TECHNIQUES & BEST PRACTICES BY EVANS STARZINGER
GET A GRIP!
Gripping hitches transfer tension from one line to
another. Learning one might save your boat someday.
It will certainly save your back!
You’re anchored on a rope rode with the wind blowing hard when you decide to let more scope out, only to have the rode jam somewhere in the bowels of the anchor locker. You can’t free the jam without taking the strain off the anchor line. Yet the anchor line is taut. So what would you do?
The classic solution is to tie another line to the anchor rode and take up the tension on it
so you can free the jam. The gripping hitches used for this purpose are designed to grip the
line and not slip under load. These hitches can be used in many useful applications, such as:
to secure a snubber to an anchor chain, to hold mooring lines while the bitter end is moved
between a cleat and a capstan, to remove a riding turn from a winch or windlass, to tension
flag halyards, to secure an inner forestay to the mast when not in use, and so on.
The rolling hitch is the simplest and most common of the gripping hitches, and it has
been used for millennia aboard seagoing vessels. It was developed for use on chain and large-diameter line with a great deal of friction — hemp or three-strand. On more modern line,
which tends to be smaller in diameter and much more slippery, the rolling hitch often slips
under load. It may also fail to hold on wire or on stainless steel tubing. For this reason, a
variety of other hitches have been developed. These have the advantage of increased holding
power, but they are more complicated to learn and to remember when they are needed, and
some are difficult to undo after being tensioned up. The table below summarizes how three
of these hitches compare and where you might want to use them.
Two tricks will help all of these hitches to grip. First, this is one of the few applications
The icicle hitch, a variation
of a gripping hitch, holds
in almost all conditions.
Learn how to tie it on
where old line is preferable to new. New
line will usually have a soft and slippery finish while older line will have a harder and
rougher feel that increases friction. Second,
the gripper line should be smaller diameter
than the line it’s trying to grip.
If I were to choose one of these hitches
to learn and to use in just about every real-world situation, I’d pick the icicle hitch. It
holds in every normal situation onboard, is
actually easier to untie than the rolling hitch
when used with line, and it never jams.
But the other hitches have their places, and
knowing more than one is smart.
COMPARISON OF ROLLING HITCHES
TIME TO TIE (SECONDS) DOES NOT HOLD ON:
10 Slippery line, small-diameter line, wire
stainless steel tube
11 Slippery line,
stainless steel tube
EASE OF UNTYING
Low load, quick tie
Modified Rolling Hitch
Moderate load, quick tie