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A Note of Caution about ATN Topclimber

A note of caution to users of ATN Topclimber

From Alex Blackwell

I am an enthusiastic user of the ATN Topclimber. As it is just my wife and I on the boat, I need to be able to get myself up to the top under my own steam.  I checked out all available options before settling on the Topclimber. I would, however, like to warn our readers about an “issue” I had a couple of weeks ago. The unit has three shackles, which I always check prior to going up. However, the one at the top had unscrewed itself completely when I checked it again at the top of the mast. It was held in place solely by my weight pulling down on the shackle.  I had to calmly stand up in the Topclimber to get my weight off, and screw the pin back in.  If it had come out, I would have gone all the way down to the deck in a big hurry...and that’s a long way down.

ATN Topclimber - all my weight is suspended from the top shackle, the one that unscrewed itself on the way up!

For the first time I did not have a safety halyard attached to myself  as I was going up to free a jammed halyard (the other one). You can see from the photo that all of my weight is hanging from the top jam cleat, which is connected to the webbing by a shackle. As I see it, the friction was enough to turn the shackle pin, which ATN had glued in place.

I did call ATN the next morning to warn them about this serious safety design flaw, suggesting they replace these shackles with welded D rings. Etienne was not in and would call me back.

I subsequently corresponded with Etienne of ATN and told him that I had "as an interim solution" reversed the shackle in the top cam so that it would tighten when my weight was applied, instead of being loosened. Etienne responded stating that this issue had been discussed on a Practical Sailor Forum and that all Topclimbers were now manufactured with the shackle reversed - not as I suggested with a securely welded D-ring.

It's a long way down from here!
I was quite shocked, however to see the picture of the top cam in the current issue of Practical Sailor with the shackle in precisely the wrong orientation. It is very dangerous the way it is.  Please check your own gear and be sure to reverse it before using it again. The friction of the user's weight bearing down on the shackle should work to tighten the pin. And do check it periodically on the way up.

Needless to say, I was quite shaken by the experience and will NEVER go up the mast using any gear without a back up safety device, even if I have to go through hoops to rig it up. We have acquired a mountaineering harness to use for this purpose.  I have also learned from personal bruising and Ellen MacArthur’s solo sailing experience to wear a helmet while climbing and to bring water and spares of small parts.  

I still support ATN for developing this highly useful product, and I truly wish all users the best success and utmost safety. 

Note: Practical Sailor's Comment -- thank you!

Thank you for your comments. In the photo we used in that article, we chose to show the shackle in that orientation to make the same point that you so emphatically make. The unit we purchased off the shelf from Boat/US had the shackle positioned just like that. We said so in our article, and we took extra space to discuss this issue in detail to ensure that readers understand the problem.

Regarding Etienne's assertion that this was discussed in a PS forum, well, we did run a letter from a reader in our Feb. 1 issue who had a shackle pin back out on his TopClimber. In his letter, he said he wrote to Etienne and was told to invert the shackle, but that's as far as this went in terms of a warning. We felt it important enough to treat separately in our recent article on mast climbing devices. It appears that ATN has chosen a less than thorough approach to addressing the issue as we found no warning of this in the literature that accompanied the unit we purchased just this summer. We hope our article will help keep users of this device safe in the future.
Best regards,
Dan Dickison
Practical Sailor

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