The Busy Shore: Ropework

Whether you live on water or on Terra Firma, if you're fascinated by ropework here's the skinny on rope materials, rope care, and a few knots to get you started.

| January/February 1973


A bit of loose rope and needle.


The waterman's world seems to be held together by lines of all kinds. Special skill and confidence at securing, rigging, and making fast distinguish him from the landsman, though there are few open-air professions that have no truck with some kind of ropework. Some say six knots will do you, and some say 50 will barely squeak you through. In any case, the Ashley Book of Knots is a nearly complete work on almost every aspect of line handling, with several thousand knots from which to choose six or 50. There are several kinds of line with differing characteristics.

MANILLA, a natural fibre, is smooth and strong. It is inelastic enough to set fast, and was once the choice for fine yacht rope. It is still an excellent all-round line.

HEMP is not as strong as manilla, and is more susceptible to decay. In the old days of sail, hemp was soaked in tar and used as standing rigging because it is extremely inelastic and will not stretch out of tension. Hemp is seldom used today, as a rope.

COTTON, another natural fibre, is weak and decay-prone. It is white and kind to the hands, but beyond a few decorative uses, it is not a reliable line.

NYLON is wonderfully strong. A synthetic fibre, it is rot-proof. It has great elasticity. Because it stretches, it is often used where shock loads are applied—the elasticity cushions the jolt. For this reason anchor and docking lines are nylon.

DACRON is another synthetic, almost as strong but less elastic. It, too, is rot-proof. Because it will not stretch as much, it is used as running, rigging on modern boats.

Line can be laid, made up of 3 (and rarely 4) twisted strands; or it can be braided, usually with an outer shell and an inner core.

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