The bowline is a versatile knot used by farmers and fishermen alike

Tying a Bowline

by Lily Morris

Tying a Bowline

Genevieve Jacobs

1. Make an overhand loop a couple feet up the standing part of the rope and hold in your left hand.  

One of the things that I love most about the Vineyard is the overlap of trades and traditions here. Farmers are fishermen are cooks, and so on. The knot, a simple twisted form of rope or twine, is a tool that ties these professions together, specifically those jobs that are related to getting fresh, local food on our tables. Folks patch together a classic Vineyard livelihood by working a little at this, a little at that, and then diving wholeheartedly into something else when its season arrives. Liz Thompson, a Vineyard sailor-turned-farmer observes, “There exists a connection—a like-mindedness, whether it be discussing lambing or a fair tide—when your life and livelihood depend on the right knot for the job.”

The knots that farmers, fishermen, hunters, and chefs use come in all shapes and sizes, designed for all manner of uses. There’s heavy line for hauling and towing and delicate twine for lashing and sewing. The same way a farmer might choose between a trowel or a hoe, you can choose between a bowline or a square knot, or countless others, when you’re looking for the right knot. And as with any tool, some knots are more versatile than others. The bowline just happens to be a particularly useful one. When you’re tying rope to your truck bed to lash down the new hoop greenhouse or the crate of baby chicks you’ve just purchased, this is the knot for the job.

The bowline, pronounced “boh-linn,” forms a fixed loop that won’t slip or jam. You can use a bowline in many situations; you can tie it through (a grommet in a tarp), around (a bucket handle or roof rack), or over (a fence post or piling). With two bowlines, you can tie two pieces of rope together. You can even tie this knot one-handed. While one hand is keeping a tarp from flying away, you can still get twine through the grommet and tied securely with the other hand.

The key to using knots successfully is to be comfortable tying them, and also to know when and where to use them. There’s nothing more satisfying than executing the right knot—and nothing more frustrating than using the wrong one. Learning to tie a knot comes with practice, and learning its uses comes with experimentation. It’s important to know the anatomy of a knot, so that you’ll be able to tie it in any situation and from any angle; some knots look very different from the backside.

When I first learned how to tie a bowline, I only knew how to tie it one way. I could make you a beautiful loop, no problem, but if you faced me at a piling and told me to tie a bowline ’round it, I’d have to grab both parts of the line and turn my back to the dock in order to correctly fashion the knot. Now I have a picture of it fixed in my mind, and my hands know the motions by heart; I can tie it behind my back, in the dark, or hanging by one hand from a hay loft. This last hasn’t happened yet, but I’m ready, and you will be too with a little practice.