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.
(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!