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Knots and Bounty

By Chelsea McBroom

January 27th, 2014

“Essentially someone gave another turn or twist to a knot and then gave it a new name,” says the Mate, Dirk, as we all sat googly-eyed, staring at the long list of knots we should know before us. We were having a workshop on Advanced Knots on the quarterdeck of the Picton Castle (our three-masted square-rigger crossing the Southern Ocean for Pitcairn Island) and each given a fathom of old rope to whip at each end and practice with.

To put us at ease the Mate went on to say that although it seemed like an incredible amount of knots, half of them were related and in a sense we were familiar with these new knots already. He then made sure to confirm that we knew the difference between a hitch, knot and a bend; a hitch is used to tie around an object, a knot used to hold or prevent a line from moving, and a bend used to run two different lines together.

There’s something magic about knots; it reminds me of playing cats cradle as a kid and simply turning a boring piece of string into an intricate design. Although in this case knots are way more useful. The mate went seamlessly, without pause to consider his next move from one knot to the next, the majority of crew becoming obsessed with getting the neat-looking carrick bend or the unlisted but requested turks head right.

When sailing from Sydney to Auckland, I experienced what it was like to work the 12-4 night watch which had a touch of magic too. Everyone seems to be in a dreamlike state in the dark, with the moon and stars to light the way around the ship. Like Lily, one of our Aussies, said to me once about being on the 12am-4am, “We kind of go back to bed afterwards wondering if it was all just a dream!” Our 4-8 watch finally got a taste of it last night, thanks to the change in our clocks recently, when we stayed up a half hour past our usual 8pm finish to stow the fore t’gallant and watch the stars emerge.

Later that night, I was even more pleased when Pania, our Lead Seaman from Pitcairn Island, included me, and whoever cared to join in her, in an anniversary tradition of “Burning the Bounty”. It was Bounty Day, January 23. And the 224th anniversary of the Bounty being set afire at Bounty Bay, Pitcairn Island. This day is celebrated every year at Pitcairn, Norfolk Island and in Pitcairn Islanders’ homes around the world. It is Pitcairn’s day of identity, like Canada Day or the 4th of July.

Pania had crafted a mini version of the ship; cut out square sails, a piece of cardboard for the hull, and used three skewers for the masts and then waited until the sun had set before putting it alight. It was too windy to burn the little ship out in the open, so in one of our totes which had a little water in the bottom, Pania set it down, somewhat sheltered by the pin rail where we all could see, and put her aflame. It was a pretty sight and I couldn’t help but imagine what the original Bounty looked like over two hundred years ago on the shore of Pitcairn Island where the mutineers may have left her in such a state.

Captain recommends reading “Bounty” by Caroline Alexander, after reading “Mutiny on the Bounty” by Nordoff and Hall.

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