At Rope's Ends
Caring for rope includes taking care of the ends. Ropes are made of many fibers and strands that will separate quickly if not secured. If synthetic three-strand rope is cut without preparation, the three strands will unravel for several feet in just a moment. Other ropes, whether braided or plaited, also unravel or become frayed. The end must be bound in some way, and there are a number of ways to accomplish this.
Tie Up Loose Ends
One way to stop the end of a rope from becoming frayed is to make a binding with string near the end. When this binding consists of many wraps it is called a “whipping,” probably named thus because on square-riggers a rope end that was loose would “whip” around in the wind. One way to make this kind of binding is with the Coxcombing (shown in Chapter 10). Two additional methods are illustrated in this chapter. In general, it is best to use natural fiber binding string on natural fiber ropes, and synthetic material on synthetic ropes.
Anything that binds the end of a rope will help stop it from fraying or becoming unraveled, and there are many options. The quickest way is to tie a stopper knot. Even an Overhand Knot will help, although it makes for a bulky solution. For three-strand rope, the Back Splice (Chapter 4) will make a nice-looking end, but it's somewhat bulky as well. If you have string but don't have time to make a proper whipping, a Constrictor Knot makes a good temporary binding.
Use a Lighter
Many people rely on a butane lighter to bind their rope end. Partially melting the rope's end to keep it from fraying is jovially called the Butane Back Splice. After a knot is tied and the running end is cut close, some people like to burn the tip, making it swell in size so that it's less likely to pull back into the knot. When burning the tip, it's important not to let the flame weaken the knot. Stores that sell rope sometimes have a cutting hot wire that leaves the ends heat-sealed after cutting.
However, using a flame only works for synthetic ropes. Heat will not seal the ends of natural fiber ropes because the fibers scorch and burn without melting. Thus, a lighter can also be used to help determine if a rope is natural or synthetic. The only exception to this is Kevlar rope, which scorches without melting.
Using a lighter to seal the ends of a rope can be quick but problematic. Large ropes are difficult to melt evenly, and can result in flaming drips. The ends can also crack or break with use, resulting in an end that can slice through the skin.
Yet another way to bind a rope end is with adhesive tape. When needed, different colors can be used to distinguish different ropes, and the tape can serve as a writing surface for labeling them. Or you can use heat shrink tubing and liquid plastic dip.
When you choose a binding method, keep in mind that some serve an additional purpose. Stiffening the end to aid in threading the rope through a decorative knot, much like the plastic tip on shoelaces, helps to thread the tip through the eyelets set in the shoes.
A seizing is similar in form to Square Lashing as shown in Chapter 9, but is for lashing two ropes together. As shown previously, often an extra Half Hitch is put in the running end after tying a knot to help make it secure. For increased security, a seizing can be used to anchor the running end to the standing end. This takes a little extra time but is very secure and can make a knotted attachment a permanent one.
Many people take pride in making a neatly wrapped coil or tying a whipping or seizing just right. The skills of rope management both use and complement many of the other skills of knotting with rope, and the methods that follow will certainly help round out your skills.
To guess by the miles and miles of rope that is used to operate a square-rigged sailing vessel, you would think that a lot of knots are used to secure all that line, but, in fact, the tall masts use many guidelines called “shrouds” that are not tied off with knots but with tackle and seizings. That is one of the reasons that the marlinespike that is used to pull these seizings tight is such an important part of rope management on these vessels.