Working Aloft

Shipbuilder
24th March 2009, 20:11
I know that a number of you have served in "real" square riggers, carrying cargo and wonder what your thoughts are on the following:

From my very earliest years, I have been interested in sailing ships ever since reading my grandfather's copies of THE WIDE WORLD magazine in the 1950s. Tales of the wrecks of the CRICCIETH CASTLE, DUNDONALD and SVAERDSTAD springing immediately to mind. All my life, I have avidly read the old autobiographies of men in sail (and still do at the age of 65). When I left school in 1959, if there had been a single British commercial sailing ship around, I would have certainly been apprenticed to her! I went to sea in early 1961 as radio officer and finally left in late 1992! During those years, I never shirked any duties that might take me aloft. Indeed, I often revelled in them despite an initial "cold fear" of heights.

But what of real sailing ships! I could, and still can, imagine reaching the t'gallant doublings and pulling myself up to the royal yard up the greased royal mast using backstays and halliards only and no ratlines. But what still strikes a certain "doubt" in my mind is the negotaition of the futtock shrouds to the lower tops. I still wonder would I have the courage to climb, leaning backwards, to the top. The very thought of it turns my blood cold!

I have been aloft in schooners and the like, but nothing with futtcock shrouds.

How difficult and terrifying was it in "real"terms? I am now 65 and will probably never have the chance, but as I am still physically very supple, I would be more than happy to give it at try. What was it really like?
What were your feelings and fears when first climbing to the "tops?"

Also, when going up the weather side to the mainyard, was it an awful long step to the footrope, or did you go the the lee side and move across the forward part of the mast?

Bob

Shipbuilder
24th March 2009, 20:32
This is a picture of me aloft in FREDERICK T. EVERARD in 1962. It is posed, of course, I think that was the only time I ever wore uniform aboard that ship, whilst the mate took the picture. Even so, I found it quite a disturbing experience as it was my first time aloft!
Bob

sidsal
24th March 2009, 20:47
I am 82 and on the old HMS Conway we were sent aloft and were urged to use the futtocks. Last year some fellow Rotarians urged me to arrange a trip on a square rigger so I booked us a trip on Tenacious - the Jubilee Saling Trusts square rigger. We took a disabled lad with us and had a great time. We all went aloft and out on the yards. We were at anchor I hasten to add !!
WE went from Southampton dwon the Channel and over to France. We were lucky to have days great sailing in a force 8 S-Westerly'. We called at Cherborg and the skipper sailed her off the quay without tugs or any assistance.
My nephew is a Trustee of JST - he was skipper of big yachts for years and I have circumnavigated with him as his "mate" and navigator. This was in the 1970-80's. We spent 5 months in NZ refitting before sailing to the Meddy via Aden etc. They were fore and aft rigged. In the SW Monsoon between the Chagos and the Horn of Africa we did 13 knots under sail and overtook a Russian steamer. The pin of the shackle on the main halyard was bent when we took the sail down so the pressures must have been something.
Like you I marvel how those men of years gone by sailed those old sailing ships around the Horn. Truly they were "iron men".
There's no age limit om JST so if you look at their website you will see their voyages. The Tenacious spends the winter in the Carribean whilst the Lord Nelso goes to the Canaries. I may well do another trip if "er indoors" will give me permission !
God bless !

Bill Davies
24th March 2009, 21:10
Sidsal,
Ref: 'The Conway'
About 10/15 years ago I was invited up to Birkenhead by an 'old Conway' friend (about your age) to celebrate the erection of that vessel''s mainmast at a location near Egerton Dock. Quite a turnout.

gordy
24th March 2009, 21:41
I also wondered about the futtock shrouds and whether I could cope with them.
I got my chance on the Australian replica of Cooks Bark Endeavour while it was doing her last British tour. I came across her in Glasgow docked at the Science Centre and signed on for a trip from Greenock to Whitehaven as a 60th birthday treat. It was great. The futtocks were daunting but with the help of the permanent crew we all did it. I also assisted the bosun in gun cleaning, repaired their rib outboard, and did look out duty on the end of the bowsprit. All in all, a great trip.

jmcg
24th March 2009, 21:41
I salute these men

Before my time. The China Boats were difficult aloft purely because of the vast amounts of heavy rigging. Training was superb and competence and confidence were pre-requisites. Early days we were required to rig our own "snotter" and boatswains chair and we would survive or die by our own efforts.

Not so on other ships I sailed on. One "liner" company thought it best if the more senior deck crowd "rigged" the chair for use by others. I disagreed (against all my AH training) and refused to do it. Got the sack from the company but two VGs in my book.

Box boats today?????

BW

J

Pat Kennedy
24th March 2009, 22:02
I worked aloft quite frequently at sea, but nothing prepared me for having to climb to the cathead on the hundred ton cranes in Cammell Laird and grease the sheaves. That was horrendous. you had to get off the platform and crawl out on the struts to reach the outboard grease nipples. Then try pumping a grease gun with one hand, because the other hand was all that kept me up there. No safety harness in those days, it was pure terror the first few times I had to do that.
My toes are curling even as I'm writing this.

jmcg
24th March 2009, 22:16
Got my terminology wrong at #6. Snotter should read "Lizard"

Ashore too long I guess!

Bw

J

Cutsplice
24th March 2009, 22:18
Well Pat your toes curling high above Cammel Lairds, what can I say.
My toes curled a few times but at a much lower altitude and a totally safer evironment. No safety harness required or a working aloft permit either, but Health and Safety could be an issue.

sidsal
24th March 2009, 22:56
Bill. I was at the mast ceremony in B'head too ! Great turnout.
I did my 1st trip on Brocklebanks MAIHAR and we got to Aden after many weeks en route. From Aden we were sent as a decoy ship 48 hours ahead of a convoy to Bombay. We went NE'ly just out of sight of the Arabian coast and then due south to the latitude of Bombay and then due East to Bombay.
At dawn and dusk an apprentice had to climb up the steel foremast to the table where there was a steel crows nest and then up the wooden topmast to a barrel lashed to the mast high up. The climb to the first table up a steel ladder was OK but the next leg involved climbing up a steel wire ladder lashed top and bottom. When you climbed this and the ship rolled slowly the ladder swayed away from the mast and then lay close against it. Quite off putting. Unfortunately the senior apprentice had no head for heights and the other lad was a first trippe like me. Having beenn on the Conway I drew the short straw and did it mostly. You took binoculars and had a good look around for any signs of smoke. Happily a safe passage.
The experience ruined my head for heights to a large extent.

Bill Davies
24th March 2009, 23:07
Sidsal,

There must be connection between the Conway and Birkenhead Priory as I notice that a certain stained glass window within the Priory refers to an 'Old Conway' cadet who died not too many years ago.

Bill

ROBERT HENDERSON
24th March 2009, 23:16
My first experience of going aloft was a few months before my 16th birthday, furling the sails on a Thames sailing barge. There was no ladder or ratlines to climb up, just the mast hoops from the mainsail. I often wondered how the old sailing ship sailors managed, especially when the ship was under way, an experience I prefer not to have had.

Regards Robert

Basil
25th March 2009, 00:24
Never sailed on real square riggers but had a few trips as volunteer crew on the TSYT brigs Prince William and Stavros S Niarchos. As a couple of you have mentioned, climbing the futtock shrouds was interesting and was definitely on my hanging upside down limits at the age of 63 by which time my power/weight ratio had deteriorated a touch.

sidsal, we were berthed next to Tenacious in Nelson's Dockyard in 2005; beautiful ship. Her skipper at the time was a petite lady from Helensburgh - and what about the talking compass? I envy your circumnavigation; sounds like a great trip.

Sister Eleff
25th March 2009, 03:53
Getting the 'buttocks over the futtocks' is always a problem (EEK)

tsell
25th March 2009, 08:14
Getting the 'buttocks over the futtocks' is always a problem (EEK)


Shouldn't have been a problem for you Sister Eleff with those pretty little buttocks!!

tsell
25th March 2009, 08:36
I salute these men

Before my time. The China Boats were difficult aloft purely because of the vast amounts of heavy rigging. Training was superb and competence and confidence were pre-requisites. Early days we were required to rig our own "snotter" and boatswains chair and we would survive or die by our own efforts.

Not so on other ships I sailed on. One "liner" company thought it best if the more senior deck crowd "rigged" the chair for use by others. I disagreed (against all my AH training) and refused to do it. Got the sack from the company but two VGs in my book.

Box boats today?????

BW

J

Bosun's chair.
Reminds me of the time of the time we went ashore in Marseilles wearing tight tee shirts, (what did we call them then?)
Anyway, we lobbed into a bar and were soon approached by a couple of local beauties, who chatted away in passable English.
One latched on to me and after a few drinks she said, "Oooh Engleeesh, (I'm Welsh but who cares), 'Ow deed you get so big muscles, mon amis?"
I said," From pulling myself up the mast."
She said,"I theenk you are dirty bugger!"


Taffy R556959

tsell
25th March 2009, 09:05
This is a bit off the mark, but we were tied up ahead of an American ship in B.A.
We were over the side chipping away on the stage with the usual turn around each end which we slipped each time to drop lower.
The American sailors were painting from a stage rigged with boxed in sides, safety rails and a crew on deck who lowered them using tackle blocks.
Each man wore a life jacket and a safety harness.
Needless to say we gave them Hell and took the p*ss out of them something terrible for a couple of hours.
Later, in a local bar we met up and of course it was on for young and old . A fair amount of blood was spilled, not to mention the booze.
However, we all ended up good buddies and went back aboard their ship, where we were treated to copious amounts weak beer, food and even ice cream.
Surprisingly, they grudgingly admitted that that we were tougher than them and crazier too!!

Taffy R556959

Bill Davies
25th March 2009, 13:23
Perhaps I have mentioned this before but it worth repeating.
I heard (hearsay) from an old 'China' friend of and incident in the early 70s where an AB (ex Grimsby Fisherman) was 'blackening down' the fore topmast stay. He rode the stay ' on the pin' resulting in the poor unfortunate striking the mast breaking every bone in his vertabrae.

PS: For those who do not understand, the stay should be rode 'on the crown' of the shackle. If that is not clear I am quite willing to draw a sketch to assist).. Can't promise it will be much.

jmcg
25th March 2009, 18:51
#18

That was a well known incident in the China. Hopefully, it was not a repeat of an earlier incident - it was circulating in late 60s Bill.

We were very alert to it. Were you ever asked to rig a chair or stage for others to use?

BW

J

Bill Davies
25th March 2009, 18:54
Never!
I did follow your previous post on this issue and I would agree.
It would be unthinkable in the China to use a chair rigged by another

Bill

trucker
25th March 2009, 19:55
make sure your working aloft permits are signed.safety harnesses rigged ,stand by man ready.all safety checks complete.might as well go to smoko.(EEK)

ROBERT HENDERSON
25th March 2009, 19:55
Never!
I did follow your previous post on this issue and I would agree.
It would be unthinkable in the China to use a chair rigged by another

Bill

I do not think this applies to China in particular, I would never use a chair rigged by you Bill or anyone else however much I admired that person's knowledge.

Regards Robert

jmcg
25th March 2009, 20:49
Harrisons (Scholar) expected it. They sacked me for refusing.

Bw

J

sidsal
25th March 2009, 20:57
Yes -Birkenhead Priory has all the Conway memorablia after the place cloed down in the 70's. The windows are meant to reflect the old ship's history - the seagulls were to represent all the old boys lost in the wars. Just recently the ashes of Ian Fraser VC were placed there. He sank a Jap cruiser in the Johore Straits in ww2 from a midget submarine. The Priory overlooks the spot on the Mersey where the Conway was moored until she was towed to the Menai Straits in 1941 away from the Blitz.
And yes - cirumnavigating under sail ( at someone else's expense) was great.
We called at some really great places - Cocos Keeling, Chagos, the Merquesas, Tahiti etc. Five months in NZ doing a refit was the icing on the cake.

Bill Davies
25th March 2009, 21:15
I do not think this applies to China in particular, I would never use a chair rigged by you Bill or anyone else however much I admired that person's knowledge.

Regards Robert

Flattery will get you nowhere Robert!

Brgds

Bill

Cutsplice
26th March 2009, 00:15
I thought it was universal practice to rig ones own chair and stage hitches I always had a man on the stage I felt I could rely on. We must remember there were so called seamen about who could just about tie their shoelaces, fortunately they were in a minority. We must have all experienced men who had trouble making a reef knot, putting a clove hitch instead of a cow hitch on a chain stopper. One explains to them how it should be done and then they make the same errors time and time again.

jmcg
26th March 2009, 00:24
As one bosun I sailed with declared:-

"He couldn't rig a wig on a baldy fanny". Thankfully, they were in a tiny minority . Should it not be two half hitches on a stopper?



BW

J

jimthehat
26th March 2009, 00:28
Dont know if it counts ,but went over the futtocks on the mast at HMS ganges.

JIM

ROBERT HENDERSON
26th March 2009, 00:32
[QUOTE=jmcg;304956]As one bosun I sailed with declared:-

"He couldn't rig a wig on a baldy fanny".



BW

J[/QUOTE

''NEVER MAKE A SEAMAN AS LONG AS HIS A**E POINTS DOWNWARDS.

Regards Robert

Shipbuilder
26th March 2009, 08:34
I am afraid most of you have completely misunderstood my question. I was asking about working aloft in sailing ships, not steam or motor ships. What I really wanted was a descripition of the difficulty and fear (or lack of it) in climbing over the futtock shrouds to the lower top for the first time.
Bob

stein
26th March 2009, 09:02
In a sailing ship rigging you do not trust your legs and your balance, but rather your hands and arms. Going up over the top (the first platform), you will on a modern sailing ship be holding onto steel, and that feels safe if you got the necessary grip and strength in the arms. Going down below the same you will the first time be searching for the ratlines with your feet, but your hands will all the time be holding onto the shrouds, and there is no trouble finding those. I do not remember the top, or the cross trees, as a real problem.
Further up there might be a moment of uncertainty moving from the shrouds onto the yards, particularly on the weather side when sailing close-hauled, but the nerve tingling part is when you near the top of the masts, there the shrouds are thin and not that tight, there is only barely room for a shoe, and if it is blowing at all you might be climbing sideways.
And above the royal yard there was until very lately nothing but the bare mast, you had to shimmy up to paint it or thread the flag line. There was a tradition that you had to lie across the truck on your stomach to prove your membership among real sailors, and I saw a film on "Danmark" with the boys doing that. Today it seems all the school ships has a ladder aft of the royal mast.
Out on the yards you are today fastened on a safety line. You may, if you feel like it, unfasten it to move from a lowered upper topsail yard straight down to a lower, or around the front of the mast, hanging onto the chain sling. But as a tourist on today’s former school ships you may if you prefer go the long way round.
But back to where I started: if you can hang safely by your hands and arms you may feel safe, as there are solid things to hang onto everywhere you will have to move in a sailing ship rigging. There are of course places to put your feet as well, but these may be slippery and moving. As for the old time wind-sailors, they hauled on ropes and climbed all day and could hang freely by one hand and work with the other. Regards, Stein

mansa233
26th March 2009, 09:08
I was on square rigged vesels for about 5 years and can assure you the futtocks don't really pose much of a problem. Perhaps the angle looks worse when viewed from deck. Just trust in your grip. Also, remember, at sea the ship will probably be heeling with the result that the futtock shrouds assume a more vertical slant.
Advice - don't stop, don't look down, just keep going.
And regarding stepping onto the weather footrope (questioned in an earlier post) - personally I have never seen anyone going round the front of the mast. It isn't that much of a step to reach the footropes directly.
And to end - as already mentioned, there are several square rigged vessels out there taking paying trainees and I would recommend the experience to anyone of any age. Granted it won't be quite like the life they led 100 years ago but guaranteed money well spent. Certainly the food will be considerably better!

Shipbuilder
26th March 2009, 12:43
Thanks Stein and Mansa for the answers that were what I was actually looking for. I expect I would have been OK with it as most first voyagers appeared to be. I noticed in my limited experience in powered ships that my confidence increased if I was up and down all day long for some repair to the radar equipment that in older installations actually had the transmitter up the mast. But I was often bothered by the ridiculous fear that the top of the mast would break off whilst I was on it. This probably came about because there were no stays going up that far and climbing up the back of a thin mast of about four inches diameter, it didn't look strong enough although common sense told me that it was immensely strong it would never break off!
Bob

stein
26th March 2009, 12:59
Mansa233: And regarding stepping onto the weather footrope (questioned in an earlier post) - personally I have never seen anyone going round the front of the mast. It isn't that much of a step to reach the footropes directly.

I suppose you refer to two of my sentences, placed far apart and not meant to be combined. You may be finished with the gaskets, for example, on one side of the yard, and then it is much faster to move to the other side ahead of the mast to continue there, and that I still swear is ordinary practice on the lower yards and must have been for a few hundred years. Moving out on the yard on the lee side to get to the weather side sounds pretty stupid yes, not the least with the yards braced up hard, as then it is harder to get out on the lee side.

One thing not mentioned is that going up and down three masts (named tops actually), for example when participating in taking in three royals, is pretty hard on the legs; and as I have found out, much harder with rope ratlines than with battens. They did not have to do any workouts to stay in shape the old wind-sailors. Regards, Stein.

Cangarda
28th March 2009, 14:28
Getting over the tops in a square rigger is not really so difficult as you might imagine. Most modern square riggers have tops that are relatively smaller than the old hemp rigged ships. Usually a sailor can reach the topmast shrouds with his hands before his feet are off the lower shrouds. Also, as the rule is to always go aloft on the weather side, any heel helps with the climbing angle. Of course, in bigger ships it is possible to wiggle through the space in the top where the lower shrouds pass through, but this is never done by real sailors; this passage is called the "lubbers hole".

I recall one winter passage in the barkentine REGINA MARIS when leaving Boston at night in January, ice in the rig and the difficulty (and danger) of wearing gloves while working aloft required a careful visual inspection of every hand and foot hold before committing to it. Nevertheless, no one was killed even once and we had far more trouble with the engine than the rig.

spc

Hugh Ferguson
28th March 2009, 21:38
This is a thumbnail of a Liverpool crowd painting the foremast of the old 1917 built Glenfinlas (later re-named Elpenor). Photo was taken in 1946, bosun Tommy Boswell. The guy right at the top is bent double over the wireless aerial. I guess it's a long time since anyone painted a signal yard! During the war this ship would have had a look-out barrel lashed to the mast immediately above the signal yard, to be manned by a middy at sunrise and again at sunset.

mansa233
29th March 2009, 08:26
Sorry Stein. Yes, one might well go from one side of the yard to the other over the truss or crane. Much quicker.

sidsal
29th March 2009, 11:57
Hugh: Dead right - I was one of the apprentices who had to climb to the barrel on the foremast at dawn and dusk looking for distant smoke. As a adecoy ship - Aden to Baombay it was frightening ! The Maihar was also a 1917 built up-and downer !

Basil
1st April 2009, 12:36
Recollect going aloft on square rigger (Name and date witheld to protect the guilty) and finding the crane (is that right?) covered in grease.
Bos had been greasing the swivels but hadn't cleaned up (Applause)