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Above: Milan “Slim” Knezevich died last month at the age of 94. He had been a Cal Sailing Club member for at least 50 years, and was very active right up through his late 80s. Right: Hanging by a thread . . . or at least by 5/8" yacht braid.

masthead, I made the mistake of looking down . . . yikes! Instead of the usual expanse of cockpit and deck, there was this little toy boat at the bottom of what could have been Jack’s giant beanstalk. My objective was the masthead wind vane. Those little tabs that serve as apparent wind angle reference points had been way out of alignment since early last season, and it was finally time to straighten them out. I took the appropriate screwdriver out of my pocket with my right hand, reached up to the screw that would loosen the arms holding those little red tabs, and that’s where the process came to a screeching halt. No way was I going to let go with the left hand. And it was a two-hand job. No way was I even going to loosen my death-grip on the mast with that left hand. Suddenly I was whipped six feet to starboard, and it was all I could do to Page 164 •

Latitude 38

• August, 2006

to rig a second halyard as a safety. All you have to do is take up slack as I go up.” “What’s the matter, Lee, you don’t trust my halyards?” “Um, no offense, Max, but your halyards are like, kind of old.” “Yes, I see they’ve been around the block a few times,” said our guest as he climbed aboard, easily outdoing Lee in the bad joke banter department.

keep from dropping the screwdriver as I clutched the mast with the right hand too.


ax, are you like, aboard?” It was Lee Helm, five stories below me, and she had just stepped onto the rail of my boat. “Up here!” I shouted down. “And be careful down there!” “Sorry,” she said. “I was just wondering how come all your hatches are open with no one around.” “Well, if you stand still I’ll be down in a minute,” I said as I put the screwdriver away and started down. Down was harder than up, because it wasn’t always easy to find the next loop of this 'ladder' made entirely from strips of webbing. “Finally getting around to like, fixing that Windex?” “Yup. Had to do it sooner or later. But now I see the problem with these mast ladders. Once you get to the top, you can’t do anything because you have to hold on for dear life.” “For sure,” she said. “I like a climbing harness with a 3:1 purchase.” “I don’t think I could hoist myself on a 3:1,” I said. “Maybe those ascender gizmos would work better.” “Do you at least have like, a chair?” she said. “I’ll go up if you’ll turn the crank.” This was the best offer I'd had all day, so I did what needed to be done. My neighbor usually leaves his dock box unlocked, and I happened to know that it contained, among other useful equipment like a swaging tool and a hot knife, a very serviceable bosun’s chair. A few minutes later Lee was rigging herself up for the ride to the masthead. “Going up the mast?” asked an older gentleman who was walking down the dock. He had a noticeable limp, and I thought he looked a little familiar but I wasn’t sure where I'd seen him. “No, drowning worms,” answered Lee. But no one got the joke — she had to explain that “no, drowning worms” is what you say when you are sitting next to the water with your fishing pole out, your line in the water, a box of bait and tackle by your side, and someone walks over and says “fishing?”


aving cleared that up, Lee asked if the man would serve as an assistant. “Okay,” he said cheerfully. “I’ll tail, but I’m not gonan crank any winches.” “No problem,” she said, “We’re going


ee finished tying the jib halyard to the chair, taking some pains to make a bowline with a long tail rather than just snap the shackle to the bosun’s chair’s lifting ring. She did the same with the spinnaker halyard that would serve as her backup. “This eliminates three possible failure



never imagined that my boat would look so small from the top of my mast. It was easy enough to go up — this newfangled 'mast ladder' that I had run up the mainsail track made it as easy as climbing up a steep flight of stairs. As easy, that is, as climbing a steep flight of stairs can be for a sailor of my displacement and waterline. But when I had climbed high enough to reach the

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Latitude 38 August 2006  

The August 2006 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.

Latitude 38 August 2006  

The August 2006 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.