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Nothing is more bewildering or fascinating to a landlubber than watching the deft moves of a seasoned sailor as they create ties, hitches, and bow lines when making their vessel fast to a dock or mooring.


Spotting a pleasure boat sporting the moniker Knot Rite, my first thought was “that’s not spelled right.” One of several ho- mophones to be sure; the English language is filled with them: right, rite, wright, and write in this case. Then it occurred to me that the word rite was quite correct, for tying a proper knot is a rite of sorts and one that has been practiced for eons. The history of ropes and knots, splices, lashings, and hitches began in the dim past and little is known about their origins. Ancient humanoids used fibers and vines and ingeniously tied this material together. Their own twists and turns likely sup- plied the first examples that gave man his first idea about knots. Prehistoric carvings and decorations feature knots of various forms in their friezes, proving ropes and rope work have been interwoven into many facets of man’s daily lives. Tradesmen perfected the art while songs and stories praised their strength and steadfastness. Ancient Greek tales of great odysseys wouldn’t be complete without their Gordian Knot; the Bible mentions ropes in dozens of verses; and knots appear as symbols and badges of ancient Celtic heraldry, to name a few examples.


Still, despite their intrinsic link to mankind, at first glance


it’s hard to imagine how anyone could fill eight volumes with over 1,900 handwritten pages and drawings about knots. Yet Henry North Grant Bushby (1863-1926) spent more than two decades creating a voluminous tome entitled Notes on Knots that was never formally published but now resides in the library gal- lery of the prestigious Mariners Museum in Newport News. Thanks to the generosity of his daughter, Dorothy, who donated her father’s manuscripts in 1957, Bushby provided


The House & Home Magazine


a detailed discussion of rope work, along with carefully hand- drawn illustrations. Drawing on often obscure sources and care- ful research, the volumes advance through mankind’s countless link with knots and, unless your life has revolved entirely around Velcro and slip-on shoes, you can begin at your own feet. Your shoes were likely the first knots you ever learned to tie. The shoelace or bowknot is a simple half-hitch with those twin bunny-ear loops that keep your feet snugly wrapped, but with an ingenious release that can free them in an instant. Glance in the mirror and you may find more knots—the belt on your morning robe, the knot in your necktie, your plaited braid or your favorite sweater. Whether cotton, twine, wool, acrylic, or nylon, everyone is held together with knots. Even that loaf of bread waiting on your dining table may be tied into a knot. From surgical stitches to suspensions bridges, the world depends on knots and cordage. They may be ancient technol- ogy but are indispensable in today’s world. On NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity, cables are bundled and tied down with a form of reef knot, used by mariners for thousands of years to trim their sails. Closer to home, in a region that revolves around rivers and creeks, the humble knot is invaluable to working and pleasure boaters alike.


Nothing is more bewildering or fascinating to a landlubber than watching the deft moves of a seasoned sailor as they create ties, hitches, and bow lines when making their vessel fast to a dock or mooring. At sea, a boat’s speed is measured in knots. Today’s onboard electronics take the guesswork out of knowing how fast one is moving, but for centuries mariners used a variety of rope techniques to determine their speed.


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