Sunday, January 11, 2009

Making a Rope Bow Fender

My friend David and the crew at Boatsmith recently completed construction of a lapstrake pulling boat to Iain Oughtred's Guillemot design. This vessel will be the new tender to the 1929 Alden schooner, Summerwind. David's construction photos and more can be seen at his blog on the project.

Below is one photo of the mostly-completed tender:

Knowing that my girlfriend, Michelle, is quite accomplished at decorative ropework, David called me last week to see if she could produce a bow fender or "bow pudding", as it is correctly termed, on short notice - like over the weekend. The fender was in the contract for the finished dinghy, but David couldn't find anyone who could make one without a lead time of more than a month or two. Michelle has done lots of ocean plait doormats, turks head bowls and monkey's fist key chains and the like, but making a fender was new territory until this project came along.

Michelle was first introduced to nautical ropework by the late Captain Charley Strickland, who we met at Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi when I still had Intensity docked there. Although we only had the privilege of knowing him for a few short months before he passed away in 2005, he gladly shared everything he learned in a lifetime as a professional seaman and was delighted to find Michelle an eager student of the art of knots. Below is a photo I took of Captain Charley with some of his work on the dock at Point Cadet. More about him can be found in an article I wrote for The Sun Herald that was also posted here.

Knowing Captain Charley would be proud of her continued efforts and not lacking in confidence in her ability to learn new tricks, Michelle told David she could deliver the fender on time. She pulled out her reference books, including the classic, Ashley Book of Knots to get some ideas. None of them showed a fender like David described, but by studying the various drawings, we came up with a plan and I helped her make the seized eyes and build up the core so she could do her thing on the decorative covering.

Below is close-up of one of the eyes, made by seizing a loop of 1/2" manila.

The eye with additional strands of rope doubled back from the other end to form the bulk of the core.

David's specifications for the bow fender required a length of 36 inches for the protective part, with 3-inch eyes at each end, for a total length of 42 inches. The piece of rope used to make the eyes was doubled back several times so that the core would consist of single piece of line in the center. He wanted the finished thickness to be 3 inches at the ends and 5 inches in the mid-section.

The taper from the thicker mid-section to the narrower ends was created by adding more varying lengths of 1/2" manila and binding them in position with smaller cord. The bent shape was also created at this stage by the binding, with longer pieces on the outside of the curve and shorter pieces on the inside radius.

The covering method Michelle decided to use consists of a series of continuous half-hitches, using 1/4" manila. This half-hitching method works well for covering a tapering surface, and provides plenty of cushioning bulk for the fender. Since it also is flexible and fits loosely over the core, the fender can easily be bent further to fit to the bow of the boat.

That's a lot of half-hitches and over 200 feet of 1/4-inch manila.

It takes a lot of patience to tie all those knots when you have to pull 50 or more feet through each time and fight the rope's tendency to unravel and twist.

Here's a closer view of one end of the fender, showing how the knots conform over the taper and form the rounded end at the eye.

The finished fender came out to just the right size. It will be smoothed out and bent to just the right shape when installed on the boat. David has installed a rope rub-rail made from 1 1/2-inch thick manila all around the perimeter of the boat. The bow fender will be lashed at the eyes and pulled up right to the rope rubrail.

I plan to travel to Florida next week to help David with some interior work on the Summerwind. The new tender with its bow fender will be delivered to the schooner while I'm there, so I should be able to get some additonal photos of it installed as well as photos of the schooner to post when I return.


  1. What a nice post!!!
    It´s a pity I´ve discovered it one year after being written.
    It would be great if you describe more in detail the half-hitching method for covering the tapering surface.
    But anyway, thanks a lot.

  2. very nice knotting work! I can only imagine how long it took to tie all those knots, nice work!


"A boat is freedom, not just a way to reach a goal."
Bernard Moitessier - A Sea Vagabond's World


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