Sam Llewellyn

A splic­ing les­son from great-aunts avoids the temp­ta­tion of cheap and nasty float­ing lines

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

There has been a small but in­ter­est­ing scan­dal lately, in­volv­ing those manover­board res­cue gad­gets that take the form of weighted slings at­tached to your boat by a length of float­ing line.

The line on the cheap ones is not, by all ac­counts, one con­tin­u­ous length of rope on to which the ca­su­alty can latch so he can be hauled aboard. It is a whole bunch of short lengths of of­f­cuts, welded to­gether with a sol­der­ing iron by some op­pressed soul in a back al­ley in Guang­dong, and un­able to sup­port the weight of a baby, let alone a per­son who has tripped over his Dubar­rys af­ter con­sum­ing four Fray Ben­tos pies and a gal­lon of fine wines.

This leads one to think (though not as hard as the ca­su­alty will be think­ing about his cheap­skate in­stincts while the boat shrinks among the swells). If you want to com­bine econ­omy with re­li­a­bil­ity, you have got to do your own rope­work. Ask any climber.

My own rope­work teach­ers were some great-aunts who glow­ered at me through their pipe smoke as my in­fant hands fum­bled with an eye­splice. It was all three-strand then, ex­cept when it was four. The aunts pointed out that knots were very good, but splices were even bet­ter, be­cause they did not force rope to go round tight cor­ners, and left it with much of its orig­i­nal strength. (The aunts had sur­vived, like the rope in their hands, by never hav­ing agreed to go any­where they did not want to go in the first place). A bow­line, they said, just about halves the strength of a line, whereas an eye­splice re­duces it by only 5%. The only non-good splices were long splices, which were slim enough to go through blocks but which were weak­ish. Yes, yes, we nod­ded, de­lighted, be­cause long splices were next to im­pos­si­ble. And on we spliced, over one, un­der one, work­ing our way round the strands in suc­ces­sion.

There was much about splic­ing highly amus­ing to the in­fant mind. The names, for one thing. A back splice, dead easy once you mas­tered the crown knot, was (hi­lar­i­ously) a dog’s dick. The splice which joined two lengths of rope leav­ing a, well, but­ton­hole-shaped loop be­tween the joins, was prac­ti­cally hys­ter­i­cal. In the #metoo era it is known as a cut splice. At that time it bore a name that has made the well-known town of Scun­thorpe unGoogleable when parental guid­ance is en­abled. How we roared, first with laugh­ter, then with pain at the clip on the ear, and fi­nally with hunger when locked in our rooms on bread and wa­ter.

Well, we got out of our rooms, and rigged our boats, and went to sea. And then some creep turned up with a strangely-con­fected string called braid­line, and the day of over-one-un­der-one was past and gone, and we were in a mud­dle. Not only were we ex­pected to do math­e­mat­i­cally im­pos­si­ble things with in­ner lines and cov­ers, we had to buy a whole new set of tools.

So we sat down to learn. YouTube takes care of the in­struc­tions, par­tic­u­larly the Mar­low­braids fil­mettes, which are civil and prac­ti­cal and de­liv­ered by sharp young rig­gers who make it look easy (it isn’t). The tools are avail­able on ebay and from chan­dlers, and are in the case of fids lu­di­crously ex­pen­sive. They are also avail­able from knit­ting shops; an ac­cept­able fid can be made from a hol­low knit­ting nee­dle, and a small emer­gency ver­sion from the wife’s vape stick if you can prise it from her grasp.

Once the braid-on-braid splic­ing bug has got you, the sky is more or less the limit, and it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore you get mixed up with the soft shackle move­ment, pos­i­tively evan­gel­i­cal in its in­ten­sity. If you buy the ready-made ones on ebay, they may eas­ily fall from aloft like the gen­tle rain from heaven; so make your own. Say good­bye to stain­less steel horse­shoes at a fiver a pop. Say hello to a cheap soft loop of Dyneema, fine and sil­very as Ra­pun­zel’s hair and splice­able with a biro tube into some­thing you can lift a trac­tor with. It is tech­ni­cal stuff, but it is not all tech­nol­ogy; be­cause the stop knot on the shackle is a di­a­mond knot, an in­tri­cate bob­ble of cross­ing strands used on knife-lan­yards in the square-rig days. And also, as it hap­pens, by the great-aunts who taught us how to splice in the first place. What comes around goes around, and there is noth­ing new un­der the sun. Over one, un­der one. Where's me fid?

‘If you want to com­bine econ­omy with re­li­a­bil­ity, you have got to do your own rope­work’

Great-aunts were Sam Llewellyn’s splic­ing men­tors

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