Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Knot, Bend or Hitch, What’s The Difference?

I posted a couple of pieces about rope recently which led me to wonder about the terms used for rope work – in particular the differences between a Knot, a Bend and a Hitch. Am I becoming an ‘anorak’ or some kind of ‘geek’?  I mean, does it really matter – so long as you know what to do with the blessed thing? Ok, well yes, maybe I am becoming a bit of a nerd, a bit academic maybe. And, this distraction certainly isn’t moving me towards finding that elusive low cost ideal cruising boat that I’m seeking. Still, when questions like this spring to mind, I usually reach for the most thumbed pages of any book in my library the 'Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea'. As usual, it didn’t let me down. If you’re interested here is the answer.

In truth the terms are pretty much interchangeable. These days the word ‘knot’ is often the preferred word. Some argue that in days gone by the terms had much more defined usage but this may not be true either because many of the names originally given to methods of fastening ropes were technically inaccurate. A reef 'knot', for example might be better described as a Bend or a Hitch.

Strictly speaking a Knot only refers to a ‘tucking knot’ in which the strands of a rope are unravelled and then tucked over and under each other to form a ‘stopper knot’, a knob or enlargement in the rope so that the end of a rope could not be pulled through an eye. The most common stopper knot in use today would be the ‘Figure of Eight Knot’ used by sailing boat crews to stop the end of the jib sheets flying free, but even this doesn’t meet the strict definition because the ends of the rope are not unravelled to create it. The most famous true knot therefore is probably the Matthew Walker knot, in which unravelled rope ends are used to put an elaborate knob on the end.
Figure of Eight

Another important aspect of the term however, relates to whether the fastening is regarded as permanent or temporary. A Knot implies a permanent fastening whereas a Bend or a Hitch is used as a temporary measure.

A Bend, is a term originally used to join one rope to another or to an object. When sails were fastened by ropes they were ‘bent to’ masts, yards and booms. The anchor cable is said to be ‘bent’ to the anchor.

Now this is where it becomes really complicated because according to the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea a ‘Hitch’ has an identical definition ‘the name given to a series of fastenings by which a rope is joined to another rope or object’.

So Hitches are the saitches areme as Bends? Well yes, they come within the overall genus of Bends but they are Hitch’s if the name says so – as in ‘half-hitch’, ‘rolling hitch’, ‘clove-hitch’.

Confusing? You bet!