Knot So Simple

It’s exactly a month till I will be once again heading down to Gosport to join some fellow Clipper Race Crew for Level 3 training; ‘Asymmetric Spinnaker Training and Racing’ to be precise. My toughest training yet I suspect.

Aside from spending 2019 getting focused on developing my fitness, nautical/seamanship knowledge and skills, I also need to practice my knot tying, which isn’t as straight forward as it sounds. Lessons learnt from my Level 1 and Level 2 training last year have taught me that it is one thing to be able to tie a knot on demand at home among friends and family, but quite another to tie knots under pressure whilst at sea; especially if the person who has sprung a knot challenge on me is Sir Robin Knox-Johnston! Heart races, palms sweat and my mind goes blank. Much fumbling with cordage ensues with downcast eyes and blushing cheeks.

At the start and finish of each Clipper race training week, crew are tested on their knot tying ability by the Skipper or First Mate. Crew have to master the following knots as a bare minimum requirement: Figure of Eight, Reef Knot, Rolling Hitch, Sheet bend, Double Sheet Bend, Bowline, Round Turn and Two Half Hitches, Clove Hitch, Admiralty Knot and Tugman’s Hitch. The one that always catches me out when under pressure is the Bowline. During training, fellow crew and I have re-named it ‘the pressure Bowline’ (especially if it’s Sir Robin who’s requested it be made).

Therefore, I am in awe of Windy Chien, an American artist who learnt and made a new knot every day of the year back in 2016. Whereas my journey into knots has been prompted by wanting to learn to sail and be a valuable crew member in the Clipper Race, her journey into knots began with an amateur interest in macramé. Chien’s The Year of Knots started when she purchased a copy of The Ashley Book of Knots. First published in 1944, this encyclopedic source contains more than 3900 entries. On January 4th, 2016, Chien learnt four knots from this book and realised immediately that she wanted this to be a year-long project. Each day, she learned how to tie a knot, as well as its history and use.

I take inspiration from her to galvanize me to master and appreciate the knots that we will use at sea. Like Chien, I am quickly appreciating that knots are not only a noun and a verb, but they’re also a window into a new language and culture with its own rich, deep history… Little did I know when I signed up for the Clipper Race how many skills and competencies I must learn and how far reaching these new skills and knowledge would be!