In June 2019, Breskell was on the hard at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club in Conception Bay South to undergo a refit for a second attempt of the Northwest Passage. A beautifully made aluminum crow’s nest, built by the professional metalworker Walt Trisdale in Port Townsend, WA, had arrived in a crate. As captain Olivier Huin had learned from the previous year’s attempt, this would offer a lofty viewing platform for locating a path through the Arctic ice. However, the design of actually mounting it to the mast still needed to be worked out. When Olivier asked me to do this, I took a hard gulp. To get this wrong would be catastrophic.
With limited time and finances to solve this problem, I established an engineering plan that would give me confidence in a safe installation. We determined the best location on the mast, considering the already-attached radar, spreaders, and staysail stay. With the vision developing, I bought some aluminum angle bar at a St. John’s industrial supply store. Using a cut-off wheel for cutting and a boat stand as a vise, I manufactured braces for the bottom and straps for the top of the nest. After drilling and tapping all the necessary holes for these and the nest’s spine, I used 3/8-inch stainless steel bolts for fasteners and dry-fitted it all to the mast.
Then I removed the crow’s nest and sanded it and the mast at the contact points, adding tooth and removing oxidation from the aluminum. The captain and I immediately mixed up some epoxy and filler, slathered it on, and reattached the nest with the fasteners. Another Northwest Passage-transiting skipper moored at the club gave us some Tef-Gel to coat them, aiding against electrolysis between the dissimilar metals.
After the epoxy had set, I inspected the installation to assure my confidence. I felt good. With negative life-changing and life-ending consequences, failure was not an option. The final touch was to round off any sharp corners and edges to avoid sail chafe.
We stepped the mast, and I wanted to be the first to the nest. Since it was my work, I felt I should be the one to suffer if it was inadequate. Should you trust a cook who won’t eat their own food? However, the captain beat me to it, even jumping into it on arrival. Ugh. I was next, once again inspecting the installation. I was satisfied, at least for our journey through the Passage to our final destination of Port Townsend. The captain was planning to rebuild the boat on arrival, and he could re-evaluate the crow’s nest moving forward.
Was it useful? Heck, yes. Besides adding a thrilling recreational vantage point, we used it in Peel Sound in particular. Breskell led two other sailboats through, at times, dense pack and drift ice. The crow’s nest offered an ability to pick the best path, reducing the sometimes-needed backtrack when running into impassable dead ends. We used portable VHF radios and hand signals to communicate with the helmsman.
The Resourceful Sailor accepts no liability for the safety of this kind of installation. Even the warranty of a professional shipwright will not bring back a life. Make your own decision on the security, and climb masts at your own risk. While this project is only for a few, the Resourceful Sailor hopes to inspire others in their boating endeavors and creative solutions. Remember, make them safe and prudent, and have a blast.