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Shipcraft: Marlinspike

Andrew creates
a monkey's fist.

In the 17th century, sailors spent much of their free time crafting and repairing gear for the ship. Every element of a sailing ship required constant maintenance -- which is still true today.

Little on a ship wore out more quickly than its rope; our word "junk" was originally a nautical term for rope that was too worn to be usable. Sailors thus had ample opportunity to practice their craftwork and plenty of scrap rope to work with. The art of rope use, or marlinspike, grew out of this utilitarian reality.

Here on the replica ship Half Moon, we continue this fine tradition today. Our crew members, both students and adults, have hand-crafted many of the tools we use on board.

On this Voyage of Discovery, Ms. Reilly led the students on a major project closely related to marlinspike -- a form of decorative ropework sailors would have traditionally called fancywork.

To spruce up the safety rails surrounding the main hatch, we opted to wrap them in ornamental twine designs. Our goal was to complete this fancywork project before the end of the voyage.

By the time we arrived in Yonkers, we'd managed to cover most of the upper rail. Excellent work!

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