Our Friendship sloop, while less than twenty years old, is a sister ship to a 1903 design by Wilbur Morse. Moreover, she was rigged using the original specifications of her much older sister. Thus, we do not run to modern conveniences; like a winch. In consequence, there are coils and coils of running rigging- that, eventually, wears out.
         Worn out rope, sometimes collectively referred to as “junk” (my understanding is that the technical definition of “Junk”  only applies to short pieces of worn out rope, however, usage changes, and sometimes it is worth making the nit-pickers crazy), has been recycled for about as long as rope has existed. I for one cannot throw out a worn out halyard or sheet. The stage of its life where it can be used to haul a mighty load is over. Yet it also is just at this point that the line has become soft to the touch and the rigid memory that all new line possesses has been largely stretched out of it. While lacking strength, it is a delight to handle, and there is an undeniable itch to do something with it.
         Fortunately, for the possessor of such a wonderful windfall, there is a long list of useful projects to make out of junk. Woven fenders, mats, and padding for blocks come immediately to mind. When we took on the stewardship of our Friendship sloop several of the deck blocks and the areas of deck surrounding the pad-eyes for those blocks, had taken a beating. Both blocks and deck needed restoration. Additionally we did not want this problem to reoccur, so I wove mats for the mutual protection of deck and block. This solved the problem, it looks great, and the material was free.

Block and mat

         There is a danger that this application of a traditional nautical craft can spill over into decorative work that is un-necessary, and in moderation, that is fine. I am guilty of this in several spots; look at this handgrip in the head of out boat.

Hand Grip

The coach whipping and Turk’s-heads are certainly not necessary, but they add something to an otherwise Spartan head. There is also some value, perhaps intangible, to the pleasant, foggy, Saturday afternoon that I spent making this grip. Quiet, contemplative work that is, in itself a source of joy. There is also a danger here that one can get so addicted to the pleasures of turning used up line into projects that one’s boat or home can begin to look like one of those seafood restaurants that dress themselves in bogus nautical kitsch. However, there ought to be a balance between that unfortunate extreme, and the modern streamlined Clorox bottle that too many people associate with boating.
         It is easy to overlook the functional side of fancy rope work. For example, the Turk’s-head is still quite common in a decorative capacity, but it is also a fantastic binder knot. I have a small hollow fid that I use continually. Unfortunately, the attachment of the handle to the shaft was never really that sound, additionally as the rivet in the handle continually worked loose, it dug into my hand. I am just too cheap to replace a twenty-dollar tool that should have outlasted me. My solution was to re-rivet the handle and then drive a Turk’s head up over the rivet. When coated with several coats of varnish, the fix is comfortable to my hand, beautiful, lasting, and incredibly strong.    

Hollow Fid

         Fenders, or fender covers lend themselves particularly well to the use of junk. The soft, well-worn, line is kind to wooden painted surfaces, even when under a great deal of compression. Our tender came with a pathetic plastic strip pop-riveted to exterior with a tiny piece of new polypropylene line set into it for a fender. I could see this was going to be detrimental to our topsides, so, out came the plastic, and in went a piece of well-worn 1 ¼” manila that I had been saving for just such a purpose.  Despite novice rowers, our topsides have faired well ever since.
         My goal with this site is not to write a lot of how to articles but rather to champion creativity, particularly as an alternative to consumerism. If you are interested in the how to of just about any kind of rope work you cannot stray far wrong by picking up a copy of the Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford W. Ashley.  While it may not be something you want to keep on board (especially if you have a small boat the size of this tome will throw out your trim) it is a fantastic book, part history, part how-to, and a remarkable reference. There are more and more resources on line as well I just noticed this piece on the making of a bow fender for example at Intheboatshed.net.    
         If one ever needed and excuse to engage in fancy knots, or fancy rope-work, then worn out running rigging is it.


One Response to “Junk”

  1. Richard Withington Says:

    Thanks for the thoughts and pictures. We surely think alike. I have two mustaches to make. One is for a small workboat, the other for a real tug. I reviewed Ashley, and got some good ideas, but it looks like the best plan is to be original. My plan is to start with an outline of wire rope, weave in the manila to a mat, then use many short pieces attached to the framework with girth hitches. I’ll start at the bottom so that each layer will overlap like shingles on a roof. We’ll see how it works out. Love your mats and coachwhipping. Dick

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