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nœud de capelage jury rig mast knot
is it only ornamental or utilitarian ( with secondary evolution to  ornamental) ?

2006, May to September.

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 small 
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
high sea. 

( Beware: put mast up only when doris is 'loaded' and not 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.

(added 2006 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 uncritical, as in unexamined, outright, a priori rejection is as bad as uncritical

Discarding 'oral ' would put 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 is a useless collection of ‘contes de bonne femmes’ / old women tales 
seems to me a sterile stand. 

After all much the same could 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 myths always 
possess deep roots plunging in objective reality. 

A very recent example about the wisdom of not discarding ‘les contes de bonne femmes’ 
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 creation and 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 sight that there seems to exist a sad endemic tendency in the knotting 
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. 

The opposition 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 have personally had in hand ('references' as differentiated from 
'bibliography') : 

Marc P. BERTHIER L’art Des Nœuds published in la collection VOILES 
GALLIMARD Le savoir marin ( Sails Gallimard, Mariner knowledge ) shows only an 
illustration with these accompanying words

" Il est tout à 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 when having 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 voile des Glénans in Brittany in Le Cours Des Glénans 
( 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 Marée
(Douarnenez – Brittany) gives the knot as of actual use, but this is done a bit ex abrupto, 
without reference. 

Le Chasse Marée was in the past reputed for the quality of its research, though it seems 
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. 

Publications in English language show this sort of knot but without precise and detailed 
attestation of its actual use 

R.C ANDERSON The rigging of ships in the day of the spritsailtopmast, 1600-1720 
( 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.) 

Percy BLANFORD in Practical Knots And Ropework : 3 full pages for the topic ( 1 of t
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, the largest on board, a main-topmast for instance, and launch the head 
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 just give "recipe" 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. 
Note :
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 : 
[begin quote] 
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 

[end quote] 

Hervey Garrett SMITH , in The Art Of The Sailor wrote about a jury rig, but another sort.
 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

VERRILL , and VERRILL-McCANN ( 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 capelage s'emploie pour soutenir un mâtereau en haubans et en étais, 
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 French 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 by postal 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 : CHERBOURG ( 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 : 

" To answer to your letter in 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 
sustaining damage. 

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: 

" By mail received on 2006, 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 le 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.

Usually historians and 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 a person 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 Marée too and said he 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 still 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. 

Formulation used leaves absolutely no doubt about the " practical " and actual and
utilitarian ( vs ornamental ) use of this knot. 

July  1st it was when I asked 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 :

[begin quote] …Only found one 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
through loops. 

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? 
 [end quote] 

My note : MQ is May Queen, (picture is FCB's)  a wonderful " old sails " lady 
on the Tasmanian waters.

This reference to cannon ball 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 of last 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. 
It worked.
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 British 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 professional rigger or some naval/maritime historian has factual 
documentation about the topic. 

Or some Naval Museum in the 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 Terre-Neuve / 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 "ethnology" museum 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 testing 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 has it 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 
'written' form. 

- Marc P. BERTHIER L’art 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 . 

- Guide des 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 

- Chas L. SPENCER, Knots, Splices and Fancy Work, who took great care to 
separate ornamental ( mats ) from utilitarian (mast) 

Last but not least The OFFICIAL Manuel 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 
‘ornamental’ knot.   

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 use of this sort of knot to do mats plus the ‘looks sort of alike’ 
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. 

Who knows? 

I have NEVER, NEVER got an answer from not even one of the more than a 
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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