A Lake Superior Sailing Experience, Part Two of Two: In Which I Become a Winch Wench


We sailed in a 32-foot Westsail.

When our sailing captain was hoisting the genoa sail during my recent trip (see Part One), the block for it broke off the top of the mast. A block is a pulley that the line (rope) for the sail goes through. Let’s just say it’s a rather necessary piece of equipment if one wants to use a sail.

We had other sails up, however, so we were able to voyage to our desired destination without the genoa. But the issue needed to be addressed. So after we anchored off Outer Island in the Apostle Islands (the most remote of all the islands), our captain decided on a daring and strenuous plan.

DSC04744.JPGMy friend Russ was to hoist him up to the top of the mast so he could replace the block with a spare he happened to have on board. This feat would involve several ropes and climbing gear, along with the help of a winch. Russ was supposed to pull the rope by hand, which was wrapped around the body of the winch spool several times for support.

My job was to take pictures of the event and pray that our captain did not fall and hurt himself in the process. If that happened, let’s just say we would have a questionable chance of making it back home. So I felt I had a rather important job.

The captain donned his harness and got all the ropes in place. Russ started pulling, I started taking photos, and the operation commenced.

Now, you should understand that masts are tall. I’m not sure exactly how tall, but they seem even taller when you’re on a boat that’s rocking in the water, even if the rocking is gentle.


Captain on his way up the mast…

Russ was able to get Captain about a quarter of the way up the mast when his progress slowed and it became obvious that more person-power was needed. So I pocketed my camera, put the handle in the winch, and hauled away. Between my winching and Russ’s pulling, we were able to get Captain half-way up the mast where he had a different job to do, fixing something else that had broken a while ago.

We rested while he worked, but soon he was ready to go to the top. Man, we winched and pulled as hard as we could, and slowly, steadily hoisted Captain all the way up. Thankfully, the waves and winds remained calm, and he was able to do his work.

Then his legs started going numb from the pressure of his harness. And clambering up a mast is hard work, even if you’re being hoisted. And I suspect it’s a bit scary up there.


All the way to the top!

Before he had the job completed, he wanted to come down. So we lowered him, with me standing behind Russ and holding the rope as a backup in case another set of hands was needed to steady his descent.

When Captain’s feet touched the deck, we all breathed secrets sighs of relief, even if the job was incomplete. We couldn’t sail as fast without the genoa, but suddenly, that seemed all right for now.

And I gained yet another new sailing skill on this trip, that of a Winch Wench.


Outer Island sand spit, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Other things I learned as a Lake Superior sailing newbie:

-You need to be willing to take orders.

-You have to be willing to be taught everything, even how to go to the head (the boat had a compostable toilet).

-Bring your winter clothes, even in the middle of summer.

-Pay attention all the time to everything.

-The captain is the boss of the ship, but the lake and the winds are the boss of the captain.

-Bring along good food, good music, and good scotch. They can go a long way to make up for any uncomfortableness.

Anyone else out there have more to add?


Sunset in Grand Marais Harbor, Minn.