Our Readers Write
Knots More to Know
July 29, 2014
April showers — not to mention the floods they brought in their wake — were still breaking news when "Our Readers Write" last appeared, and snow still lingered on north‑facing slopes in the Adirondack hills. But now it's July, and summer has settled over the land with a vengeance. A brazen sun turns city streets into reflector ovens, and even the leafy suburbs steam listlessly though long, hazy days. So it isn't at all surprising that canoeists and kayakers are taking to their boats by the thousands, seeking relief from the heat on river, lake, and seacoast. Some travel far and fast. Others, less ambitious, perhaps, but no less keen, are content to paddle just far enough to reach a shady campsite.
And what do all these folks have in common besides a love of being on (or near) the water? A reliance on rope, that's what. Rope is the thread on which our amphibious pleasures depend. We use it to moor (and secure) our boats, make progress when we go against the flow, negotiate unrunnable drops, winch broached boats from the unwelcome embrace of midriver rocks, keep our tents from becoming kites in high winds, stop tarps from thrashing themselves into tatters… The list goes on and on and on. In a hard chance, even our very lives can hang by these selfsame threads.
In other words, rope is vitally important to canoeists and kayakers. But it's useless if we don't have the ability to bend it to our will, and knots are essential to this end. Need convincing? Then consider these letters drawn from our virtual mailbag. If you've ever been tempted to dismiss knot‑tying as something of importance only to Scouts in their quest for merit badges, we'd suggest you listen to what your fellow paddlers have to say on the subject. Better yet, "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest." When the time comes that you face an emergency on the water — or just a high wind in camp — you'll be mighty glad you did.
But maybe you have something else you'd like to bring to the attention of other paddlers. Or have you caught us out in an error that demands correction? If so, don't be shy. Drop us a line. It's never a bad time. And it's every reader's right.
— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat
Be Prepared. Or Else!
Tamia's article "Never Tie a Knot Again? Not on Your Life!" struck a chord with many readers who, like her, consider knot‑tying to be an essential skill. Here's what one veteran outdoorsman had to say:
As an old‑time Scout leader, I never cease to be amazed by the things Scouts can lose. Use some gadget to connect a rope? When (not if) they lose the gadget, how do they connect their ropes? No thanks, I will stick with teaching knots.
For those who haven't read the original column, the gadgets Howard refers to are the Nite Ize tensioners in this photo:
And here are six of the knots I've found most useful over the years, all of them described in the same article:
It's good to know that Scouts are still being taught the first principles of ropecraft. Howard and I are of one mind: Gadgets, however clever, are no substitute for a skill honed by constant practice.
Out of the Caves and Into the Light
Of course, Howard isn't the only scoutmaster to pass along his hard‑won knowledge to a younger generation of outdoor enthusiasts, as this letter makes abundantly clear:
Thank you for your comments on knots. To me they are important. I tell my young Scouts: "Those that knew how to make the ropes and could tie the knots, they were the first ones to move from the caves." Knots are important. Thank you for your article.
Six Plus Three Equals…
Perhaps you're thinking that Tamia's "six‑pack" of favorite knots (see the photo above) could benefit from a few additions. If so, here are three candidates:
Your six [favorites] look a lot like mine. I do also include the butterfly or artillery knot as a great way to put a loop in the middle of a line to clip gear to, either in camp or under way, and the highwayman's knot to make a quick getaway under a load.
Thanks, Chad. And for the benefit of readers who aren't yet on speaking terms with these knots, here they are:
The artilleryman's loop is on the left, while the very similar (but more secure) butterfly knot is in the middle. The rightmost knot is the highwayman's hitch, so called because of its supposed use by 18th‑century "gentlemen of the road" when tethering their horses. Sailors sometimes employ it as a mooring knot. Its great virtue — and also its greatest weakness — is the ease with which it can be untied.
The King of Knots Dethroned?
After reading "Never Tie a Knot Again?" an experienced paddler weighs in on the subject of end loops:
I have only one point of contention with your article. A figure‑eight loop can be tied in the end of a very long rope quite easily (as any rock climber can attest) using the threaded figure‑eight. A figure‑eight loop is more secure than a bowline and will reduce the breaking strength of a rope less than a bowline (which is why rock climbers use them to secure their harnesses to the belay rope), but they do take more line to create a loop of similar size to a bowline. A bowline is generally faster to tie than a threaded figure‑eight, as well.
Otherwise, you had a lot of very good suggestions for ways to use knots when camping, paddling, transporting a boat, and back at home.
SherriKayaks Outdoor Programs
Good point, Sherri. And your letter brings back memories of my early mountaineering days, when climbers were more or less evenly divided into two camps. One camp — older climbers, mostly — espoused the bowline for end loops, citing its simplicity, resistance to jamming, and ease of tying and untying. The other camp favored the figure‑eight, arguing that it was more secure in the (then) new kernmantel climbing ropes. Since I didn't have the money to replace my laid Goldline with a pricey kernmantel rope, I stuck with the bowline. Later, however, I acquired a kernmantel rope of my own and went over to the figure‑eight camp. Most of the time, anyway.
That said, my present preference for the bowline has more to do with convenience than ultimate security. While the follow‑through ("threading") method makes a figure‑eight loop comparatively easy to tie, even in long painters, I find the bowline easier still, not to mention a good deal faster. Since I often tie and untie my painters many times a day, and since I've never had a bowline let me (or my boat) down, this consideration weighs heavily with me. Still, I'd never argue against employing the figure‑eight. In fact, recent inspection of the semi‑permanent painter on my Pack canoe revealed — you guessed it — a figure‑eight loop. So I guess I'm trying to have it both ways.
What about you? Are you in a tangle of confusion over which knot is best in what application? Then have a look at the References below. Or seek instruction from a scoutmaster. Knots are about making connections, after all, and that's something every paddler need to do.
Our heartfelt thanks go out to the writers whose letters we've reprinted above, and to all the other readers who've written to us over the years. "Our Readers Write" will be back in September, by which time the leaves on many Canoe Country trees will have turned from green to orange, red, or yellow, and there'll be a noticeable chill in the air. In the meantime, if you have something on your mind — be it question, comment, or criticism — don't hesitate to get in touch. We can't do this without you!
Referenced Article From In the Same Boat
Plus Some Others of Interest
- Ropework for Paddlers
A collection of previously published columns
- "Knots to Know! Basic Ropecraft for Paddlers"
- "Knots to Know! Second String"
- "Learning the Ropes: The Line on Painters"
- "Learning the Ropes: More Lines on Painters"
- "The Rope Trick — Tracking Your Way up a River"
- "Letting Your Boat Down Easy — The Lure of Lining"
- "The Versatile Prusik Hitch"
- "ItZa Drag! (Or Is It?)"
- "My Last Word on the Z‑Drag"
And if you want to know more about what's been on other paddlers' minds over the years, be sure to check out the "Our Readers Write" Archive, a Paddling.net index with links to all 54 earlier editions of this quarterly feature from In the Same Boat.
A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to be sure, we'll assume that it's OK to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Just put "Not for Publication" at the head of your letter. That's all it takes.) We'll never put your e‑mail address online unless you specifically ask us to, however. We also edit letters occasionally for length or clarity, and we add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.
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