Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Tall Ship update

I passed the strength test and climbed into the tall ship rigging for the first time. This is the sort of stupid thing writers do. I'm afraid of heights and climbing up some giant dangerous swinging ropey thing holds little appeal in and of itself. But damnit, I can't work on a tall ship and not know what it feels like to go into the rigging.

So up I went. And for the record, it feels like UTTER TERROR. Which I'm hoping wears off with practice and better footwear, because a climber needs to be able to do more than cling, huddle, and meep.

Right now the ship is in dock, and there's a canopy over the forecastle to protect the carpenters. To climb the foremast I needed to climb out a hole in the tarp and swing myself sideways onto a shroud. This was the hardest part of the climb: there are no footholds or handholds visible from the deck, and the fall is a good 10 feet already, so there was a great deal of faith and clinging involved in that swing. Also, the lower shrouds are huge, thick vertical ropes about 6 inches in diameter -- far too big to wrap my hand around -- so they aren't exactly conducive to holding and swinging.

(This was my first moment of revelation, btw. A ship is not a climbing wall. It is designed to be a ship first, and a Thing That People Climb On a distant second. Much rigging climbing involves stepping on and clinging to things not designed for that purpose.)

A tall ship's rigging includes shrouds (vertical ropes that connect the mast to the sides of the boat) and ratlins (horizontal ropes strung between the shrouds that form a ladder for the climbers). When climbing, one is to never put one's hands on the ratlins; hands are for shrouds and other standing rigging only. Standing rigging (a rope that will never move) is tarred black, to preserve it and to signal to climbers that this rope will not move.

(Another revelation. Climbing rigging means climbing rope ladders. Ropes move. They move when you put your weight on them; they move in the wind; they move when somebody else sets foot on the rigging. Presumably when the ship is moving there is yet more motion. It's like climbing a mountain of jello.)

(Also: while we have climbing belts, we can only clip in when stationary, and we have no belay. For the most part, holding on for dear life is a very good idea, because yes, you can fall, and if you do, you will go splat. There is no safety net.)

Anyway, I made my climb and got up and down without incident. Returning to deck was easy, actually, because I could see where my feet could go to support me.

(Another revelation: when you are focused to holding on to ropes and not falling, heights don't matter. I had thought height would be my problem, but actually I barely noticed how high I was, I was so focused on not slipping.)

Eh. That's it for now. More adventures of a cowardly climber at some future point. 

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