Thou Hast Bound Bones and Veins

In praise of rope

Along with a knife and matches, rope is one of those items to never be stuck without. I carry a length in my pack, in the boot of the car, in various places on the boat and of course in the kitchen drawer, third from the top. From rafts to hammocks, makeshift tents to traps, there are very few things that can’t be fixed, or built, with rope.

I once even travelled across the USA in a dilapidated campervan largely held together with rope. It slowly disintegrated as we made our way from north to south. First the grill came loose, then various bits of the interior fell off and finally the catch that held the bonnet down stopped catching. All were handily repaired with a few pieces of double knotted cord. Only when the cylinders finally seized did we retrieve all the rope we had invested and left the van with an enthusiastic Brazilian surfer who wanted to live in it on the side of the road.

The idea of winding small fragile strands of fibre into longer, much stronger lengths has been around a long time and rope dates back further than we have a reliable historical record. Like language, agriculture and art most cultures have developed some kind of twine or rope making as part of their core technology.

There are about as many types of rope as you can imagine, but the two basic forms are laid (twisted like the old fashioned kind on sailing ships) and braided (like the stuff rock climbers use). Within these there are a myriad of materials to construct your rope - hemp, flax (flax milling was once a thriving industry in New Zealand), linen, animal hair, papyrus, leather, nylon, polyester and polypropylene, and carbon fibre. Not to mention a whole bunch of high-tech patented materials like Kevlar and Spectra.

All these materials and weaves have their good and bad points.Things to consider when choosing your rope are stretch, breaking strength, friction resistance, how well it will hold a knot and how easy it is on the hands. And if you are doing an activity where your life is dependant on the performance of your rope, climbing and sailing for example, then seek the advice of an expert. Like all tools, it’s important to get the right rope for the job.

After rope come knots of course, but that’s a huge topic and one for another day. In the meantime, if you need to transport a couch and can’t afford to rent a trailer or you go camping and forget to bring one of the tent poles, consider pulling out your trusty length of rope and get tying.