Ropework or marlinespike seamanship are traditional umbrella terms for a skillset spanning the use, maintenance, and repair of rope. Included are tying knots, splicing, making lashings, whippings, and proper use and storage of rope.
While the skill of a sailor in the Age of Sail was often judged by how well he knew marlinespike seamanship, the knowledge it embraces involving docking a craft, towing, making repairs underway, and more is still critical for modern seafarers.
A whipping knot is a means of holding the cut end of a rope together to prevent fraying and ensure ease of use. The simplest form is the common whipping. Constrictor knots can serve as temporary whippings while cutting ropes, as can a few layers of adhesive tape.
Other fray-prevention techniques include back-splicing, aglets, or the application of an rubberized adhesive coating, resin, or paint to the cut end. Some modern synthetic fibers, such as nylon and polyester can make use of alternative methods such as fusion, which uses heat to melt the fibers to make a clean cut and permanent end; this technique cannot be used with non-melting fibers such as aramids.
However, the rope and knotting expert Geoffrey Budworth warns against the practice of fusing thus:
Sealing rope ends this way is lazy and dangerous. A tugboat operator once sliced the palm of his hand open down to the sinews after the hardened (and obviously sharp) end of a rope that had been heat-sealed pulled through his grasp. There is no substitute for a properly made whipping.
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A knot is an intentional complication in cordage which may be practical or decorative, or both. Practical knots are classified by function, including hitches, bends, loop knots, and splices: a hitch fastens a rope to another object; a bend fastens two ends of a rope to each another; a loop knot is any knot creating a loop, and splice denotes any multi-strand knot, including bends and loops. A knot may also refer, in the strictest sense, to a stopper or knob at the end of a rope to keep that end from slipping through a grommet or eye. Knots have excited interest since ancient times for their practical uses, as well as their topological intricacy, studied in the area of mathematics known as knot theory.
The constrictor knot is one of the most effective binding knots. Simple and secure, it is a harsh knot that can be difficult or impossible to untie once tightened. It is made similarly to a clove hitch but with one end passed under the other, forming an overhand knot under a riding turn. The double constrictor knot is an even more robust variation that features two riding turns.
The boa knot is a modern binding knot invented by weaver Peter Collingwood in 1996. His intention was to develop a knot that would hold well when the constricted object was cut close to the winds of the knot.
The marlinespike hitch is a temporary knot used to attach a rod to a rope in order to form a handle. This allows more tension than could be produced comfortably by gripping the rope with the hands alone. It is useful when tightening knots and for other purposes in ropework.
A whipping knot or whipping is a binding of marline twine or whipcord around the end of a rope to prevent its natural tendency to fray.
The timber hitch is a knot used to attach a single length of rope to a cylindrical object. Secure while tension is maintained, it is easily untied even after heavy loading.
The common whipping is the simplest type of whipping knot, a series of knots intended to stop a rope from unravelling. As it can slip off the rope easily, the common whipping should not be used for rope ends that will be handled. This whipping knot is also called 'wolf' whipping in some parts of the world. The 'Hangman's knot' is a variation of this whipping knot.
A rope is a group of yarns, plies, fibers or strands that are twisted or braided together into a larger and stronger form. Ropes have tensile strength and so can be used for dragging and lifting. Rope is thicker and stronger than similarly constructed cord, string, and twine.
A fireman's chair knot is a knot tied in the bight forming two adjustable, lockable loops. The knot consists of a handcuff knot finished with a locking half hitch around each loop. The loops remain adjustable until the half hitches are tightened.
The Highwayman’s hitch is a quick-release draw hitch used for temporarily securing a load that will need to be released easily and cleanly. The hitch can be untied with a tug of the working end, even when under tension. The highwayman's hitch can be tied in the middle of a rope, and so the working end does not need to be passed around the anchor when tying or releasing.
Rope splicing in ropework is the forming of a semi-permanent joint between two ropes or two parts of the same rope by partly untwisting and then interweaving their strands. Splices can be used to form a stopper at the end of a line, to form a loop or an eye in a rope, or for joining two ropes together. Splices are preferred to knotted rope, since while a knot typically reduces the strength by 20–40%, a splice is capable of attaining a rope's full strength. However, splicing usually results in a thickening of the line and, if subsequently removed, leaves a distortion of the rope. Most types of splices are used on 3-strand rope, but some can be done on 12-strand or greater single-braided rope, as well as most double braids.
While a spliced 3-strand rope's strands are interwoven to create the splice, a braided rope's splice is constructed by simply pulling the rope into its jacket.
Marlinspike is a tool used in marine ropework. Shaped in the form of a polished metal cone tapered to a rounded or flattened point, it is used in such tasks as unlaying rope for splicing, untying knots, drawing marline tight using a marlinspike hitch, and as a toggle joining ropes under tension in a belaying pin splice.
The West Country whipping is a quick practical whipping knot, a method of using twine to secure the end of a rope to prevent it fraying. It has several advantages: it can be tied without a needle; it is simple to understand and remember; if the whipping fails, the loose ends can usually be re-tied to temporarily prevent the rope's end from fraying.
West Country whipping was the name given by Biddlecombe in 1848 to this particular practice, but most subsequent seamanship books, including the British Admiralty Manual of Seamanship, have modified the name to West County whipping...I have not seen this whipping used but it has this advantage: if any part breaks it will be a very long while before the whole whipping lets go. The break will be evident and the whipping can be replaced in time.
A fid is a conical tool traditionally made of wood or bone. It is used to work with rope and canvas in marlinespike seamanship. A fid differs from a marlinspike in material and purposes. A marlinspike is used in working with wire rope, natural and synthetic lines, may be used to open shackles, and is made of metal. A fid is used to hold open knots and holes in canvas, and to separate the "lays" of synthetic or natural rope for splicing. A variation of the fid, the gripfid, is used for ply-split braiding. The gripfid has a jamming cleat to pull a cord back through the cord split by the fid's point.
The sailmaker's whipping is one of the most durable and stable of rope whippings known. According to The Ashley Book of Knots, "palm-and-needle whipping, or sailmaker's whipping, is the most satisfactory of all."
The eye splice is a method of creating a permanent loop in the end of a rope by means of rope splicing.
In knot tying, a bight is a curved section or slack part between the two ends of a rope, string, or yarn. A knot that can be tied using only the bight of a rope, without access to the ends, is described as in the bight. The term "bight" is also used in a more specific way when describing Turk's head knots, indicating how many repetitions of braiding are made in the circuit of a given knot.