Monday, July 28, 2008

Rope Fenders

If I were to evaluate the thousands of applications of the art of marlinespike seamanship I would place the sea chest becket at the top of the list, and way down at the bottom would be the lowly rope fender. The chest becket deserves the honor because it is the highest form of the sailor's art, but all we ask of a fender is that it suffer violent shocks and protect a boat's hull from dam­age. Beauty is something not generally associated with fenders. Canvas wrapped auto tires do not rank as works of art no matter how practical they may be.

But in spite of its lowly origin, made as it is of sal­vaged material, I can still see beauty in a well made rope fender. That is the amazing thing about rope, its inher­ent, dormant, potential beauty. The minute you unlay a piece of rope and rearrange the strands it begins to acquire character and design, the degree of art attained being limited only by your skill and ingenuity.

The simple fender shown here requires only an ele­mentary knowledge of rope work and very little skill to make. On second thought I suppose I should qualify that statement before someone makes an issue of the degree of skill required. To be candid, shortly after you start the fender you imagine yourself wrestling with an octopus, and before you are finished you sort of wish you were an octopus.

Middle a 20 foot length of 3/4 or 1 inch rope and form an eye with a stout seizing of marline as. Unlay the strands of both parts to the seizing. Now hold the eye between your knees and form a wall knot with the six strands. On top of this form two or three more walls. Do not draw the strands up tight, but just enough for the wall to hold its shape. Cut a 12 inch length of com­mon garden hose and insert it in the walls you have formed. This acts as a waterproof core for the fender, gives it resilience and keeps it from losing its shape. With the hose in place, continue walling the strands until you reach the top.

Now go back to the first wall and with your marline­spike proceed to draw up the strands tightly. Do not try to follow one strand the full length of the fender, but rather tighten each wall in turn. When the last wall is reached you will find the strands have snugged down, leaving some of the hose protruding. Add more walls and tighten up until the hose is completely hidden.

To finish off the fender crown the strands over the end of the hose, tuck the ends through the last wall and cut them off. Splice a 5 or 6 foot length of 74 inch cotton rope to the eye of the fender and it is ready for use.

Most fenders of this type have a core composed of rope which has been unlaid, chopped up and crammed in. This soaks up water and never dries out, therefore I use rubber hose. Another variation is to crown the strands instead of walling them. But whether you wall or crown, the result is a good looking practical fender that will last for years and cost you nothing.

I have seen boats moored at a bulkhead, or dock their topsides protected by what was once a good anchor cable, but converted on a rainy Sunday afternoon to rope fenders. They squeak as she surges slowly back and forth on her spring lines, a mighty comforting sound it is, for I know they are doing their job. By the time they are worn out I'll have accumulated the makings for some new ones, old rope that is too poor to use and too good to throw away.