In knots: Tying bowlines with your eyes shut

It’s cold, dark, and snowing and you need to erect a tarp to shelter your camp. There are a handful of mighty knots that you should be able to fashion even with your eyes shut.

The bowline (BOH-lin) is the “King of Knots” and every Maritimer or should know how to tie one. It’s immensely useful, easy to tie, and has the benefit of remaining easy to untie, even after it’s been subjected to a load. You can incorporate the bowline into many other useful knot configurations, such as anchoring the end of a line for a Trucker’s Hitch.

There are plenty of books and videos demonstrating how to tie bowline conventionally but Christopher Lockyer taught me a fast, easy way to tie the bowline that is now my favourite. The method is also called a Climber’s Bowline or Bullin knot. With some practice, you can do this in either your right or left hand with your eyes closed. I’ll describe it for right-handers first to keep things simple.

  1. Make a slip knot in the standing part of the line
    1. Hold the standing part of the line loosely in your right hand, about 6 inches from the end, and the working part in your left hand.
    2. Using your index finger, catch the working part of the line and rotate it externally, wrapping it once around the finger to form a loop. That’s a clockwise rotation of the index finger of your right hand.
    3. Using your thumb, catch the working part of the line and push a second loop loosely through the first, forming a slip knot. Don’t tighten it up: leave it loose.
  2. With your left hand, guide the working end of the line from the outside, through the loop you just formed with your thumb. That’s from the right side of the right hand.
  3. Again with your left hand, grasp the working end and form a tight closed loop.
  4. Now pull with both hands, keeping the loop tight in the left hand and allowing that slip knot to turn inside-out on itself.

Voila! Practice this with your eyes shut and you’ll soon get the hang of guiding the end of the line with your thumb through the slip knot. Just remember to keep the slip knot loose so it will turn easily inside-out when you pull in step #4. With this method, it’s easy to transfer the skill to your left hand: in step #1b, external rotation means counter-clockwise: in step #2, guiding the end of the line from the outside is now from the left.

First make a slipknot with one hand

Hold the standing part of the line loosely in your right hand, about 6 inches from the end, and the working part in your left hand.

Using your index finger, catch the working part of the line and rotate it externally, wrapping it once around the finger to form a loop. That’s a clockwise rotation of the index finger of your right hand.

Using your thumb, catch the working part of the line and push a second loop loosely through the first, forming a slip knot. Don’t tighten it up: leave it loose.

Then fashion the Bowline

With your left hand, guide the working end of the line from the outside, through the loop you just formed with your thumb. That’s from the right side of the right hand

Again with your left hand, grasp the working end and form a tight closed loop.

Now pull with both hands, keeping the loop tight in the left hand and allowing that slip knot to turn inside-out on itself.

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