Knowing your knots is a key aspect of seamanship – can you tell Hitches from Bends? Or Stoppers from Loops? Over the next few weeks you will be introduced to some of the most common sailor’s knots: Clove Hitch, Figure of Eight, Reef Knot, Stevedore, and Bowline. 

Our Knotucation will begin by taking a look at some of the key knot groups and where these knots belong. We also share some insight from Cleveland, our resident knot guru, who mans the Knot Station at Cutty Sark, ‘it really makes my day when a visitor wants to learn a knot and its history. It’s rewarding to know that some visitors continue practising what I've taught them after their visit!’

Knot Station at Cutty Sark

Knot Categories:

Hitch: A hitch ‘gets hitched’ to a rail, ring, post, or spar. For example the Clove Hitch could be used as a simple and stable temporary mooring knot. It can untie a bit too easily if what it is attached to is unstable or repeatedly jerking.

Bend: Attaches two lines/heavy cables to one another, are able to handle heavy loads and are easy to untie. The Carrick Bend is a personal favourite of mine; a visually pleasing bend which looks like a Celtic design during its formation, or a pretzel, if you prefer...

Loop:  For fixing lines in place, by placing the loop over an object. Loops can also be tied around the waist, which is useful for keeping yourself from being washed overboard! The Bowline is a multi-purpose fixed loop, sometimes known as ‘King of the Knots’ due to its significance and frequent use. Cleveland’s favourite knot, the One Handed Bowline, is a loop, ‘it saves lives, uses a fun mnemonic and requires a lot of interaction!’

Stopper: Pretty much what it says on the tin. The stopper prevents lines from slipping away through tight spaces, for instance, the Figure of Eight could be used on sails and the Stevedore on block and tackles. A stopper can also be used at the end of a rope to prevent fraying.

Binding: Secures a length of rope that is wrapped around an object. For example, the Reef Knot is traditionally used in the process of reefing (reducing/tying up) sails.

Visitor Assistant Cleveland at the Knot Station

During my discussion with Cleveland, we talked about how knots are not always easily defined, ‘a knot can have more than one name depending on what it's used for. For example, a round turn and two half hitches (used for mooring) is identical to an Anchor Bend (used to attach a line to an anchor).’ 

Varying methods, uses, and knot variations, keep Cleveland busy: ‘my main challenge is using a method of teaching that is easy to follow, there are usually two or three ways to tie a knot and choosing the right method for my visitors can make or break the experience.’ However, this also creates a unique opportunity to share ideas, experiences, and techniques during our workshops; providing a mutually beneficial and enriching experience,  ‘I met a ranch owner from Texas who regularly uses knots on his land, and wanted to find out if there were any more efficient knots he could be using. We talked a bit about our lives and work and I decided the most useful knot I could teach him was the Sheepshank. It was almost perfect for his needs and during our exchange he taught me a rope shortening technique he uses called the daisy chain. I teach the daisy chain in most of my workshops now!’

Want to learn how to tie knots?

As we reach the bitter end, I take this opportunity to recommend ‘Knots and Splices’ by Colin Jarman and the ‘Handbook of Knots’ by Des Pawson, which are purchasable at Cutty Sark. Don’t forget to visit us and learn how to knot, and how not to knot…