There is a saying that goes “If you don’t know a knot, tie allot”
Noting could be further than the truth. Knots must be learned if we wish to silence the clattering, tangles in our rigging. Mend our parted sheets and make our anchors fast.
When wind overcomes gravity and gravity overcomes grip, a knot is in order. The knot we apply under stress, will likely be the same one we have most often tied in leisure… We will revert to our simplest forms of knowledge and survival. We will tie the knot; we know we can tie best. Even if it’s the wrong one. At some point we are all faced with something like this and the choice that follows. Do we adapt and learn? Learn a new way? Or shrink away under excuses and pride, faulting the line in our hands, or the gloves on our fingers? We each make these choices. Each day.
KNOTS are as old as time and opposable thumbs. They exist for securing, holding fast, restraining, suspending, salvaging and decorating. Literally they are the ties that bind our buttons to our britches.
When you eat seafood, knots in nets gathered it for you. Or the wrapping on the shank of a hook. When you eat beef, it was raised under the lasso and hitches of all sorts… Knots are everywhere. In the midst of modern sophistication and tall shiny buildings. It is still the knot, that fastens a mans neck in his suit. Be it the Windsor or bow tie, they are a signal of strength, celebration and longevity.
There was a time in my life when the only knot I knew was for tying shoes. I remember the day I learned that knot. I was about 5 years old. I don’t remember the year but I remember the moment, like it was this very morning;
As I frustratingly yanked, on ever disappearing loops atop my sneakers, the whole family waited for me in the car. We were all going to church I think, but I cant be sure. That wasn’t part of the moment. I do remember that in the scheme of things my shoe was not the priority. I had fallen into the cracks of hustle and bustle, while I frustratingly tried to tie my shoe. Knee on the front step, foot in the doorway, horn honking, I planted myself. Set…. to tie that stupid knot….
Its not like I had been neglected on the shoe tying issue. I just didn’t get it. My loops continually consumed themselves into nothing, or tiny rock hard, painfully tight balls of lace… I glared at my shoelaces, while feeling my other sneaker hanging sloppy on the other foot, waiting its turn to be mishandled.
I looked up to the sound of the heavy station wagon door swinging free. My sister Sarah (the next eldest in our family) trotted to my rescue. A heavy sigh of relief… I don’t remember what she said, or did, that made it click for me. But the next thing I knew, I had tied both shoes properly and we were beating feet for the car. It seemed simple now! I beamed with pride and wonder, as I stared at my bunny ears. Watching them sway, as we bounced down our steep gravel driveway. A perfect moment in my childhood…. A perfect moment made possible by 2 factors. 1. My acceptance that I was utterly lost. 2. The willingness of another person, to patiently share her knowledge with me…. A seed, in fertile ground if you will.
As I grew older I saw the use for knots all around me and began to use them more. I learned the Bowline at work and the prussic from a friend. I climbed trees doing Arborist work and dangled from my very first 3-strand splice, when I was 19. I stuck with these knots. Tried and true over the next 10 years of my life, they served me well. But it wasn’t until I became a sailor, that the world of knots, splicing and rope-work came to life, in my soul.
To the Sailor knots are life in the palm of your hand. Like a carpenter swings his hammer and a mechanic chooses his tools, so must a sailor select and apply his knots.
I think its safe to say, that climbing out of a cockpit, onto a heeling deluged deck to lash down a sail, is no time to clap on your best set of bunny ears. The situation demands more quality and strength than that skill can offer. But having said that, we just may try. And so begins our education, of the importance, of learning knots that suit the task.
As I write this, my mind reels with descriptions and applications of knots and hitches, but this is not another knot tying manual. Those have been written by masters’ of the trade. What I share here is only a sliver of truth and knowledge. A sliver, as true as it is sharp. “A knot can hold fast, what your hands would not dare to try. And once your knot is tied, you are stuck with it and the consequences that follow. If your knots are well founded and set with skill, your loads will be secure. Your decks will be quiet, clear and safe. Your anchors will hold, your fish will not slip away. Your stitches and patches will once again gather the wind and carry you on.”
Just as my shoe tying dilemma stopped me cold in the doorway, at the age of 5. So would the same failed knot, stop an Olympic class runner, who was gifted in speed, but refused to learn this simple task. They would be tripped n the middle of a heat, never meeting their true potential.
Self-sabotage is found in all levels of life. Basic skills deserve our attention and devotion. Lest we be slaves to Velcro, paved walkways and fast food forever. In fear of climbing up the companionway with a shot of line, to tame a thrashing load or help a crewmember in need.
We just don’t have time to be stubborn in all things. Not if we truly want to live well. This is also true in our lives and families. We try to hold it all together when the weather is rough r the loads are to heavy. We try to hold it all in with a cluster of bunny ears and mindless wrapping that consumes every inch of our line.
Unfortunately tying the wrong knots carry long-lived consequences. When we are hurt by another, or betrayed, we try to slap some hate on it, or bury it inside. As the years go by and the strain cinches down, that wrong answer to the problem, becomes a permanent fixture. To tight to untie, to expensive to expensive to cut, and after all, it seems “good enough”. So we let it ride and pretend, that’s the right way to handle the problem.
If that is you, let me say this as someone who once wove carpets out of bunny ears and tossed them in a heap over my challenges.
Get out the scissors and cut it all away. Go back and re secure yourself. Anything unresolved within you or among you. Painful as it is, cut it away. Toss it into the sea and learn a better way. Learn how to secure yourself during uncertain times, in such a way that you may slip the knot and relax when danger has passed. Learn how to secure you and your family, not on what you have frantically thrown together. But on what you have practiced and learned about life.
If your ground is fertile, the seed will grow. If your ground is hard, you will never be the big brother or sister. To that small child, who is ready to learn a knot and discover a perfect moment.
Don’t tie allot.
Learn a knot.
And sleep well in your bunk.
Captain Jesse Osborn