is a line from a 1970’s Comedy album, can you name the group? I have always wanted to use that line, so there it is in all its humor.
Well, I have been a sailor, I have crewed on an M-16 Scow, 23 foot Aquarius, both a 27 & 37 foot Erickson, a Flying Dutchman, a catamaran and an Olympic class Star to name a few. I have made pulleys, snatch blocks, cleats and deadeyes as well as a sewing hook, netting needles, fid and bodkin and marline spikes. I made parallel rulers and compasses used in navigation. I can work a sextant/octant (with or without an artificial horizon), theodolite, read a map, take celestial observations and still get lost.
Just give me a piece of string (twine, marline, rope, &c.) and I can be amused for hours. I mastered my first knot at age 11 in the Boy Scouts, a reef knot (square knot) and mastered the Turk’s Head Knot about a week ago and made this Thump Mat, the round one is a flattened out Turk’s Head knot. The oblong one is an Ocean Plat Mat or a Sailor’s True Lovers Mat, which I mastered yesterday.
I have mastered the wall knot, the crown knot, of course the sheep-shank, bowline (even with a bight), I can tie a manrope, a dogleg and a Matthew Walker knot. For you land lovers a knot is tied in a single piece of rope and a bend is when two ropes are tied together and a hitch is a knot tied on something else. There are several good books on seamanship is D’arcy Lever’s Young Sea Officers Sheet Anchor, for sailing Hervy Garrett Smith’s The Arts of the Sailor, for rope and knots Percy Blandford’s Practical Knots & Ropework. And of course the bible of knot work Clifford Ashley’s Book of Knots, with several thousand knots I should be busy for a while.
I have been working on cockscombing, coachwhipping and needle hitching which has some applications to woodworking. I can add fancy coverings to tool handles and cover glass bottles with protective hitching. I have used some hitching on the ink pens I make and will add the leather Turk’s Head to the ends of a couple of chisels when carving without a mallet.
There is an old saying ‘if you can’t tie a good knot, tie a lot.’ I think it is quite possible to learn how to tie a proper knot. At least a timber hitch. And the terminology is fun, I will learn to make a baggy-wrinkle, do some fender hitching, try and remember the Carrick Bend and have become a fan of toggles. Toggles are interesting devices, it is like a button with a handle or lever and is made of wood. I have several on my haversacks, my rigger’s bag has one and I find them handy for other applications.
I have plans to sew up my own ditty bag, but don’t know if I will invest in a pair of slops.
I have read a couple of Patrick O’Brian’s works, Master & Commander was great. Moby Dick by Herman Melville is a classic, with some fine humor. Then there is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Richard Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast are a must read.
Sailing and wooden ships played a significant roll in exploration and subsequent exploitation of the New World, it can also provide us with a lot of information about woodworking. The Great Ship Vasa lost during its maiden voyage to the ship wreck of the Dutch ship in Nova Zembla in the 17th century show the ship’s carpenter tools used to keep these ships afloat (well the Vasa sunk because of its design). Also our ancestors all arrived here from Europe in wooden ships.
“We have got the Weather Gage”, “Ready about, helm’s a lee.”