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By the 17th century, seamen measured the speed of their vessel using a device called a Dutch or common log. A coil of rope tied with evenly spaced knots, and attached to a wedge-shaped piece of wood, was lowered from the stern and allowed to float behind it. The line played out for a specified period of time as determined by an hourglass. At the end of that time, the rope was pulled aboard and the number of knots on the rope between the ship and the wood counted. The ship’s speed was said to be the number of knots counted. A knot, or one nautical mile, was standard- ized in 1929 at 6,076 feet; 796 feet longer than a land mile. To pass the long hours of a ship’s voyage in the days of sail, seamen from England, Spain, and other great sailing nations kept busy between watches ty- ing decorative knots, which they would sell to residents and travelers at seaport towns. Most seamen were illiterate and rope was plentiful. Knots were a product of boredom. Knot boards, bell ropes, lanyards, buttons, boat fenders, chest handles, hammocks, even candlesticks and chalices were intricately woven from Manila rope, hemp, and rattan. This fancy work pro- vided extra income for seamen and useful and decorative items for hanging inside or outside one’s home. These remnants of maritime culture have all but vanished; a few fine examples carefully curated in museums and private collections. Today, the International Guild of Knot Tyers brings together people with interests in knots and knotting techniques. With over 800 members worldwide, Guild members come from all walks of life. Begun in England with just 25 individuals more than three decades ago, the Guild hosts meetings, knotting events, and festi- vals to help promote the practice, science, and art of knotting. Sadly, as the genera- tions pass, the number of practitioners wanes.


In Wake, in Middlesex County, Guild


member Fred Dant has been enamored with knots since he was a teenager in the early ‘60s. Hanging out at Garrett’s Marina, Dant’s grandfather taught him how to cre- ate a proper eye splice (a permanent loop in the end of a rope). Dant would watch for boaters returning to the marina that had a mess of tangled, ragged lines and would offer to make them a perfect splice for a dollar apiece. Once he had enough


26 July/August 2017


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