Never Enough Rope

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:18AM - Comments: (3)

Beth Leonard
Beth Leonard

Practical Sailor tested several different gripping hitches in August 2009, from left to right: the rolling hitch, the rolling hitch with modifications, the sailor’s hitch, the icicle hitch, and the gripper hitch.

Editor's note: While clearing out the rope-cluttered cockpit lockers last week I was reminded of this fun piece by former PS editor Doug Logan, written a few years back. Seeing how most of the U.S. is now firmly in the grip of winter and some sailors may be growing a bit weary of dragging their kids (or grandkids) back up the sledding hill, I thought it might be of some use.

Left to their own devices, some sailors buy rope the way Imelda Marcos used to buy shoes—impulsively, profligately, with a kind of obsessive urge. Even today when some of us go to a boat show we have to stand for a long time next to the booth with the stacked coils of multicolored climbing rope and odds-and-ends in all lengths and diameters, wishing we could come up with a reason to get just a little bit more. There's no such thing as too much. We're melded with Imelda.

In the basement I have everything from spools of whipping twine and tarred marline (which, when you put your nose to it, takes you directly to the fo'c'sl of the Charles W. Morgan) to big coils of nylon anchor rode waiting for a project.

If you have enough rope, projects suggest themselves all the time. Last winter, the morning after shoveling off our 57th snowstorm, I got out the gantline I used to use in a four-part tackle to go up the mast. It's a nice soft blue braid, about 160 feet, and I made a rope-tow with it up the little hill in the back yard—put a snap hook in it with a cow hitch so I could pull the lighter kids and their sleds up the hill. The top end went through a block tied to a tree up the hill, the bottom end through a snatch block hooked into a loop around another tree at the bottom. The loop was closed by two rolling hitches, so the whole thing could be adjusted easily. I had more fun than the kids.

Chris Caswell, in a commendable column in Sailing several years ago (extolling the habits and skills of seamanship that make sailors so handy —nay, almost godlike—on land) told the story of a friend who needed some furniture moved out of a second-story apartment. Someone retrieved a mainsheet system from a boat in the harbor, and bingo, out the window and down the stuff came.

Rope, rightly rove, can make you look devilishly clever. The more you know about it, and the more you practice with it and rely on it, the more projects and jury-rig solutions will pop up and demand to be tried out. This can actually lead to some hairbrained schemes, like the time someone who shall remain nameless managed to lash a trailer to a hitchless car bumper with something that became, in the space of a mile or so, both Gordian Knot and Fender Bender.

On the other hand, rope, arguably the most versatile tool in the sailor's chest, can and should be used in a lot of places where plastic or metal fittings are now installed in the name of convenience, but at the cost of weight, corrosion, and holes in the boat.

Truly there's nothing so important, so familiar, so comforting to sailors as rope. It's nice to sit down on a winter's night with Clifford Ashley or one of his disciples, and 10 feet of three-strand rope, and work things out. For many, a well-made knot board is a fascinating sculpture, and a Carrick Bend is an example of symmetry and strength to rival the most sacred geometry.

For some more practical rope projects while at sea, check out our look at gripping hitches, a versatile handy knot for any season.

Comments (3)

I believe that, in a traditional sense, there are (were) more "ropes" aboard a vessel than the few referenced above. I can think of "man rope" (used to facilitate boarding), bolt ropes (edging a square sail, providing strength to canvas), tiller ropes (between the steering wheel and the tiller on ships, or between the coxswain's hands and the tiller in small craft). I bet there are more that I have forgotten.

Posted by: Robert W | January 23, 2015 5:43 PM    Report this comment

Guilty as suspected with coils of rope in the basement and bags of small stuff on board.
A rope is a rope, until it is given a specific purpose on a boat. Then that particular length becomes a specific line, usually but for the bucket rope, the bell rope, and soap on a rope.

Posted by: Raandly W | January 21, 2015 10:09 PM    Report this comment

I thought everything aboard was "line" except the rope for a bucket? I loved the artful writing in this piece... with the last paragraph evoking: "There's nothing . . . absolutely nothing . . . half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats." by Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (River Rat to Mole)

Posted by: Jib (John) Bourget | January 21, 2015 8:47 AM    Report this comment

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