Category Archives: Sailing

A Day in the Life: Marlinspike Seamanship

Brig Lady Washington (left) and Hawaiian Chief...
Image via Wikipedia

Imagine that you’re on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean. You feel the sun beating down, and the gentle sway of the vessel in the water. You turn your face to try to feel the direction of the wind, but there is no wind. Not even a breeze. You hear the creaking of the masts and the gentle lapping of the water on the hull, but you are dead in the water.

There’s no telling when the wind will pick up again; it could be several days. In the meantime, what will you do? The year is 1854, and you are a topman aboard a merchant vessel bound for some Pacific Island. You can’t pass the time by reading, because you don’t know how to read; you don’t feel like singing at the moment, and you can’t whistle because you are superstitiously worried about whistling up an ill wind.

What’s a sailor to do?


There’s always plenty to be done to keep the ship in top condition. There are sails to be mended, lines and rigging to be repaired, old rope to be turned into baggywrinkle, decks to scrub and tar… the list goes on and on. However, when that “Sailor-Do” list is completed, what’s next?


Have you ever seen a particularly handsome bell rope and wondered, “How on earth did they make that?” Or how about a boat’s ladder (stairsteps) all decked out with ornamental ropework? It’s not strictly ornamental, after all. On the ladder, for example, it serves as a nonskid surface for climbing around in your wet boat shoes. There’s a  name for this combination of form and function: it’s called Marlinspike Seamanship, and it’s not exactly a lost art. (The work below, coxcombing on tillers, was done by Frayed Knot Arts.)

Fancy Knotwork by Frayed Knot Arts: Cockscombing on Tillers
©Frayed Knot Arts (


The next time you have an opportunity to get up close and personal with a sailboat (or even see one in a movie), look for examples of Marlinspike fancy work. It’s all done by hand, and it’s a tradition worth carrying on.

If you’re in the Morro Bay/San Luis Obispo/Central Coast area of California and you’d like to participate in a Marlinspike workshop, leave a note in the comments below. We’ll let you know when we have one coming up!


Also, check out these books (click the covers to see them on Amazon):

Click to purchase the Sailmakers Apprentice on Amazon.Click to purchase the Arts of the Sailor on AmazonClick to purchase the Marlinspike Sailor on Amazon


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Tropical Storm Warning Flag Knitting Pattern

Knitted Red and Black Tropical Storm Warning FlagThis red and black flag signifies a storm warning. One flag means Tropical Storm Warning, and two flags together mean Hurricane Warning. (The signals for Gale Warning and Small Craft Advisory are two red pennant (triangle) flags and one red pennant flag, respectively.)

I thought these marine weather flags would make kind of cool throw pillows, so I’m knitting up a couple of envelope-style pillow covers. I’m just making it up as I go along, but I know that if I don’t write it down I’ll forget how I did it.

What this means:

I just finished writing out my first ever knitting pattern. It is very simple– just a black square inside a red square, using very basic stitches (it’s only the front flag part, not the entire pillow cover), but it was HARD to write the pattern, and I’m still not sure it’s accurate and user-friendly. So, if you use the pattern, please help me out by leaving a comment about how easy or difficult it was to follow, and what I should do to make it better.

The way it’s written assumes you know how to make basic knit and purl stitches, as well as how to join a new color in an intarsia style. (It’s not as hard as it sounds! I learned it pretty quickly from YouTube– check out these videos for instructions: Intarsia Knitting Basics and Intro to Intarsia. The second video is by KnitPicks, and it features nautical flags, so yay! Perfect.

Click here to download the PDF pattern.


Sarita Li