Learning the Ropes
Whip 'em into Line!
By Tamia Nelson
February 10, 2004
Ropes hold the paddler's world together. If
you're an old hand or if you've read my earlier articles you
already know how ropes are made and how they're used. You've probably got
a few good knots in your toolkit, too. I've listed my Five
Essentials, along with the other knots in my Second
String. You'll have your own list, I'm sure. Either way, whether you've
learned the ropes in the school of hard knocks or on your workbench at home,
chances are you're ready for almost anything.
Still, it can be a long stretch from "almost" to "anything." Let's see if
we can close the gap. Here are some more wrinkles you may want to add to your
bag of tricks. They're not absolutely necessary, but they'll stand you in good
stead anywhere you use rope on the water, in camp, and even back home.
Let's begin at the end. The end of the rope, that is.
A frayed rope end is more than just untidy. It's a warning. Ignore the
warning long enough, and your rope will start to unravel.
Synthetic rope almost all of the cordage you'll find in stores today
is synthetic is usually cut with a hot knife. This fuses the ends,
preventing their unraveling, but the fix is temporary. It will have to be
redone sooner or later. Just bring the end near to an open flame. The heat
will do the rest. (Don't try this with Kevlar® cordage, though.) Any
downside? Yes. The stink lingers in the air for hours. Good ventilation is a
must. Alternatives include heat-shrink sleeves and plastic dips. You can even
use electrical tape.
All these methods are good enough. When I have the time, however, I prefer
to whip the ends of my ropes. Whipping twisting multiple wraps of waxed
or tarred twine tightly around the end of a line is simple and cheap.
It's also one of the traditional skills of a waterman. If the idea appeals to
you, too, why not give it a try? The rules of the game are easy. Make your
whipping about as long as your rope is thick. And you'll need more twine than
you might think. Trial and error will show you just how much is enough, but in
the beginning it's good to remember that too much is a lot better than too
little. Be generous in your initial allowance. You can always cut off the
Once you have your twine, lay a length along your rope. With laid rope, you
can follow the cantline the gap between two adjacent strands. Next,
start wrapping turns of twine around the rope, working toward the end and
winding the twine back over itself. Leave the last five turns loose. (Now's
the time to cut your twine if you're working from the spool. Don't be stingy.)
To finish things off, thread the free end of the twine back under the loose
turns and pull taut, smoothing the wraps as needed. Lastly, trim the end of
the twine so that only a bit protrudes. You're done.
Common whipping works for me, but it has to be touched up from time to
time. Want something more durable? Then you ought to look at the "needle and
palm whip." It requires sewing through the rope, a job made much easier with
palm. If you're a do-it-yourself type, this tool will more than repay its
modest cost (less than US$20). A palm is good for all
manner of repairs to paddling gear.
Does that seem like a lot of fuss about nothing? It's not. Whipping has
benefits that go beyond keeping your rope ends tidy. Under another name, it
can even help you repair a broken paddle.
Take it from someone who's been there. Few sounds are quite so unnerving as
the sickening snap of a broken paddle shaft. Wooden paddles are particularly
vulnerable, both on the water and around camp.
(Sometimes the things that go bump in the night trip over your gear.) Despite
this, many of us are much too fond of our "ash breeze" to trade it in for
aluminum or plastic. If this describes you, it pays to be prepared. A split
shaft doesn't have to go into the
fireplace. It can be repaired.
How? A good-quality waterproof glue will sometimes be enough. Or so I've
been told. But that hasn't been my experience. Something more is needed. I've
tried using duct tape to splint a split shaft after I've glued it. Once. The
adhesive residue from the tape lingered long after the repair had failed. (If
you ever find yourself in this sort of sticky situation, just rub the residue
with a rag soaked in corn oil. The sticky glop comes right up. Then wash the
corn oil off with soap and water. End of problem.)
I put my duct tape back in my pack after I discovered frapping. (You may
know this as "serving." There's a technical distinction between the two terms,
but it needn't concern us here.) Frapping is like whipping, and it's every bit
as easy to do. The result is a strong splint with just enough flex to preserve
the feel of a good paddle. And it's not limited to paddle shafts. You can frap
almost anything that can be split: tent poles, canoe thwarts, even fishing
rods. (If the rod or pole is hollow almost all are whittle a
short plug and glue it in place, in addition to frapping the break.) Nor do
you have to use tarred twine. I've used parachute line, decoy anchor cord,
jute, even a spare bootlace. Use whatever you have on hand in your repair kit
or ditty bag.
Once you're back home, you can remove your expedient frapping and replace it
with something more pleasing to the eye.
Is frapping a cure-all? No. Think of it as first aid. A repaired paddle is
never as good as one that hasn't been damaged. And a clean, across-the-grain
break will defy almost any field repair short of a pin and sleeve. But gluing
and frapping will usually salvage a paddle with a diagonal split, and someday
that may save your trip. (You should always have at least one spare paddle in
each boat, of course. On long trips, or on any trip to a truly remote area,
it's a good idea to have one spare for each paddler.)
While we're speaking of close escapes and disaster narrowly averted, it's
important to remember that rope isn't always the paddler's best friend. A
loose line in the wrong place can kill you.
The Painter Tuck
It used to be fashionable for whitewater canoeists to trail a painter
behind them as they paddled. In some circles, it still is. Include me out.
There may be times when having a trailing line might save a few seconds, but I
like my lines neatly coiled and stowed. No trailing painters for me, thanks.
And no tangles in the bottom of my boat either. When I go for an unplanned
swim I have enough to think about without wondering if I'm going to find my
ankle (or my neck) in a noose.
Painters are a problem, though. Do too good a job of stowing them, and
you'll have a hard time getting at them when you need them. My solution? The
painter tuck. It's simplicity itself, and I've yet to find a better way to
stow bow and stern lines in a canoe. How do you do it? Easy. Coil your
painter, then tuck it under the grab loop on your deck. If it's too loose
to stay put, just coil it again, making each turn slightly smaller. The
resulting coil will have more turns and therefore be a bit fatter. End of
story. Your painter is secure but still instantly get-at-able. What could be
The painter tuck isn't the answer to every tangle, of course. It's good to
be able to stow long lines tracking lines, guy lines, and climbing
ropes, for example in a compact coil. Fortunately, that's not hard to
The Gasket Coil
A gasket coil is one solution to this recurring problem. The sketch shows you
how to make it. Once you've formed the coil and taken several turns around it,
slide the turns up and pull taut. The free end can then be tied off to a
thwart with a clove
hitch or a round
turn and two half hitches, or the whole thing can be stowed in a pack.
Want to be able to loosen the coil quickly? Just double the free end back on
itself to form a slip knot. One tug on the end and you're ready to go.
Ropes tie it all together. With a little practice, a few minutes
forethought, and some careful outfitting, the resourceful paddler can meet
whatever surprises Lady Luck throws her way. So don't let your fate hang by a
thread learn the ropes, instead!
Copyright © 2004 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights