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A Rope Is A Rope

Want to remember what all of the lines do on a boat? This poem will help you remember what each rope is for.

Coiled rope on deck

Photo: Getty Images/ Risto0

"I suppose every mariner has had fun telling landlubbers and people new to boating that, once it comes aboard a boat, 'rope' needs to be called 'line,'" says Rocky Jones, who joined the U.S. Navy in 1946, and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in 1988. Over the years, Rocky finally decided that this nomenclature problem wasn't so funny anymore, that a better explanation was needed, and that he was the man to give it. Two decades ago, he wrote this poem, and has handed it out to folks under his command ever since ...

A rope is a rope,
but sometimes a line.
Or it might be a painter
towing the dinghy behind.

From fiber to yarn,
then strand into rope.
It's the twisting that does it
which makes strong at the scope.

There's polys and sisal,
manila and hemp.
But when buying nylon
your money's well spent.

The big one's the howser
with strain to defend.
The little one's the small stuff
for seizing the end.

The rode holds the anchor
in mud, sand, or rock.
The bow, spring, and stern lines
hold the ship to the dock.
You pay out a drogue line
when caught in a gale.
But pay out a halyard
and down comes the sail.

A bell rope it might be
clanging the time of the day.
Or it might be a cable
holding the mast with a stay.

On wash day at Grandma's
clothes pins were used.
But a sailor needs clothes stops*
to hang up his blues.

If you pull on a sheet
your toes will get cold.
But when in a boat
the sails will unfold!

Be it braided or twisted
fiber or steel.
It's still just a rope
if it stays on the reel.

*Once known as the early Navy clothespin, a "clothes stop" is a small-diameter cord, approximately 12 inches long, used to tie laundry to a clothes line.


Rocky Jones

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

Rocky built and designed homes and pole barns, was a blacksmith and stonemason, and is a Master Gardener with his wife Sara. He taught marlinspike seamanship for 19 years at the USCG Auxiliary in Brookings, Oregon, and for the Oregon State Marine Board.