Up and up and up . . . and over

by Karen Larson

I mentioned in an earlier blog that a real highlight recently was the day I climbed the rigging on the Barque Elissa (the Texas Tall Ship). It began with a brief fitness test to see whether my arms could haul the weight of my body from one end to the other of a horizontal ladder, the sort you’d see in children’s playgrounds.

Kim, Brian, Karen, and David ready for action

I hadn’t played on one of these ladder contraptions since age 10 or so, but I passed that test and the volunteers at the Texas Seaport Museum brought out all the harnesses and strapped me in. There was no going back. Kim Burns, the volunteer and Good Old Boat subscriber who started this group excursion to the mainmast cap, gloats at left. Next in the lineup is my trainer Brian. I come next in the line, seriously contemplating the height of the main mast from the safety of the shore. It’s about 100 feet. I went just a bit more than halfway up and thought that was a pretty big achievement.
At this point, I thought I was headed for the platform called the fighting top. I didn’t understand that the goal of an “up and over” is to climb about 10 feet beyond that. All those masts . . . all that rigging . . . all those terms . . . I admit to understanding only half of what was said. Were these people speaking English? The final person in this group (at right) is David, another Texas Seaport Museum volunteer. He went up first with Kim’s camera, ostensibly to record my successful climb, but perhaps also to keep records for insurance purposes if the climb was NOT successful?

At the top platform, you'll have to perform a miracle . . .

Brian explained about when I would be climbing without being clipped on (most of the time, actually) and that I would clip on only for the 45-degree angle to get out and around the fighting top. I took it all in and realized that — on our 30-foot boat — we clip on even when we’re on deck (!) in some weather and that I’m a WHOLE lot safer going up Mystic’s mast (50 feet) in a bosun’s chair than this new gig I’d signed on for.


I’m afraid I expressed my opinion spontaneously. It’s not a pretty picture. But that’s how I was feeling.

HOW high?

Nonetheless, off we went: David first with the camera. Brian my coach next. The new recruit eying the top from the starting position next. And Kim bringing up the rear.

It's a long way up

From the bottom it looks like a long way up. And from the top it looks like a long way down.

Higher and higher

Onward and upward.

Fueled by adrenaline

The goal gets closer. Three hands for the ship, isn’t it . . . ?

Conscious of every foothold, each hand placement . . .

I’m still smiling.

Are we at Grandma's yet?

Climbing ratlines is not physically taxing, but it may be emotionally challenging.

The challenge is at the fighting top

Well, there is that physical challenge in getting around that platform at the fighting top. Brian talks me through it. You do clip on for that part (a good thing). That little strength test back at the horizontal ladder was all about this moment . . .

A few "what if's" come to mind . . .

What would happen if I were incapable of hauling my weight around and over the platform, I wondered. Would I be able to hold on long enough with my arms? Long enough for what? Tethered or not, how long might I have to do whatever it might take to recover from a misstep? These thoughts (and more) ran through my mind.

Hooray! But we're not there yet, you say?

Success! But when I thought I had achieved my goal and was standing securely and happily on that fighting top, the volunteer crew had one last surprise for me: the real goal, they told me, was to get to the top of the mainmast cap, that white section of mast another 10 feet above . . . and no, you don’t clip on for this one. To succeed, you have to climb up and go over the other side. But don’t forget to take some time at the top to take in the view, they said. That new thought caused some heart pounding.

The view is wonderful . . . and so is my smile

OK. They got me to the real goal. Was the view from there indeed that much better, I wonder? But the smile on my face and the ongoing memories of this big-deal achievement make it all worthwhile.

Kim Burns, one who speaks the language of tall ships, sent a note after the fact to decipher it for me. Her comments on the “up and over”:

Elissa’s specs:
134 years (1877)
LOA/sparred length: 205 feet
LOD: 152 feet
LWL: 141 feet

You did your “up & over” on the main mast (99.9 feet deck to truck)

You started on the windward side, climbed the lower shrouds to the base of the futtock shrouds where you clipped into the safety line. You then angled out 45 degrees up to the top platform — first stop from deck where you unclipped. From the top platform you climbed up the topmast shrouds to where you swung over to the cap and stood to look out. (Roughly 55/60 feet from deck.)

Elissa’s fore and main consist of 3 spars each:
Lower mast (welded steel), topmast (Douglas fir), topgallant mast (Douglas fir)

The top platform is located where the lower mast and topmast double up, called the lower doublings, between the top and cap.

The crosstrees are above the cap, where the topmast and topgallant mast double up (the two Douglas firs). This area is known as the upper doubling where the crosstrees/trestletree assembly platform is located.


4 Responses

  1. wow!!! I WANNA DO THAT, TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. the first time is the hardest.

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