A beautiful day to replace a halyard atop the Space Needle

The view of Seattle and Mt. Rainier from the roof of the Space Needle
The view of Seattle and Mt. Rainier from the roof of the Space Needle on Thursday

A while back I remember watching some celebrity on the news raising the 12th Man flag atop the Space Needle. At the time I thought, “I wonder what kind of line they use for that halyard?” That’s kind of an odd thing for most people to think, but it turns out the halyard is a Dyneema loop, and they use a sailboat rigger to build the assembly.

When I got the call from my buddy Ken at West Marine Rigging in Seattle (where I lend a hand on a very part-time basis) asking for help installing the Space Needle’s new flag halyard, there was no hesitation on my part. Lots of people go up to the top the Needle to enjoy a meal in the rotating restaurant or to take in the spectacular 360-views of Seattle and the surrounding area from the observation deck, but very few get to climb atop its highest roof.

Building and installing a new flag halyard for the Space Needle is an important job. The American flag, the 12th Man flag and many others need to fly proudly above the Emerald City and they need a halyard that can do the job. Ken had pre-spliced a long loop of 3/8ths Dyneema through two Schaefer blocks and then spliced in loops where the flags would be attached. The top block would get hung underneath the aircraft warning beacon on top of the Needle and the lower block would attach to a turnbuckle at the platform below.

New blocks and turnbuckle for the halyard
New blocks and turnbuckle for the halyard

As we rode the elevator to the observation deck, Ken and I, along with staff from the Space Needle, chatted about what a beautiful winter day we’d chosen to go up for the install — 60s and sunny with almost no wind. Once at the observation deck we were lead through a door into the middle of the Needle where we climbed and hauled our gear up through a system of three very narrow and tall ladders to reach the roof.

Puget Sound, Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Mountains
Puget Sound, Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Mountains

At the rooftop the views were amazing, and it felt like an honor to even be up there. Snow-covered Mt. Baker stood to the north, Rainier towered to the south and the rest of the Cascades and Olympics were a sight to behold. Below us, the city bustled with mid-morning traffic and a few boats moved around on Lake Union and Puget Sound.

Looking south towards Lake Union
Looking south towards Lake Union

After explaining the system we’d built to replace the old halyard to the facilities crew and flaking the new one out on the deck, Ken got in a harness they provided and readied to climb the ladder to the top of the beacon. There’s a wire that runs the length of the ladder and their harness has a special ascender on it that would catch you if you were to fall. He made quick work of the climb and attached a line to the top of the old halyard, undid the shackle for the old block and lowered it down. I tied on the top block for the new halyard and then hoisted it up to him — which was kind of a cool feeling to raise the new halyard on the Space Needle!

Ken making his ascent
Ken making his ascent
At the top, new halyard in place
At the top, new halyard in place

Ken then attached the new block in place and came down so we could do the final fitting. The new loop was slightly longer than we needed so we opened up the splice, measured it to the desired length and then re-spliced it. They like to have the halyard at a perfect length for people to be able to hoist it without the palm of their hand coming down into the bottom block when they pull, so we provided a few ways for them to adjust it once all the creep has been taken out. With everything in place, we tightened and re-tightened the turnbuckle to take all the slack out of the halyard and tested the full run of the loop. Success! In total, the actual install took just a couple hours and it was easily one of the best rigging jobs I’d ever done.

The new halyard set atop the Space Needle
The new halyard set atop the Space Needle

So the next time you see a celebrity hoisting the flag or when you see it waving atop the Space Needle in real life, now you you’ll know where that halyard came from — sailboat riggers.

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