Issue: April 2014
BYPOINTS: A Case for Muscle Memory

There are certain skills for which I have far more ambition than aptitude. The violin comes to mind, as does the game of golf. But here I speak of something more germane to boating than fiddles and 7-irons. I speak of nautical knots, with which I’ve always had something of a troubled relationship. It is Diana Prentice’s charming yet very practical feature in this issue, “Know Thy Knots” [page 28] that has me thinking along these lines.

To be fair to myself, perhaps my issue with knots is less about aptitude than it is about unbreakable habit. Eons ago, see, when I was a twenty-something furniture deliveryman, I learned a particular knot. I’ve never seen this knot in any of the books; it’s just a slipped overhand knot, tied to the standing end of the line after being wrapped around a rail. It doesn’t have a name, as far as I know. It was just the knot I was taught, the one we used to tie furniture to the rails on the inside of truck’s cargo box. You snug the piece of furniture against the wall, tie said knot to the rail on one side, slide the knot tight, wrap the line (we used woven-cotton straps, not rope) around the piece of furniture, and tie the same knot on the same rail on the other side. Well, not exactly the same knot. For the second and final knot the line has to stay as taut as possible as you tie it off, so first you make several round turns on the rail.

I tied this knot thirty, forty, fifty times a day for about three years. To this day I can tie it left-handed or right handed, loose line or taut, with my eyes closed. I tie it without even thinking about it—and that’s sort of the problem. My hands just start making that knot before my dim little brain can form an opinion on whether or not it’s the right one for the job. And that’s the other problem; it usually is the right one for the job—or at least it seems so to the aforementioned dim little brain. My little furniture knot, as I’ve come to call it, is quick and easy to tie and seems perfectly secure, as long as you leave enough tail on the slipped end. And best of all, it’s a breeze to untie. The only flaw I’ve discovered is that the taut-end version of the knot generally doesn’t hold with marine rope. Woven cotton straps, yes; nylon or poly rope, no. But of course I don’t really use the taut-end version in boating; I don’t deliver a lot of furniture by boat these days.

A knot scholar, I’m sure, would scoff this knot, tell me that it has no place on a boat, tell me that Clifford W. Ashley would roll over in his grave to see me use it in place of a proper bowline, or a proper round turn and two half hitches. And I could not argue with any of this. Diana’s article has inspired me to beef up my knot repertoire, to be sure. But, somewhat contrarily, it has also inspired me to stop fighting what has turned out to be very useful muscle memory. I will embrace the furniture knot. I will embrace my inner deliveryman.


Tim Sayles, Editor