Thursday, May 17, 2012

How to make a line fast to a cleat

Picture this:

You've just done a masterful job of putting your boat up against the dock, perhaps executing the perfect Captain Ron turn.  Now you need to keep her there, using your dock lines. What do you do?

(This will not be a discussion of breast lines, spring lines, etc...  we'll save that for another time)

Whatever the configuration of dock lines you use, it will be necessary to make the lines fast to cleats on the dock (or perhaps the boat).  How do you do that?

Here's what we do on Eolian:

Around the far end
First, lead the line around the horn of the cleat that is away from the direction of pull.  In the picture above, that is the top horn. 

Over the top
Next, lead the line around the other horn, and then cross over the top of the cleat.

Under and over again
Now lead the line under the far horn again. Because you did the cross-over, you will now be going in the opposite direction, compared to your first pass under this horn.  Cross over the top yet again.

Now the final step, which seems to be where many people go astray.  Make a loop of line with the tail on the under side.  Pass the loop over the horn closest to the load and snug it up.  There are two ways to do this - only one is correct...  this is the one which results in the line laying parallel to the first pass over the top of the cleat and under the second pass, as in the picture above.

If you make the loop the wrong way, you'll get a knot that looks like this. It's ugly.  And I believe that this is one of those times when ugly = bad.  Since there is considerably less contact between passing turns of line in the ugly knot, there is less friction... and it is friction which keeps the knot tied.

More knots are not necessary.  Eolian has spent many, many winters tied to the dock just like this.  Never once has a dock line loosened.  However:
  • If you are preparing for a hurricane, you'll want more knots... and more lines!
  • If the dock line is unusually slippery and/or the cleat is polished, you may need to double the knot
  • If the dock line is very small for the size of the cleat (say, a dinghy painter), you might add a second knot
If you choose to add a second knot, follow the same pattern:  have the tail come out on the under side so that it lies parallel to the previous passing turn.  You'll know when you get it right.

Now that the line is made fast, what do you do with the extra?  When we first moved out to Shilshole, we flemished our dock line tails like this:

Otter target
However we discovered that this provided the ideal target for the otters who live under the dock to dump their daily loads of crushed and undigested mussel shells.  Who knows how the mind of an otter works?

Hard centered target
Now, we just wrap the tail around the cleat. Yes, this is still perceived by the otters as a target, and we occasionally get anointed.  But apparently the hard center is less comfortable to tender otter exhaust ports than the soft, flat flemish coil.

Don't just leave the tails laying on the dock.  Aside from the obvious tripping hazard, the otters will gather them up into a pile and then anoint the pile.

The best arrangement is if someone else has made flemish coils nearby...


Unknown said...

It's amazing how many people screw up this simple procedure. Done right there is almost no way it can come untied. Stacking more and more knots on top does nothing and just makes it difficult to untangle in case of an emergency. Thanks for posting the lesson.

Anonymous said...

God, this is SO right! Two things baffle me - that people can own a boat and refuse to learn this simple concept, and that some can't tie a clove hitch for their fenders, resulting in those unsightly "fender tenders." And the point about otters and flemished coils show that the author really knows his, um, stuff. said...

i really know him
and he is simple concept

Bharata Yip said...

I wanted to explain this to someone and I had to go to four sites before I found you! The other three each had one little aspect incorrect - each of which would have made the knot either difficult to untie or difficult to let slack out EASILY with a working load on the line. Your knot does this. Thanks. I've been doing it this way for over 40 years.

One thing about your application bothers me: you said something like "tie it to the dock like this and, IF, YOU CHOOSE,TO THE BOAT. It should ALWAYS be made fast to the boat this way, NEVER permanently attached with something "convenient " like an eye splice. If there is a fire on the dock, or the boat next to you, you should be able to release the line immediately. This is good seamanship.

Jason said...

When I am out boating with family (untrained mariners) they always want to wrap all 15 ft of the remaining dock line around the cleat. It's become a pet peeve of mine as I get older.

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