July 14, 2009

The luck of the Turk’s Head

Read a new Mainly About Boats column by John Vigor here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
I DON’T SPEAK MUCH about this because, if too many people know about it, the magic disappears, but Turk’s Head knots bring good luck to a boat. I don’t know how I found this out. Perhaps it has something to do with enchanted circles. But I’ve had Turk’s Heads on every boat I’ve ever owned and I’ve always been wonderfully lucky. (Knock on wood.)

The Turk’s Head first intrigued me because it has no beginning and no end that you can see. It apparently acquired its name from its resemblance to a Turkish turban, or so they say. I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any.

Over the years I have almost conquered my impulse to cover every cylindrical object on my boats with Turk’s Heads. I am quite proud that my present boat has only two, and those quite modest, both on the varnished tiller. They act as end stops for a fine white whipping that I use as a hand grip.

Visitors often ask if I made them myself, and I always think what a stupid question. Do they imagine you can buy them at West Marine and shrink them to size on the job, for Pete’s sake?
I learned to make Turk’s Heads when I was a teenager. I taught myself from illustrations in knot books. As a matter of fact, just about everything I know about sailing I learned from books, including celestial navigation. It just needs a little patience and some serious practice.

Brion Toss, a respected nautical rigger, calls the Turk’s Head a “miraculous knot.” You have to allow for the fact that Toss is completely captivated by knots but even so he has a point. He likes to talk about its range of usefulness and its “elegant mathematical underpinnings.”

The latter refers to the Law of Common Division with reference to Turk’s Heads, discovered early last century by Clifford Ashley and George H. Taber, some of the most famous knot-makers ever known. This law controls the construction of the knot, which is defined by the number of leads and bights, and it states that if the numbers of leads and bights can be divided by a common number, it won’t work. At least, not with a single cord. For example, it’s not possible to make a Turk’s Head with four leads and four bights. Four leads and five bights will work perfectly, though.

Now this, I can tell from the droop of your eyelids, is way more than you wanted to know. Relax. You really don’t need to bother your little mind with it. It’s easier just to follow the instructions in the book. And then sit back and wait for the luck that will surely follow. I promise.

Today’s Thought
Have but luck, and you will have the rest; be fortunate, and you will be thought great.
—Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“Why are you stopping here?”
“This is Lovers’ Lane.”
“I suppose this is your ‘out of gas’ routine.”
“No, no, this is my ‘hereafter’ routine.”
“What’s that?”“Well, if you’re not here after what I’m here after, you’ll be here after I’m gone.

1 comment:

Adrian said...

I learned to tie a Turk's Head when I was a teenager too, though I learned while I was a Petty Officer on a 78 foot brigantine.

Then I learned again as an adult, from a book full of illustrations.

Thank you for being you, John Vigor. I know this is an old post, but it's still a good one.