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Untying Knots

June 3, 2013

Dave's newest love is starting to annoy me. Since learning the constrictor knot years ago, he has found countless places to tie it. The problem is, sometimes I'm the one who has to untie it and anyone who has used a constrictor knot knows, that's not always easy.


Constrictor

And then there are those times when Dave forgets to untie a constrictor and it gets us in a jam, so to speak. Just out of the creek where we had anchored the night before, Dave raised the mizzen while I steered. Then I heard the dreaded, "Oh shit!"
"What happened?"
"Um, the mizzen is stuck. It won't go the rest of the way up and it won't come down."
"What? Why?"
"I forgot to untie the constrictor."


Use a bight here

After we had anchored the previous evening, Dave lowered the mizzen and used the tail end of the halyard to lash it to the boom. But the part of the halyard from the head of the sail to the masthead was slapping the mast, so he tied it to the other half of the halyard to hold it off the mast. He tied them together with a small line and, of course, a constrictor knot. The next morning, bleary eyed and insufficiently caffeinated, he forgot about the constrictor until the halyard raised it up the mast and jammed it. Mizzen stuck. Luckily for us, we have a small rig that we can lower ourselves. I dropped the anchor. Dave lowered the mizzen mast, untied his damn constrictor, raised the mast, and I raised the anchor. Total repair time of under 10 minutes.

This is not the first time a constrictor has caused problems. Where normal people use twisty ties, Dave uses a small piece of line and a constrictor, which is great for keeping bags closed, but not so good if you ever want to get in the bag again. So, like every time I have a knot question, I consulted Bryon Toss. In his response, he referred to a constrictor as "a knife knot," meaning, in the right (or wrong) line, the only way to untie it is with a knife. But he did have a good suggestion. Dave could tie his constrictors with a bight, bringing a bight of line under the last line used when forming the knot. I'm still trying to train him to do that.


Untying a bowline

Pull back on the U

While I had Bryon Toss's attention, I asked him about other knots. Anyone who has tried to untie a bowline under load knows that it’s just not possible. In order to untie a bowline, flip the knot over until you see the part of the knot that forms a U. Pulling back on the U loosens the entire knot. But of course, under load, you can't pull back on the part of the knot. A bowline under load becomes a knife knot. (Just another reason not to use it to tow a dinghy, for example.) If you're going to need to untie a bowline under load, then you didn't use the correct knot for the situation. Perhaps a round turn two half hitches would have been more appropriate. Other knots that are easy to untie under load include the truck driver's hitch (if you end it with a bight) and a rolling hitch. Even the constrictor's cousin, the clove hitch, is easier to untie than a constrictor.

The most important thing about untying knots is using the right knot for the job. Before tying a knot, consider any situation in which you may have to untie it under load. Is it possible? If not, you may need a different knot. Or a knife.

MONDAY we'll share another simple, make-it-yourself goody.

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