Starting at the Top

By Tom Neale, 3/6/2008


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Dangling Antenna
It really makes my day to look up to the top of my mast and see that something’s missing. It’s even worse to look up there and see that something’s broken. That means I’ve got to make at least one extra trip to the top to see whether I should buy the thing or whether I can fix it. If it’s missing, I know what I’ve got to do without that extra trip. If I wasn’t so tight (translate: poor) I would just buy the thing, whether it’s broken or gone, and save myself a vertical trip. But instead, I’ve got to stand around at the base of the mast wondering which I’d least rather be—hanging terrified at the top from a halyard or even more broke. I usually go for broke.

Right now I’m sitting at my computer near the base of my mizzen mast. I can hear a clanging coming from the mast because the wind is blowing around my fancy-dancy TV antenna which is hanging from the top, dangling on its coaxial cable. Apparently some screws came loose or the thing wasn’t made well in the first place. I’ve been out scanning the scene of the tragedy with my binoculars. It’s not quite as good as having my eyes and hands right there, but at least I’m not dangling around up there with it. I can see just enough, around the clutter of the other gear, to know that I can’t tell from deck level whether I can fix it or have to buy another one. Great. Couldn’t it just be blown to smithereens or have the top half off or something else unambiguous? No. Not on the top of my mast.

Thinking how much fun it would be to get my wife to hoist me up to the top to check it all out, I, instead, headed below for the big box full of manuals for every single piece of equipment, gear, junk and gunk I’ve got on the boat. Every piece but one--the fancy-dancy TV antenna. I’ve looked everywhere. I can’t imagine installing anything without keeping the paper. But I must have managed to do it this time. Then I remember someone else installed it and I didn’t see the job done—unusual on this boat, but you can’t be everywhere all the time. So I don’t know what brand it is, I don’t have a drawing of the mounting system to give me a clue of what might have happened, I’ve got nothing but the gnawing fear, growing in my gut, that once again I’ll have to go up the mast. If I wasn’t a coward, this wouldn’t be a problem. But I am a coward, at least when it comes to hanging onto skinny sticks way above a moving boat. (Not to mention at least a few other things—which, no, I won’t mention. At least today I won’t mention them.)

About High Places

1. Remember that the effect of wakes and rolling will be much greater the higher up you go.

2. If you have to go up a mast try to do so in a land locked marina.

Click Here for More Tips

I could just forget about it. I’m sure the coaxial cable will break soon enough and the thing will come crashing down. In the unlikely event that it misses me when it does, I’ll then be able to see what brand it was and maybe make a semi-intelligent decision about what I need to do. What I need to do may be to forget television. It’s getting so complicated with HD and all the stuff that comes from cables and satellites that the good old days of watching local channels on analogue broadcasts as you go up and down the coast are going with all the rest of the good old days. We can get satellite TV with a Follow Me TV (Now “Track It TV”) rig. But satellite TV won’t get you all the different local channels as you travel along—at least so far as I know. So maybe I ought to just buy some more books and read. Maybe I ought to buy some books about overcoming fear of heights.

But I hate to have something broken on my boat. It’s like having a rock in your shoe and leaving it there because you’re hoping you’ll be able to sit on your butt for the rest of your life. So I’ve got the solution. It’s the usual solution. I’m going to start working on getting up enough nerve to go up there. Sometimes working on this takes a few days. If I’m lucky, the cable will break and it’ll come crashing down first. But I probably won’t be lucky.

Or maybe I ought to pull out my Sawzall. I don’t use that mast that much anyway. And seagulls and ospreys love to sit on it. I’ve got nothing against seagulls and ospreys, but I’d rather they sit on my main mast. That way their poop comes down up forward. When they sit on my mizzen mast it comes down the hatch which is usually opened right over my head.

Or maybe I ought to just bite the bullet and hire somebody to go up there. Guys of my age and lack of talent ought not to be on top of a mast anyway. And if I hire somebody, maybe they’ll be able to fix it on one trip and I won’t have to buy another antenna and I’ll actually save some money. But no, saving money doing anything on a boat is about as realistic as milking a cow for honey.

Maybe I ought to invent something that will bring the mast top down to me. Like an instrument platform that sits up there and will slide down on a rod when you pull a rope. Or something like that. You could call it the AHMP (Adjustable Height Masthead Platform). Think of the ramifications. This AHMP could have it’s own DC power source, with just one large power cable running up the mast, not all those little wires that you have to worry and work to get past all the other little cables already inside the mast. Then all the equipment up there that needs power could be plugged into that platform. Never mind that it would need dedicated signal cables and each and every company insists on different plugs for its cables and so some of the stuff up there wouldn’t work. Some of that stuff hardly ever works anyway. But with a name like that (an A at the beginning) it could be near the top of the index in the West Marine catalog. I could make a killing and then I wouldn’t have to worry about being tight anymore.

Wait! I just heard a loud clump on the deck over my head……………………..

Dangling Tom

Well, “heck.” (I didn’t really say “heck.” I said something else. But that’s the way they want me to say it here.) The clunk was just my fishing pole that I’d had propped up on the life line. It had fallen. That antenna was still dangling up the mizzen.

So I can shell out a few hundred bucks and hire someone or maybe go up there myself. What’s a few hundred bucks when it comes to my not dangling from the top of a mast. Actually, it’s a lot. So up I went. The thing was indeed dangling from the coax cable, but no screws or bolts had worked loose. It was just snapped into a bracket. UV had severely eroded the antenna housing. The antenna itself was open at the edges. You could see through and, as far as I could tell there wasn’t much in there. Never had been.

So I snaked down a line and Mel sent up some glue, wire ties and tape for a repair job. In about 20 minutes the piece-of-junk TV antenna was back in place. Now I can research whether it’s worth getting another and, if so, what it should be. I’ve already been to the West Marine catalog and it looks like they have some good ones there. But no AHMP. Think I’ll invent that first. Any of you people who’ve been burned in the stock market want to make a really great investment in a product that’s sure to rise?

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale