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The useful rolling hitch

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What is the issue?
Sailing is a world of knots, bends, hitches, loops etc each targeted at specific roles. There are far too many to learn them all, unless you take pleasure in the art, and for a starter trying to get to grips with rope handling it can be daunting.

Why address this?
Once the bowline, widely regarded as the king of knots is securely under your belt there are a few knots that are worth learning next for optimised approaches to specific recurring tasks aboard and just everyday convenience. The rolling hitch is one of them and is commonly used to attach a snubbing line and for rigging a stopper to relax the tension on a sheet so that a jammed winch or block can be cleared.

How to address this?
The rolling hitch is a knot used to attach a rope to a rod, pole, chain or another rope. Being a hitch it will fall apart if the object that it is tied around is removed.

The rolling hitch is similar to a clove hitch with an extra loop, or turn, that adds the additional friction required to help resist sideways movement. It can, therefore, be regarded as a simple upgrade to a clove hitch intended for a lengthwise pull along an object rather than one at right angles.

The simplest and most popular approach to a rolling hitch (1734)
Photo: David J. Fred via CC BY-SA 2.5

Form two loops or turns around the object that is being connected to (1+2) in this case a line. Form a third turn on the opposite side of these loop's main part of the line passing the tail under the section of line that links the outer two loops (3). Dress by snugging the hitch around the object before applying load. The side of the hitch that the original two turns were set determines the side that resists the sideways movement (4) - just think that the two turns should be on the side that receives the load.

A variation of the rolling hitch (1735)
Photo: David J. Fred via CC BY-SA 2.5

The simplest form should be adequate for most cruising purposes, but, for completeness, it should be noted that there are a couple of variations of the (1734) rolling hitch. The slightly different (1735 above) is prefered when attaching to a slippery line and the Magnus Hitch (1736 below), that is tied exactly the same as the simplest form but with the final hitch in the opposite direction, makes it less likely to twist under load.

The Magnus Hitch (1736)
Photo: David J. Fred via CC BY-SA 2.5

Finally, there is the related Gripping Sailor's Hitch which is a secure, jam-proof friction line hitch which can be used in the same circumstance more reliably and uses five turns around a line and then crosses back over the standing part in front to grip tightly into any line.

Gripping sailor's hitch
Photo: CC0

The above numbers refer to the Ashley Book of Knots first published in 1944 and widely regarded as the defacto encyclopedia of knots. The book contains more than 3800 numbered entries and an estimated 7000 illustrations. It remains one of the most important and comprehensive books on knots and may be downloaded from PDF location 1 or PDF location 2 for personal reference. The numbers Ashley assigned to each knot can be used to unambiguously identify each separate approach when dealing with subtle nuances as above.

A common usage of the rolling hitch is for attaching a shock absorbing snubbing line to ground tackle. A rolling hitch can be relied upon to never slip or prove too difficult to undo. Most cruisers use an Eye Grab Hook for this purpose but the rolling hitch has several advantages over a chain grabbing attachment. One of the primary advantages is that it will not damage the chain's galvanize or cause wear to the chain. It can be made fast and taken off the chain, inboard of the bow roller which is generally easier than leaning out past the bow to attach a chain hook - although removal of a chain hook is easier, often only a matter of shaking it loose, when the line is not under load. However it costs nothing, and once it is learned is immediately available anywhere anytime, and it will not rust or fall off the anchor chain.

The riding hitch is also very handy should a riding turn occur on a sheet so that the winch is jammed or a block has to be cleared. If the line is under load it will be next-to-impossible to work it out. Just attach a riding hitch to the line and take the second line to another winch via whatever snatch blocks or other lead blocks are needed. Then grind on the rolling hitch's line so that it takes all of the strain off the loaded sail. Once the jammed sheet has sufficient slack, remove the override and unwrap the jammed sheet from the winch or block as the case may be.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.

Learn How To Tie A Rolling Hitch Knot

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