Whipping a Rope – A Quick How To Guide
Yacht rigging guru Brion Toss, author of The Complete Rigger’s Apprentice: Tools and Techniques for Modern and Traditional Rigging
says “do it right, and [a whipping] is something structural that a human being has done with a couple thousand years of field testing behind it.”
Whipping a Rope creates both decoration and structure for the end of all ropes, whether they hang from fenders or hold up the mainsail. It’s an equally useful bit of marlinspike seamanship for both sailors and motorboaters that will quickly become an object of pride aboard any boat.
Traditionally, whipping a rope kept natural three-strand rope from unraveling when done in a way that took advantage of the ‘lay’ of the line (how the strands were twisted around themselves). ‘Frapping turns’ lay in the groove between strands, giving strength to the whipping and themselves being protected from chafe. Nowadays, ropes are synthetic, and often braided with a cover over a core. The frapping turns remain, but they are applied in a slightly different manner.
Whipping a rope properly requires a leather roping palm, waxed twine and good sailmakers’ needles. To a sailmaker, a leather palm is a very personal item, like a baseball mitt that takes years of breaking in. Find one that fits comfortably and take good care of it.
Whipping a Rope Quick Steps
Reeve about an arms’ span of twine through the needle’s eye and double it over. Anchor the twine near the bitter end by making three ‘zig zag’ stitches through the rope. Moving back toward the standing end, wrap the twine very tightly with a series of round turns, keeping both strands of the doubled-over twine parallel. Aesthetically, a finished whipping should be equal to one rope diameter.
Pass the needle through the middle of the rope. Working back towards the bitter end, make one perpendicular 360º frapping turn lengthwise over the round turns, hauling the twine taut with the palm’s thumb stall. Now make complementary diagonal frapping turns, one each side, again entering and exiting the rope in exactly the same place as the first straight frapping turns. Finish the whipping (the twine should now be towards the standing end) by tucking the needle under a frapping turn and hauling taut. Pass the needle back into the rope, exit, and cut the thread flush.
Cut the bitter end of the rope near the whipping. Done properly, it becomes a permanent part of the rope and a handsome way to finish the end – no melting required.
Dennis Schell is a USCG Master Mariner with a lifetime of sail- and powerboat experience in the southeast, the Bahamas and offshore. Contact him at [email protected].