05/20/22 – To Have or to Have Knot

Spacetrawler, audio version For the blind or visually impaired, May 20, 2022.




I do enjoy reading about sailor’s knots, and enjoyed learning them when I took a few basic sailing lessons when I lived in Olympia WA, even though I’ve forgotten every one and had to look up names for this comic.


  1. Jude

    If a person doesn’t need a particularly specialised knot, for a simple knot that won’t undo, a surgeon knot works – and holds! Just tie an overhand knot. But then tie a second one that’s almost another overhand but instead of crossing and looping under once, do it twice and it holds. Not sure how well I explained as I’ve got a thumping headache but just Google it.

    1. Just_IDD

      Its just a square knot with an extra loop. A square knot will pop open a tiny bit to internal strain and will hold after that, the third twist acts like a lumber hitch and prevents that. It also helps prevent the knot from loosening by providing more friction to the suture to keep it from unthreading since sutures are like nylon rope are very smooth.

      A square knot is right over left, left over right. Or the reverse. Just have to stack one in each direction. In this case it’s probably sufficient.

      1. Just_IDD

        Oh a lumber hitch is just a few extra loops of the bight or loose end. Between the log and the loop as long as there is tension on the line it holds the bight in place preventing the knot from being undone. Once the tension is released it’s really easy to just undo the loop of the bight and remove the rope from the log. Works best for dragging logs or grouped branches by one end.

  2. Muzhik

    RE: getting the food synth to make lasers:

    I thought the ship now recognizes Ruddick as captain of the ship. If this is the case, maybe he can tell the ship’s AI to have a heart-to-heart (or the equivalent) with the food synth to correct this problem in programming.

    Also, instead of having the synth make some rope, Tesfay should have had it make some duck tape. A couple of loops of that around the snake necks, and those things are kept bound for the rest of their unnatural lives. Maybe he can use that to hold the ropes in place instead of worrying about knots.

  3. Tomn

    I’m not sure how much of a real knot you even need, as long as it’s tied down tightly (which will be the tricky bit on something moving and actively resisting you). Just wrapping the line around on both ends as tight as you can and then throwing like three half-hitches at the ends could do the trick. Alternatively there’s nothing inherently wrong with a good old-fashioned square knot – and Tesfay already knows how to tie those assuming he doesn’t have Velcro shoes.

    But at the end of the day in an emergency situation like this the old advice applies: “If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot!”

  4. Pete Rogan

    My favorite knots scene in the movies is still “Jaws,” where Quint, checking his boiling shark jaws, tosses a rope to Hooper and tells him, “Tie me a sheepshank.” Hooper, grumbling that he hasn’t had to pass basic seamanship in a long time, finishes and tosses it to Quint, saying, “You didn’t tell me how short to make it.”

    Quint lets the knot bounce off him, eyes fixed on Hooper. Demands his hands and declares them ‘city hands’ that never put $2000 worth of tackle up against the chance to land $5000 of shark or see it cut up like a paper doily. Hard to top that dialogue, remembered here poorly. But knots are just the foundation of seamanship, and a number of other things. Like mathematics, you master the art or you’re just a lubber. On land or sea. Or in space.

    1. Tomn

      Eh, I’ve had a captain who made a game out of watching Jaws and then asking his deckhands to count up how many examples there were of Quint being the worst sailor ever (off the top of my head, smashing up the radio i.e. emergency communication system, failing to establish a watch system, and getting drunk on watch ranks pretty high up there, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie and I know there were more). Dude was salty but didn’t back it up with seamanship.

      Ultimately the thing is that while the right knot for the right situation matters, a good sailor also knows that when the excrement hits the prop any knot that holds as long as you need it to and does what you do it to is the right knot. This is definitely one of those times where punctiliousness takes a back seat to gettin’ ‘er done. Especially if the man on the spot happens to lack much experience.

      1. Pete Rogan

        Not arguing the point. But Quint himself made his psychology too visible when he revealed he was a survivor of the USS Indianapolis. The Indy had just delivered the top-secret atom bomb to the B-29 base at Tinian and was heading home when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Some 900 men of its crew of 1100 survived the sinking. But no one knew that the position of the ship had not been given to their receiving port. Nor their schedule. This, the Navy later claimed, was standard for any ship on a secret mission. The Indy was not marked overdue for two days, and in fact the survivors were spotted by a PV-1 Ventura pilot doing a routine antisubmarine patrol four days after the sinking. Destroyers and rescue craft finally arrived to rescue the survivors… all 317 of them. The rest succumbed to wounds, dehydration, and mammoth shark attacks that never stopped.

        That this man then embarks on shark fishing as his maritime postwar career practically screams “Ahab!” That he concealed his background from Hooper and Brody speaks of a dark malevolence directed not entirely at the fish. After all, the Navy dropped the ball on looking for them… and the Indy’s Captain, Charles B. McVay, was court-martialed for failing to zig-zag to avoid being torpedoed. (Capt. McVay would shoot himself in 1968, two years before “Jaws” was published) It was clearly a coverup for Navy incompetence, but it would not be overturned by Congress until 2000. At the time “Jaws” was taking place, a lot of Indy survivors felt their Captain had been framed, and were working to change that outcome. I don’t recall that Quint was involved with this but he didn’t need to be; he had all he needed to know he had been rooked royal by the Navy and sharks were all he had left to take it out on.

        Had Brody known of this, I doubt he would have set foot on Quint’s boat nor allowed Hooper to sail with so obviously deranged a skipper. Such a thing as being too obvious, you know. As Quint showed he knew, or wouldn’t have shared his story. Knots were never the issue. But only Quint knew that. And he knew enough to keep that part of him hidden until they were well out to sea. No Starbuck to warn of Ahab’s mad passion. And no coffin to cling to after. Just some barrels, but by then the point was long made.

      2. tlhonmey

        For a sailor, a knot that lets go when you need it to is often just as important as one that holds as long as it should. You can stave off one disaster by using the wrong knot in a hurry maybe, only to have another bite you when it jams.

  5. tlhonmey

    “The Ashley Book of Knots.”

    If you like knots, get a copy. 3900 different knots, where and when they originated so far as we know, and what to use them for.

    All in a massive, hardcover tome.

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