Colin Byfleet is a veteran sailor who knows his knots: He’s the former president — now secretary — of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. We caught up with him to talk knots.
How did you get into knots?
It was totally accidental. We happened to go to a boating festival in Brest, France, and we saw people demonstrating knots. As a child, I was a Boy Scout, and I learned how to tie knots for that.
How many knots are there?
An infinity. Five thousand or so. The bible was written by Clifford Ashley, The Ashley Book of Knots. He learned a lot from sailors. Ashley’s daughters donated his knot collection to the Whaling Museum at New Bedford, Connecticut.
How many have you mastered?
Maybe 20 or 30, but mostly I attempt to use a very small number.
Do you have a favorite?
For looks, it’s something called a Matthew Walker. It’s a very pretty knot used as a stopper at the end of a rope.
Name a few forgotten knots that modern boaters could use.
Walking around a marina, it would be a mooring knot. It’d be better than their rats’ nest. One I like is related to the clove hitch. It’s called a constrictor knot. It can be hard to undo.
What are the oddest names?
The Baggywrinkle. It’s made in a place where rope rubs against the wood. A similar one is Kackling, which is wrapped around a cable, protecting the rope that’s taking the strain. I came across one in the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, called the cont knot. Sometimes the o is replaced with a u.