to just below the fighting top. There Toby, one of the permanent crew, took a break from stitching anti-chafe leather over a seizing and escorted me on my first yard trip.
This is the biggest yard on the ship, holding up the bottom sail (the course) on the main mast. Right now, the sail is held loosely in its buntlines and clewlines, making it ideal for practicing proper gasket tying.
I stepped off the ratlines (the name for the ‘ladder’ in the shrouds) onto the strong line leading to the yard and onto the foot rope which runs under the great beam itself. Carefully, very carefully, I transferred the hook on my harness from the strong point on the mast to the jackstay which sits atop the yard. I was there.
Toby talked me through moving along the yard and furling up the sail. We tied and untied two gaskets (the bits of small rope which hold the sails to the yards). We went out to the end and enjoyed the sunshine. I sweated, having kept a fleece on. Tody didn’t as he was already in a tee-shirt. It was fantastic.
It’s a small step for many, but for me it was great. Now I can add a bigger contribution to sailing the ship by actually getting up there, stepping out on the yards and taking part in furling duties.