Knot fun

Kevin and I are about midway through an eight-week course in boating safety and seamanship, and I have finally found something I seem to be better at than he is. Knots.

Before I could find out that I’m actually pretty good at knots, I had to get over the concept that there were so many kinds of them. Going in, I was familiar only with good, old overhand knot and its close relative, the square knot. I had no idea that were – literally – hundreds of knots in the world. (And you can learn to tie them all at Animated Knots by Grog, an excellent site.)  Why would we need a cleat hitch, a clove hitch, a strap hitch, a buntline hitch, and an anchor hitch? Is hitching so very complicated? There’s the klemheist, the zeppelin bend, the half Windsor, and the double Gloucester, not to mention the now-discredited sheepshank, which doesn’t hold with slippery modern synthetic rope. The list goes on.

Our boating class, though, dealt only with the basics. We learned the clove hitch, the sheet bend, the figure-eight knot, and that seaman’s essential, the bowline.

A bowline is a knot that forms a loop, excellent for tying something to a rail or post. It has the twin virtues of holding fast when it’s under load and being easy to untie when that load is removed. It is such a common, useful knot that there’s a little story to help the knot-tier remember how it goes.

The knot starts with an overhand loop, and the knot’s narrative has that as a rabbit hole, with the end of the rope being the rabbit. The rabbit comes out of his hole, as the story goes, hops behind the tree, sees the fox, and goes back in the hole. Voila! Bowline.

I watched the instructor do it once, and then tried it on my very own piece of rope. It wasn’t hard. Voila! Bowline.

Kevin, though, has his own little story. His rabbit comes out of his hole, goes back for his wallet, gets distracted by his girlfriend, and ends up all tangled up, doing what rabbits do. Kevin is undeterred by his tangle, and looks at my nice, neat bowline skeptically. “No honey,” he says patiently, showing me his rat’s nest, “This is what it’s supposed to look like.”

The only way to keep your knotting skills fresh is to practice, and I wanted to run through my new repertoire a couple of times yesterday to try and make it stick. The rope, though, was in the garage. What was in the house was leftover pizza dough. And everyone knows the best thing to make with leftover pizza dough is knots. Garlic knots.

Why is it that every garlic knot is a plain old overhand knot? Why can’t we have a garlic klemheist? A garlic sheepshank? The answer: We can! I give you garlic boating knots: bowline, sheet bend, figure eight, square knot, slip knot, and the good, old overhand.

Top row, left to right: bowline, sheet bend, figure eight. Bottom row: square knot, slip knot, overhand knot.

(I should mention that, if you want to make garlic knots of whatever style, and you happen not to have leftover pizza dough in the house, you can find excellent instructions from my friend Hank Shaw (via the ever-reliable Simply Recipes), or from the enormously talented Diane and Todd at White on Rice.)

Kevin is not yet ready to acknowledge my knot-tying superiority, but he has an explanation ready against the day he has to. He claims that, if I am indeed the superior knot-tier, it is because I practice a slavish adherence to the word of authority, that I simply do what I’m told. He, of course, is the critical thinker, the independent problem-solver, the iconoclast.

I naturally say this is hogwash, and it seems clear that the evidence is on my side. My history of being a thorn in authority’s side is long and well-documented, beginning with my being elected “Teacher’s Pest” in high school, in a landslide that had me winning with 80% of the vote when you could vote for anyone. It continued with being fired from jobs. Good jobs. If required, I can produce affidavits from authority figures everywhere – teachers, bosses, doctors, government bureaucrats – attesting to just how irritating I can be.

Kevin says we need to wait until we take the boat out and have to tie knots for real to see who’s better at it. I say I’m sure he will, once we are under weigh, tie a perfectly respectable bowline. Knot!

16 people are having a conversation about “Knot fun

  1. Been tieing Bowlands for years with my eyes closed, but who knew they could be used for garlic treats! A whole new world has opened up..

  2. I lived aboard a 40 foot sailboat for a little more than a decade. Knots were a major part of my life.

    Also, my husband was NOT nearly as good at them as I was. (ps: it’s pronounced BO-lin … just a FYI for your non-nautical readers, so they don’t embarrass themselves by say BOW-line)

    Thank you for turning my brain to another creative venue …. knots for eating! Who knew?

  3. It’s genetic. As a boy scout, I proudly earned my pioneering merit badge. I can still tie a bowline as well as the “now-discredited” sheepshank.

    No fair counting the half Windsor, though. Along with its cousins the full Windsor and the four-in-hand, it is a necktie knot. I would gladly teach them to Kevin when I next see him, but the only tie I have ever seen him wear was a bow tie at your wedding. And isn’t the double Gloucester a cheese?

  4. Aaron — I suspect that it is only my gender that saved me from being punched in the face at work. Even so, I will grant that you are more irritating even than I.

    Joanie — If you need knots, you need that site!

    Susan — I know you have excellent first-mate skills, so I suspect your garlic knots will be expert.

    Jeanne — Thanks for the clarification on pronunciation. It makes no sense that the “bow” in “bowline” is pronounced differently from the part of the boat, but there it is.

    Dad — Ding Ding Ding! You win the prize for identifying the double Gloucester as a cheese and not a knot! Must be that Boy Scout training. And, yes, I snuck the Windsor in there because I like the sound of it.

    Tom — I promise.

  5. While reticent to join in on this family fun, i am compelled to mention the following:
    1. Those of us who met you later and did not have to work with you find your constant buck against authority and consensus charming.
    2. I love tying knots and I am not good at following instructions. I disagree with Kevin’s reasoning. It is more likely that you have better small motor coordination (and superior communication between your brain and those fine motor controllers).
    I would love to see those garlic knots baked. I think some of them might lose their characteristic shapes, while other may be very cool looking.
    Also, for the record, I can see that I would enjoy your family as much as I do you. (And I am hoping the reverse is true, since my son will be living on the Cape this summer, and I am hoping you might cross paths. And yes, I know that was not subtle).
    Having nothing to do with that last bit (really!), I want you to know I continue to love opening your blog when I see it pop up in my email. You are a great writer on a wonderful adventure.
    Thanks for keeping us all (your loyal readers) fascinated.

  6. Myrna Bowman says:

    Love the pizza dough knots; how cool! My husband is also an “independent thinker” and I am the one who reads the directions. If it is written down in ink on paper it works. Makes for some “intense fellowship” sometimes.

  7. I certainly hope you let Kevin win today, being his birthday and all. <—see what I did right there 🙂

  8. Marge — Let me first say that you are welcome to come comment here any time. I mean it. You have the knack of saying precisely those nice things that I hope to be true. And I think you’re right about the motor skills. It’s that, and spatial relations, that seem to matter to knots.

    The important thing, though, is that your son is going to be here on the Cape this summer! (Did I hear something about a sea salt venture?) I trust that means that you will also be here on the Cape at some point, and that has dinner written all over it. Fail to keep me apprised at your peril.

    Myrna — “Intense fellowship.” I love it.

    Amanda — It’s because you are so subtle that I am so fond of you.

  9. Though I suspect you’ve read it, Tamar, there is no mention of The Shipping News, a novel by American author E. Annie Proulx, published in 1993; it won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and the U.S. National Book Award. Something about Starving Off the Land, not the garlic knots, not the rope knots, caused my ageing remembrancer to locate this book on the silver linings of memory.
    Proulx sends us to Clifford W. Ashley’s The Ashley Book of Knots, referenced at the Grog Animated Knots:
    Everything knots in the end,

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