Do knot ignore the types of line


Knot tying is something that really has to be learned hands on, but choosing the right type of rope to buy is also important knowledge. Yes, I said rope. You buy rope, but when you put it on a boat it is called line. Almost all rope in use today are synthetics. They are stronger and don’t mildew as much. Nylon is the most common. It doesn’t shrink when it gets wet, but it does stretch the most. For anchoring that is good news, because that reduces the surge shock on the anchor or hardware. However, there are some disadvantages to this. If it breaks under strain, as you tow another boat for example, it can snap back, possibly even slamming detached hardware into a boat or passenger.

Dacron polyester has less stretching ability than nylon, and can be mixed with Kevlar, Spectra, etc. to increase strength and decrease stretch even more, in addition to remain soft and easy to handle. Polypropylene is the most inexpensive rope, and it floats, making it perfect for ski towlines and attaching to throwable PFD’s. It does deteriorate in sunlight and then it breaks easily. It has a slippery texture, and can slip on a cleat. Sailboat rigging is usually wire rope – strong and minimum stretch.

Some say rope was the basis of human culture. Without rope, there could have been no sailing exploration, no raising or dragging heavy loads, no harnessing animals, no anchoring, towing, fishnets, bows, raising tents, etc. According to many historians, the use of rope predated the invention of the wheel, and probably was many millennia before that! When was the first use of rope and knots? Scientists have observed apes twisting vines and crudely tying knots. The earliest humans may have done this too. Ancient art shows Egyptians using papyrus fibers for rope thousands of years BC. In grade school, we all drew on manila paper, but the manila fibers (a banana relative) were also popular to construct rope.

The Chinese made rope by using a high tower, but by the late 1600’s ropemakers began to use ropewalks, long straight narrow covered paths where strands were laid out and twisted into rope. They soon found it would waterproof the rope if they soaked it in tar liquefied in huge vats over an open fire. This was very dangerous because the hemp dust was highly flammable. The workers toiled for 12 hours a day and were expected to turn out at least 3 miles of heavy rope a day. Large ships needed 20 miles of rope! In 1790, the longest brick building in Europe -1135 ft.- was the ropewalk in Chatham, England. It is still in operation! In the late 1700’s Joseph Greene operated a ropewalk on Castle St., East Greenwich, by the bay, and Boston had 14 ropewalks, all built away from town because of the fire hazards.

To really get an idea of what is involved in natural fiber rope making, take a trip down to Mystic Seaport’s ropewalk. This historic building is a section of the Plymouth Cordage Co. in operation from 1824 to 1947. It shows natural fibers such as hemp, jute, manila, etc. in various stages of being combed into fibers which are spun into yarn, twisted into strands, and twisted oppositely into rope.

So, when you buy rope, consider its use and cost. Meanwhile, I’m going to go practice tying a bowline to make sure some ape won’t do it better.


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