Monday, March 14, 2011

Tools Of The Trade: Cable, Hawser, Rope

Rope is, to this day, a staple aboard sailing ships. The only difference, in that regard, between the average pirate schooner and a modern sailing yacht is what the rope is made from. The subtle variations in the different kinds of rope also continue to apply. Here then is a by no means complete look at rope aboard ship.

There are three types of rope, broadly speaking, used at sea. Most of the rigging used aboard ship would fall under one of these categories. First is plain rope, which is also referred to as common rope. This is the stuff familiar to anyone. Made up of three strands of fiber braided or twisted together, plain rope is sturdy, useful and easy to store. It is not always practical for heavy work, however. In such cases shroud-laid rope comes in handy. Shroud-laid rope consists of four strands of fiber twisted around a fifth, which is referred to as the heart. This type of rope would be used for stays, manropes and so on. When tarred or otherwise weatherproofed, it can last for an entire voyage. Finally there is hawser and cable, which are the sturdiest of the lot. Hawser is made with nine strands of fiber. Basically it is three plain ropes twisted together. Larger rope, sometimes called anchor cable and consisting of twelve strands, is commonly known simply as cable.

The fibers used to make rope have, not surprisingly, changed quite a bit over the millennia that man has been at sea. Most of the changes occurred over the course of the 20th century but those sailing more authentic vessels, even today, tend to stick to rope made of the natural fibers used in the Great Age of Sail. Hemp is one of the most popular historical fibers because of its tenacious strength. Coir, which comes from palm fiber, is relatively strong too and was frequently used in areas where palms were plentiful like the Caribbean. Common cotton was used to make showy, white rope that was good for the day when a dignitary came aboard you at anchor but useless for sailing. Linen, on the other hand, could be made into a somewhat limp but substantially flexible and strong rope.

Modern synthetic fibers used in nautical rope making are as follows: nylon, which is stretchy and strong, Dacron polyester, which has surprisingly little give but is very strong, polypropylene, a lightweight fiber that is not as strong as nylon or Dacron but will float, and most recently Kevlar which is stronger than Dacron but has virtually no stretch what ever.

Choosing the right type of rope for any given task is a critical piece of seafaring knowledge that can make or break not just the work to be done but the vessel itself if one is not careful. Personally, from plain rope to cable, I like hemp or Dacron but to each their own.

Header: Up in the rigging aboard a restored frigate


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Makes sense how critical the right type of rope is even to a lubber like me, particularly when you look at the picture...

By the way, I am still having trouble getting your HoodooQ site to work here. I guess I'll have to check it out at home.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Right you are. When you're trusting something with your life, you want to make sure it will do the job!

Sorry about the HQ "issues". We're just talking potatoes over there today so...

Luiz said...

Actually, I've never use hemp, broadly speaking.

Is it sweet, I mean, for hands?

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Luiz! It's pretty old fashioned and, once it has been properly treated, it isn't too bad. I generally wear gloves, though. I know; girly.