No. It’s NOT what you think. I do apologize if you’ve happened upon this blog post searching for something more sexually libertine in nature. Google “Marquis de Sade” and you’ll probably find what you’re looking for. Conversely, if you’ve come to bone up on fancy nautical rope work…by all means stick around, as you are in the right place.
Sailing is a wonderful, low cost method of transportation (leaving out the upkeep) albeit a bit SLOW. Because of this, the time comes in every sailor’s life when he or she will certainly find themselves out at sea, completely bored. On a long passage, you may have weeks of idle time to kill. It only takes a few minutes at the most to trim the sails, check your course and scan the horizon. Then what? Boat work? Nay. What did the old salts and mariners of antiquity do to keep from losing their minds while keeping a look out? They tied knots…a lot. Not only was it a functional, productive past time, it made the boat look damn good too.
Rope, much like it’s smaller, softer cousin yarn can be turned, tied, and weaved into many a wonderful thing. Throughout the centuries, sailors turned this practice into an art form. For those of us who can barely remember how to tie a Double Windsor knot once or twice a year – there is hope that these traditions will live on if we’re willing to learn them.
Eager to be savvy, I picked up this great used book at the Goodwill – “The Marlinspike Sailor” by Harvey Garret Smith. Mr. Smith was the go-to-guy for marine illustrations in the 50’s and 60’s and flipping through the pages it’s easy to see why. The popularity of the first edition in 1956 quickly elevated it to a cult classic. The 70’s saw an updated section on synthetic rope. It’s the book of choice if you have any itch to learn traditional decorative rope and canvaswork.
Being as I had a naked spare tiller, I wanted to add some French style whipping for some added grip and salty looks. It seemed fairly easy from what I gleaned from the illustrations – just a series of half hitches all the way down. The succession of knots takes on a handsome spiral pattern. I used some natural cotton rope from Ace Hardware and did my best to keep the line bundled neatly for fast work. I pulled each knot tightly.
When you’re all done with your whippping you may want to add a little flare on the end. A Rolling Turk’s Head knot works well to cover your final wraps – looks cool too. I may add another Turk’s Head to the top to give it some more balance.
Another good resource for learning knots of both the decorative and all-purpose variety is over here. There’s even an app for that! Good luck.