2006, May to
Some doubts are floating about over the actual use of ‘le nœud de capelage’ aka the Jury
Rig Mast knot as this knot is construed in some quarters as ‘only of ornamental value’.
My ‘what I think I know’ -I do not dare to write ‘knowledge’ - is contrary to that opinion.
In the past I have encountered
"oral" traces of the actual use of this sort of knot in very
fishing embarkations to erect and steady a short mast.
It seems that this "type of knots" (there are some variations) were/are used indeed in small
embarkations to set the mast at each "sortie en mer", at each going out to sea for fishing.
To wit : on a ‘doris’/dory the mast can be set up or put down by a man alone, even in
( Beware: put mast up only when
before : pulling on the oars it is
when the doris is empty)
The ease of setting or lowering the small mast seems to have made that sortof knot viable
for a daily use and not only for "emergency repair", but no writing or photography, not even
an old postcard, of attested historical value ever came my way.
September 12th :
I have found some indirect corroboration in Le Musée de
la Pêche in Concarneau, I will make a special feature about that.
This is the way they do this knot)
In my mind map
in unexamined, outright, a priori rejection is as bad as
Discarding 'oral '
us back to the time of the first incipient tribe as for most of
humanity existence it has only be "oral ". Even today in the world as a whole that is certainly
the prevalent way, in term of number of people concerned at least if not in term of ‘volume’
of information transmitted.
I am ready to believe that the "risk" of being taken for a ride is as high in written (be it ink or
electrons) transmission, as it is in " oral ".
Not only do I believe that but I even go as far as to think it though I do not know it ;-)
One of those ‘what I know but cannot prove’ sort of things.
Saying that oral lore
a useless collection of ‘contes de bonne femmes’ /
old women tales
seems to me a sterile stand.
After all much the
be levied at ABoK
which many a time is only "registering"
oral lore either directly handed down or having been previously printed but still coming
essentially from oral transmission and still ‘tainted’ by this original sin.
Original sin being a fallacy, that is faulty thinking, even if a commodity.
GRAVES in Greek
Myths extensively shown that culturally established
possess deep roots plunging in objective reality.
A very recent example
the wisdom of not discarding ‘les contes de bonne
without a thorough investigation :
There is at the moment a new effort made by biologists to reappraise what they have
previously discarded as fairy tales coming from stupidly ignorant reporters.
They are discovering that they were wrong to have relegated it in the junk realm and are
finding "realities" that could very well be the roots of those fairy tales : griffon/gryphon that
they now recognized as strikingly similar to a protoceratops skeleton ; the Cyclops that
could be inspired by the skull of a prehistoric elephant, ...
Of course myth
maintenance rest on many other elements than a simple "germ
for the idea".
For the seed to germinate and grow to full height the soil must be right and the care given
to it too.
I am not losing from
that there seems to exist a sad endemic tendency in the
literature to be a bit quick and dirty about reference, bibliography and chaining of the
historical evidence. All that with much confusion or not enough precaution to differentiate
collecting data, from analyzing it and interpreting it.
Abrupt assertion being 'in lieu' of proof is not a rarity, not to speak of much of one's
inspiration having been 'lifted' in another author's book without really acknowledging the fact.
So that in the end what could be erroneously thought of as ‘multiple’ sources
corroborating each other resolve into one unique source reproduced many time.
between the 2
interpretations : ornamental only versus utilitarian (also) led
me to try and investigate the matter.
An aside : I am not sure that ornamental and utilitarian are not in fact intersecting sets rather
than separate sets
My finding in books I
personally had in hand ('references' as differentiated from
Des Nœuds published in la
GALLIMARD Le savoir marin ( Sails Gallimard, Mariner knowledge ) shows only an
illustration with these accompanying words :
" Il est tout
fait utile lors d’un démâtage . (je
n’irai pas jusqu’à dire que
c’est pour le
plaisir de le faire qu’Eric TABARLY a laissé un mât dans l’Océan Atlantique et un
dans l’Océan Pacifique, mais en tout cas, lui sait le faire) "
"It is most useful
lost a mast. (I will not go as far as saying that it is just
for the pleasure of making it that Eric TABARLY left a mast in the Atlantic Ocean and
one in the Pacific Ocean, but in any case, he knows how to do it.)
The famous Ecole de
Glénans in Brittany in Le
( 1990 printing ) neither describe nor depict it.
In this school they teach you not to go into harm way and lose a mast and anyway
they have the guardian angels of the SNSM (Société Nationale de Sauvetage en
Mer / Sea Rescue National Society : volunteers mariners of enormous courage)
One publication Guide
des Nœuds et du Matelotage by Le Chasse
(Douarnenez – Brittany) gives the knot as of actual use, but this is done a bit ex abrupto,
Le Chasse Marée was
in the past reputed for the quality of its research, though it
that in some quarters opinion has changed about the present days publication.
Some of their publications are the sole historical remnants of what was our fishing activities
and methods in the 19th and early 20th.
language show this sort of knot but without precise and
attestation of its actual use
rigging of ships in the day of the spritsailtopmast,
( IMO it is the ABoK on rigging , a mine for model ship builders - Danish-Dutch-English-
French are addressed - so who want a "repair" in a perfect model, unless making a diorama
of a distressed ship.)
BLANFORD in Practical
Knots And Ropework : 3 full pages for the topic ( 1
ext, 2 of drawings)...temporary mast 3 or 4 loops to which stays or supporting ropes can
be attached...the greater the load, the greater will be the grip on the mast... some other knots
of similar formation are primarily ornamental and not as effective for practical application.....
This seems to be clearly in favour of actual utilitarian use, and even personal experience to
be able to write " …not as effective…. "
G. BIDDLECOMBE though writing on The Art of rigging has nothing do express.
W. BRADY The Kedge-Anchor note 315 give the details for : " To rig a jury-mast"
"Take a spare spar,
largest on board, a main-topmast for instance, and launch the
over the night-head, the heel resting against the stump of the old mast ; put on the cross-trees
and bolsters, fit the rigging and stays from hawsers, and hooks a couple of
tackles from the jury-mast head - which take to the sides and haul taut ; hook another
which take well aft; lash the heel of the stump to prevent slipping, and raise the mast with
the after purchase, tending the stays and pendant-tackles ; when up, reeve the lanyards,
set up the rigging and stays. Cleet and lash the heel securely. Ship the cap, send up
a top-gallant-mast for a topmast, fit a topsail yard for a lower yard, and a topgallant yard
for a topsail yard, and so on.
Sound really ‘practical’
R.H DANA jr like NARES have not broached the subject.
Cyrus L DAY
on the mast head knot or jury knot and mention the
shamrock knot or Japanese masthead knot with this comment : ' it is primarily a decorative
There is no "qualifier" given to the Jury knot.
d_l* ( aka Dan_Lehman ) with which I was having a running a discussion about this knot
and its use(s), he was playing with ease and talent the part of the skeptic doubter, added :
To be specific, you must mean in _AofK&S_; in a small pamphlet _K&S_ (1953), p.30,
Day says (admits) "Whether [it] has actually been used... , I cannot say." !! His last(?) book,
_Quipus & Witches' Knots_ (1967), seems to be a good one for knots history, and maybe
has the last reflections of a student of knotting who reflected pretty well. (I don't have this
, in The
Art Of The Sailor wrote about a jury rig, but another
There is nothing in The Marlinespike sailor.
(Added Sept 2006
Chas L. SPENCER, Knots, Splices and Fancy Work, 3 full pages ( 147 to 150) for
Jury Knot Mast " The basis of these is the Jury Knot. There are a number of variants…. ".
He presented them with 4 and 5 loops to make mats.
p 165 : a 3 loops Jury knots " The Jury knot is useful when a jury mast is to be rigged, as
the loops form a means of attaching the necessary support to the mast. The center k
( Fig 331) is slipped over the masthead and the weight brought on the stays tighten it and holds
it in position on the mast… "
The wording used leaves no doubt about actual use at sea.
He clearly separated the ornamental from the utilitarian.
Could it be the use of this knot as a pattern for a mat that led to the ‘ it is only an ornamental
knot’ stand ?
B. TOSS does not show it in The Rigging Handbook
p 136-137) gave 2 TYPES for the Jury Mast
Knot, one for topmast -2 bigths- and one for lower mast -3 bights-. (with a fishy drawing)
say " the JMK though they may have had actual use may be classed as fancy work" .
Very, very uncertain on both count they felt IMO and expressed more opinion that fact.
The sentence certainly sound a bit Manuel Du Gabier - like ( plagiarism ? coincidence ?
corroboration ?) :
"The idea in them is that when one is rigging a jury mast with a hawser one does not wish to
cut, the mast goes through the centre of the knot, the two side bights form back stays ( in
French it is hauban not back stays as hauban= shroud & back stay = pataras in French not
at all the same 'part'
In the quite official
(published in 1875 by Minister orders) Manuel Du Gabier
there is no
doubt that this official French Navy Manual put it as something that it was compulsory to
have mastered to get a " gabier" brevet.
Le Manuel Du Gabier gives this sort of knot among many others !
p 13, Fig 25 Noeud de capelage with this use :
" Le noeud de
s'emploie pour soutenir un mâtereau en haubans et en
avec une aussière ou un faux-bras que l'on ne veut pas couper. Les deux bouts
forment l'étais ; les deux doubles, les haubans.
Si l'aussière n'avait pas une longueur suffisante on ferait le noeud de manièreque
bouts fussent assez long former étais et l'on crocherait palans ou caliornes dans
deux doubles pour faire les haubans
This is 19th maritime
and not easy to translate without losing its 'flavour'.
I am going to try with the help of my 2 specialized dictionaries one 18th ,one 20th revised
in the 21st
"The 'rigging knot'
is used to
support a small mast with shrouds and stays, using a hawser
or preventer stay (or preventer brace or a false-arm ) which one does not want to cut.
The two ends form the stays; the loops (the two double), the shrouds.
Should the hawser not have a sufficient length, the knot would be made so that the ends are
long enough to form the stays, and two pendant tackles (or caliornes) would be 'hooked' in
the two double, to make the shrouds"
Having reached this point I decided to investigate further if not deeper.
I then set to interrogate
mail (2006, May 16th) stating what I had up to this point
and giving them a drawing, le Service Historique de la Marine (SHM = French National
Marine Historical Services ), plus some other bodies that I thought could be of help.
- Marine Nationale :
( Normandy) / BREST (Brittany) / ROCHEFORT
(Atlantic coast) / TOULON ( Mediterranean)
- Le Chasse-Marée ( litteraly The Tide-Chaser ) in Douarnenez (Brittany)
- Le Musée Maritime de Douarnenez ( Douarnenez Maritime Museum)
- Le Musée de la Marine à Paris
- La Société Française de l’Histoire de la Marine / Marine History French Society
SHM Cherbourg, SHM Brest, SHM Toulon, were polite enough to answer.
SHM Cherbourg ( Normandy ) answer :
ref I am pleased to inform you that the book by Jaffrin, G
Goubert, Y ; Philippe, M , " Guide Des Noeuds Et Du Matelotage ",
Le Chasse-Marée / Armen 2002, p48, archived in my service under N° 85314, give the
noeud de capelage double and triple and confirm that they are used to repair mast after
Nevertheless my service is not able to give you the details about which of the noeuds de
capelage are used and which ship has used them..... "
SHM Brest ( Brittany ) answer:
May 17th, you asked me about 2 different types of knots.
Regretfully I must inform you that Le Service Historique de la Défense- Département
Marine ( Defence Historical Service - Navy depart ) in Brest does not hold documents
that will permit you to further your research.
I advise that you make contact with Les Editions du Chasse-Marée ( Abri du Marin.
BP 159 , 29171 Douarnenez Cedex) that may detained information of interest to you......"
SHM Toulon ( South of
France ) in
the 3 or 4 days after getting my letter :
Responded with the most silly military answer possible : they sent me the "réglement
intérieur" the Internal Regulations of the Service saying they are not there only to keep
the archives in good order and open the library !
SHM Rochefort ( middle of Atlantic coast) have not come back.
I never got an answer from the Marine History French Society.
Same silent treatment from Le Musée de la Marine in Paris.
Douarnenez Museum or
Chasse-Marée silence were less of a surprise.
Museum, if you put apart the very interesting harbour museum with ships afloat is a
small affair and not up to the high quality standard set by Le Musée de la Pêche de
Concarneau and it was undergoing cosmetics works in April 2006.
Le Chasse marée is no longer what it was in the past.
It has been in financial dire straits since a number of years (in spite of a quite costly
publication they were unable to cover the cost or researching and publishing and have
been "bought" by a professional publisher : Glénat.
Still Le Chasse Marée was in the past reputed for being thorough in its research when
doing a feature.
Some of their publications are the sole historical remnants of what was our fishing
activities and methods in the 19th and early 20nth.
archivists - even military ones follow the same training courses
are "fussy" persons about sources in general so if SHM keep this publication it must be
after "evaluation" of its value. Or so I hope!
I had entertained
hopes that a
ship log would provide details of repairs done after
sustaining damage in a long exploratory navigation.
The contacts with Service Historique de la Marine did not bring proof of actual use
and did not further my knowledge any.
Still it must be kept in mind that : absence of proof is not proof of absence. !
I then set to contact
knowledgeable in maritime matters : John Harland
(see his books and his posts on the Net )
John Harland was very swift in answering and quite friendly :
[begin quote].... This is an interesting question, and one might imagine examples exist
in 18th-19th Century logbooks. However, supposing there are for instances which
refer to this sort of circumstance, I fear they probably would confine themselves to a
broad statement like " Morning: Rigged jury fore topmast". The only place I can
imagine that one might find confirmation that the Jury Rig Mast Knot, was actually
used for this purpose, would be in the personal journal of a boatswain, or similar
person who was interested in the technical details. The type of oral reference to
which you refer is also a possible source. [end quote]
John made a reference to Le Chasse
would put the question
to Marine History Information Exchange Group MARHST-L@post-queensu.ca ,
he mentionned Des Pawson and his museum.
John was kind enough
to go to
the trouble to send me a scan of a page from ABoK
saying I had not mentioned this source.
It was so evident’ a thing to do that I forgot quoting ABoK.
Which remind me that I
have to write about the ABoK
Page 412 / #2563 :
" ……The first to be shown is the sailor’s MASTHEAD or JURY MAST KNOT,
which is employed practically as a temporary strap to which stays are led, when
erecting a jury mast or derrick.
Three hitches are made…. "
Sound quite affirmative about actual use too.
absolutely no doubt about the " practical " and actual and
utilitarian ( vs ornamental ) use of this knot.
July 1st it was when
FCB ( Frank Charles
Brown) aka Bowline (do not miss
his quite astonishing knotted menagerie, a booklet to own if only for curiosity - Frank
is putting the final touches to his second volume) Frank came with this first response :
book in my collection with illustration that shows knot
actually being located on a mast/spar --- Eric Fry "Knots and Ropework".
I have not read anything about the actual use in limited number of books relating to sea
I did spend an interesting half hour with a Russian Bosun comparing methods of tying
Bowline and he was demonstrating Jury knot to ship visitors-- so assume the knot is/was
taught in that navy. [end quote]
which he completed some days later with
[begin quote] Posed
the question re Jury
Mast a to two colleagues.Thursday is MQ day,
gathering of old boat people on old boat. Neil… is also naval historian, and told of the
knot being used to load cannon balls.
Make the construction of suitable size, sit the ball in the middle and pass hauling line
Maybe tail could act as control guy from below?? This would make sense why knot
could be part of seamen's standard stock of knots.
Possible use for jury mast could be just an bonus use. C'est logique?
My note : MQ is May
is FCB's) a wonderful " old sails " lady
on the Tasmanian waters.
This reference to
intrigued me to no end, with a sense of déjà vu /
" previously seen " till I returned from Brittany last 2006 Sept 9th and foraged
in my library and behold : Chas L. SPENCER : Knots, Splices And Fancy Work
(1944 reprint of his 1934 book) :
see page 167 : a sling for round shot.
Wished then that I had remembered it when I made my own experiment.
On the very beginning
August I tried (with a 'not so tiny" granite boulder ,
one of several I brought back from Brittany years ago, this one being the smallest
of the lot with weight 19.2 kg - a bit over 42 pounds-) using le noeud de capelage
( jury rig ) with this make believe cannon ball.
No problem with slippage inside the knot itself.
I gave it some half dozen sharp up and down jerky moves.
It did not fall but I would not recommend it to put on board a full ammunition count
for a first line vessel.
Very time consuming -have to 'arrange' it carefully- plus the pendulum motion - that
I did not dare to try - that would have been inevitable going from the quay to the
deck would have been really a risky endeavour.
I do not see naval minds going for that sort of thing in a run of the mill manner.
Not practical enough for that but I would sure have love to think of it when I got
some of my boulders up a steep slope in my arms like a baby.
I wonder if the
Admiralty, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish,Spanish,
Naval Forces have "traces" of such knots in their documents.
Option is still open, please feel free to contribute.
May be some
rigger or some naval/maritime historian has factual
documentation about the topic.
Or some Naval Museum
USA ? ( I am told -d_l* ?- that
Brion Toss does
not teach this knot in his class )
I seem to have exhausted all my potential lode bearing deposits.
May be on the
Newfoundland side they have some "traces" of the
'us et coutumes des marins Bretons' ( Breton sailors's usages and customs) who
was fishing there in small traditional small dories (up to 20 dories taken after the
American piled up on board of a morutier terre-neuvas / cod-fishing or banker,
which was 'hell on the sea' by any accounts ) till before WWII but I have no idea
who to contact. (Bretons fished on the banks of Terre-Neuve and off Island but
while they were made welcome on Terre-Neuve they were never accepted by
the Islander and never were granted the authorization to make port there. So much
for the famous "solidarity of the men of the Sea", I wonder if they maintained this
interdiction in case of disrepair or illness. I would not be really surprised!)
May be some
have trace of similar knotting used in small
embarkations here and there in the big outer world ?
Though knots and cordages are not really the prime interest in the collecting,
analysing and interpretation of artefacts.
Another possibility is
the "plausibility" of it by erecting (ground) a post a
3 or 4 metres long ,10 or 12 centimetres of diameter (a young pine) playing the
mast part. Then putting a sheet on it to be the sail and see if it hold (no one being
in the way of an accident waiting to happen of course )
Summing up I would say that in favour of actual use of this sort of knot we have :
- Persistent oral lore
that in time passed they used some such knots but this
is all "empty words" for the unconvinced and there is no hard documentation if one
does want to rely on 'oral transmission' though it is not really worse than. the
Des Nœuds published in la collection
VOILES GALLIMARD Le savoir marin ( Sails Gallimard, Mariner knowledge )
writing about a great sailor of immense seamanship Eric TABARLY having used
it twice in modern days in competition sailing after ‘un démâtage’ / breaking its mast .
Nœuds et du Matelotage by Le Chasse
Marée, of some reputation ,
repeatedly quoted by Service Historique de la Marine ( France)
- Ashley Book Of Knots
- Percy BLANFORD in Practical Knots And Ropework
- W. BRADY The Kedge-Anchor
Splices and Fancy Work, who took great care to
separate ornamental ( mats ) from utilitarian (mast)
Last but not least The
du Gabier published in1875 by Order
of the Minister to help ordinary seamen to become 'gabier'' or rather 'matelot-gabier
breveté' as is the exact appellation (Topman with 'a brevet' for having passed with
success a practical and formal exam given by Officers) : I have no doubt whatsoever
that this official French Navy Manual put it as something that it was compulsory to
have mastered to get a " gabier" brevet, and it was certainly not a place to get an
No doubt in my mind :
Le noeud de capelage is a
practical tool indeed, which also
has ‘aesthetics’ appeal for some.
Could it be that the
this sort of knot to do mats plus the ‘looks sort of
of shamrock knot or Japanese masthead knot that established the legend of the
ornamental use only ?
I would like to have a Japanese Igkt member investigate the Mast knot of his country.
May be contact the embassy of japan in paris via l’attaché culturel about that.
Who know maybe I will get a useful answer.
I have NEVER, NEVER got an answer from not even one of the
dozen Japanese I have contacted (using English and French) in repeated fashion.
So much for the famed Japanese politeness. Another legend I suppose.
Not even an answer when i wanted to buy a Knot for a shamisen!
So I do not hold my breath over this other Japanese knot!
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