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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

12 April 2015

❖ SPIKE AFRICA and the English BAG KNOT ❖

"At one time, Britannia ruled the waves--this is history. But one thing the learned men of history have not recorded, to my knowledge, is the great man who tied the English Bag Knot. I would have liked to shake his hand and head to see if some other screwy but useful knots would fall out. He must have been a real knot-nut.
I have seen strong men swear, curse, scream, yell, jump on their hats and wander off driveling to themselves in search of strong drink when they first failed to tie this offspring of Satan.
Schooner K. V. KRUSE
Blt by Kruse & Banks Shipyard, 1920, North Bend, OR.
First of her rig to carry 2 M. bf of lumber.
242.3-ft on keel, 260-ft overall x 46.2-ft x 20.0-ft.
Reg. 1,728 G. t.

Lost in AK in 1941.
Photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
      I first saw it as a teenager aboard an American five-masted schooner bound from Portland, OR to Callao, Peru. We were lifting timber to complete the 15' deck load when a scrawny, half-starved English lad applied for a berth. The Old Man hired him and he threw down his sea bag into the fo'c's'le. I noticed that there were no grommets in the bag. 'No grommets,' I said. The lad looked at me and replied, 'No need, with this knot--and besides, the admiralty needs the brass for shell casings and trim for the Admiral's gigs.' The seaman pushed two ends and a bight and all parts opened equally and he slipped it off the bag and handed it to me.
      I lost some sleep over it, but mastered it finally, and as a custom of the times, I also learned to tie it behind my back. On those sailing ships you used the Braille system at night. So you learned your knots and hitches in the dark.
Courtesy of Wooden Boat Magazine.
January 1978; No. 20
      To tie the knot, you take a length of line. Hold the two ends in your left hand and bring the bight toward you and on top of the two ends. Now hold that bight and the two ends with thumb and fingers of the left hand. Now you have two rabbit ears. With the right hand you take the two inner lines of the ears and cross them twice, reach through the opening and pick up the first bight between the two ends, pull this through and ease the left ear toward you, adjusting all parts equally. It looks somewhat like two interwoven reef knots. By pushing the four parts together, the center opens equally. You then place this over the sea bag top and pull the four parts outwardly. Now you have seized the canvas securely, and you are outward bound knowing, with pride, that you conserved brass for His Majesty's Navy and trim for the Admiral's gigs.
Courtesy of Wooden Boat Magazine,
January 1978; No. 20
      I do not know if this handsome knot is still used for the purpose, but if it isn't it should be done in gold and mounted in the throne room. Perhaps today the English seamen carry Gladstone bags and wear step-in loafers.
      We must face the sad fact that sail is gone, grommets are going, shoe laces are losing out, and about the only knots one finds today in our ships are in the revolution counter in the engine room. You can't see them, but they are whirling out astern of your ship to carry the freight and show the flag and frighten the fish. Time should be turned back a century or two, in its mad flight to extinction, to offer today's youth the thrill of carrying the world's commerce on the quiet Wind Ships."
Above text by Spike Africa (1906-1985), President of the Pacific Ocean.
Published in Wooden Boat magazine, January1978; No. 20. 
Spike did not mention the name of the lumber schooner at the beginning of this Bag Knot article, but his family confirms that he did sail on the K. V. KRUSE. Spike is on record as sailing to Callao.

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