How to Tie a Cleat

A Discussion



This series of exchanges occurred on the Scuttlebutt sailing forum in February 2005. Just goes to show there is often more than one answer to a simple question.



(Letters selected for publication must include the writer's name and may be
edited for clarity or space - 250 words max. This is not a chat room nor a
bulletin board - you only get one letter per subject, so give it your best
shot and don't whine if others disagree.)

* From Rick Van Mell, Chicago/San Francisco Bay: (edited to our 250 word
limit) When I grew up, a long time ago, I was taught to belay a line on a
cleat with: 1) a full round turn, 2) a figure eight, and 3) a final round
turn. I was also specifically taught that putting a half hitch on the cleat
was a sure way to court disaster.

But today it seems all the sailing schools are teaching folks to cleat a
line with a half hitch at the end (albeit done the right way and not
crossed). I have personally stood on Pier 40 in San Francisco and watched
as one of the Hornblower 80' cruise yachts' deck hand cast off the bow line
on the dock (it had a half hitch), then went aft to release the stern. With
20+ knots blowing the bow off the dock, the bow started across the narrow
slip. Unfortunately there was so much strain on the stern line that the
hitch had pulled tight and could not be budged, exacerbated by the skipper
trying to control the swing with the engines. When the bow reached the other
side of the slip, with the stern line still locked by its half hitch, a
nice tall concrete piling cleanly pierced the windows in the hull. If that
cleat had been tied "the old fashioned way" there would have been no problem.

I've tied mine the "old fashioned way" for 40 years and never had one slip.
So why the half hitch?

2/22/05 Responses

2/23/05 Responses

* From Spencer Ogden: I was raised on cleating with a half hitch, but
quickly learned working on large yachts that, especially with heavy dock
lines, the hitch is unnecessary. In fact, contorting some of the larger
lines is impossible. However I think on small sailing boats the hitch has
its place. Today we use light, thin, stiff lines, that won't stay neatly in
place with the jostling and shaking on a small boat. For contrast, I've
been using the "new-fangled way" for 16 years and never had one jam. Know
you lines, know your knots, and don't learn seamanship on an 80' yacht.

* From Margaret Tew: Almost forty years ago I was sailing in Area A Sears
Cup Eliminations in Luders 16s at the Northeast harbor fleet (Maine). As
jib trimmer on the genoa I was responsible for making the tacks as swift
and smooth as possible. During a practice round another crew member (our
alternate) put a half hitch on the jib sheet cleat unbeknownst to me. When
we went to a practice crash-tack, I came in off the rail and was confronted
with the half hitch. I started swearing a blue streak about it as I fumbled
to uncleat the sheet. I was normally very quiet, so the rest of the crew
was startled by my outrage and thought something was drastically wrong.
When I explained what the problem was, they were chastened and promised
never to do it again, but mostly were amused by my outburst. We one every
race of the subsequent series and had a fantastic trip to the Sears Cup
finals held by the St Francis YC in San Francisco. Heady stuff for a
sixteen-year-old back then.

Curmudgeon's Comment: Normally we don't cut off threads so soon, but I
think this ship is in the slip. Time to cleat off the docklines, half-hitch
or not, and walk away.

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