Continuing our review of ways to safely get yourself up a rig (our lawyers won't let us review all of the unsafe ways...), we're switching gears and going to the only harness that is specifically designed for sailboat racing.
The Mast Pro Harness is now in its second generation -- Gen1 was made by Petzl, one of the most well-known names in climbing gear. Gen2 was released early last year, dropping the Petzl branding in favor of now being made by Spinlock exclusively... in Romania. Ah yes, the Red, Yellow and Blue -- home of gymnasts, 22.2 million people, a marine harness manufacturing facility and not a single Stern Sccop reader. Which is a shame since I know how to speak the language -- Vehicolul meu pe pernă de aer e plin cu ţipari!
My sick Romanian language skills aside, this 2G harness shows that the time Spinlock spent with Petzl wasn't wasted when they decided to make a go of it on their own. This isn't to say that they made any monumental changes to the harness -- then again, why change something that was pretty good already?
"Sure, it's a good harness" you say. "Looks nice and comfy, I guess. But for $175.00 shouldn't you be able to forgo using a halyard and have it fly you up to the top of the mast?"
You're funny... and sort of right.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you can't get a better deal on a harness. For $175.00, you could get something like 3.72 Black Diamond climbing harnesses like the one that I used to own (btw - good luck using that 72% of a harness; be REAL nervous if you can't immediately tell what's missing).
So what justifies the cost?
First of all, there is a reality that we all have to deal with when it comes to the sailing market. We may look around at our local marina and see a silly amount of boats, but the number of consumers that purchase sailing related items (especially performance sailing items) is relatively small. As a demographic, we're unable to take advantage of cost savings related to economies of scale. So when you have a specialty item such as this one, designed specifically for sailors, there is a premium associated with it. Sorry. Get more of your friends to sail and we might be able to turn this thing around.
Beyond that, there is a slew of things that make this harness "worth it". I made reference to being able to buy 3 climbing harnesses for one the cost of one earlier -- you might need to. The Mast Pro Harness is built like a brick sh*thouse, which is necessary due to the high abrasion environment that it's going to be used in.
For a bow/mast person that is going to be wearing this thing full time, they are constantly sliding over non-skid -- it seems obvious, but keep in mind that the only purpose of non-skid is to provide a surface that provides greater traction by increasing friction. This is why the seat and knees of your sailing shorts and trousers almost all have Cordura patches; without that reinforcement, these products would wear through and blow out with stunningly little effort.
And non-skid is just one of the offenders -- think of all the stuff on a boat that can snag or rip something. Just like most of you, I have a drawer full of shorts and technical shirts that are riddled with tears and pulled threads.
So when it comes to making a harness for this kind of environment that won't get Spinlock immediately sued for dropping a poor father of three to his untimely demise (ignoring that blood is a pain in the butt to get out of gel-coat), they use premium materials and construction to ensure the maximum life and safety.
The back of the leg straps and other high chafe areas are covered with an IBQ Cordura that is crazy tough. I sliced and poked at this stuff with a variety of stuff (tip of a paper clip, box cutter, marlin spike, etc.) and you'd never know.
Speaking of the leg straps, they're a good bit wider than your average harness, making long term wear over the course of a full day or your trip up the mast more comfortable. It also spreads the load of your body weight out over a greater area, reducing the "dead leg" effect that can occur if you're up for extended periods of time.
There are little touches too -- there is a multi-tool attachment point that allows you to easily keep a Leatherman with you. There is also a tapered stretch sleeve that securely stores a shackle fid on your way up. Finally, they've covered the metal buckles for the leg straps with neoprene to ensure that on your trip up the mast, you're not scratching up that pretty carbon rig -- it's also to prevent snagging as well.
Beyond the initial cost, I have two "complaints". First, I'm not a fan of the Velcro that they use for the multi-tool attachment -- it's kind of weak and was much better on the Gen1 harness. The last thing you want is your $90 Leatherman taking a shot at reaching its terminal velocity before slamming into the deck or going for a permanent swim. Second, the elastic straps on the back of the leg straps (they make it easier to get into the harness) don't get any abrasion protection -- yes, they're totally unnecessary when it comes to the usefulness and safety of the harness, but for the cost, you expect a little more.
I really like the Mast Pro Harness -- I've used a number of different harnesses in the past and this is by far my favorite. Rinse it off at the end of the day, let it dry and then throw it back in your bag -- take basic care of it and you'll get a tremendous return on your investment. There's no doubt that this harness is for the serious racer; if you want a harness that you're going to use once a year that will live in your gear bag, save yourself a few bucks and get a basic climbing harness for like $50.00 - $60.00. But if you're going to be using a harness constantly, wearing it full-time, there's no other option in my opinion.
Oh, and for the record: "Vehicolul meu pe pernă de aer e plin cu ţipari" means "my hovercraft is full of eels" in Romanian. I'm barely able to form coherent thoughts in English, let alone a foreign language...