After a while I
get tired of designing, building, and writing about
boats and need to take a break from it all. A normal
day is a 4 mile walk, watch the birds at my numerous
feeders, BS with other retiree's at the local woodworkers
store over free coffee, cruise the Internet at the
library (free high speed), listen to audio books on
my mp3 player, and try to keep up on what's happening
in the world of circumnavigating cruisers. Cruising
Magazine is one of my monthly reads at the library,
and if you take out all the items about the "exciting"
new boats (that can seat 10 for dinner, but with only
room for one arm in the engine compartment) I don't
want or can't afford; there's not too much left to
read but the stories from the world cruisers actually
out there living the life.
One of the stories that interested me (forgot what
issue) was submitted by Beth Leonard www.bethandevans.com
about using drogues in heavy weather. The story went
into the different types of drogues and the rope bridals
used to center and adjust them to keep the boat in
the correct position in relation to the direction
of the seas. It was a good story and added to the
information that I already had in their use and deployment.
The story also had a photo of the hitch they used
to bind a second large line to the one that the drogue
was attached at the end of. They had used an "Icicle
Hitch" to attach this second line
to the main line. That way they could use their two
big primary winches to adjust the orientation of the
hull to the following seas buy taking in or letting
out each line.
I love to play around with plain and fancy knots,
and always like to learn how to tie new ones. As I
sat on my couch with a couple of lines and the magazine
photo as a guide, I tried to figure out how the "hitch"
was made. I tried to match the loops and twists shown
in the photo, but something was not right with the
hitch I made, and it didn't have the holding (no sliding)
power that was highly claimed in the story. Something
important in tying the hitch was hiding on the opposite
side, and out of view in the photo.
The "boat show, the boat show, the BIG Seattle
boat show" (the jingle is forever burnt in my
memory) was coming to the exhibition hall in the Seattle
SeaHawks stadium in a couple of weeks, and I could
always ask Brion Toss (www.briontoss.com)
what I was doing wrong. Brion is an institution in
the Pacific Northwest and beyond, on all aspects of
rigging and other salty things, and the author of
Knots for Boaters,
Complete Riggers Apprentice. If
anyone could show me how to correctly tie the Icicle
Hitch, it would be him.
I waited until he was finished with what must be
his millionth demonstration on how to make an eye
splice; to button hole him on tying the Icicle Hitch.
I told him about the article in Cruising World Magazine
by Beth Leonard and the use of the Icicle Hitch, but
that the secret was hidden in the photo. He knew Beth
and was glad that such a story had been written, and
yes, he could show me how to tie the hitch. I told
him that my efforts never produced a hitch that didn't
slide along the main line. He assured me that the
Icicle grips on anything and tied the hitch on a piece
of chromed pipe. It slipped. He retied the hitch,
and it slipped again. Brion finally gutted the inner
weave of a double braided line and used the flattened
outer sheath to make the hitch and it held. I learned
how to do the Icicle, but was still not that impressed
A few days later, I tried tying the hitch again,
an promptly realized I had forgotten how. Mind like
a sieve. I went to the library (600 foot walk) and
checked out a book on tying knots. The book, The
Complete Book of Knots by Geoffrey
Budworth, had lots of knots I knew and a lot more
I didn't. It had a multi drawing breakdown of tying
the Icicle Hitch and I relearned what to do. I was
using some high quality ¼" double braid
on my handy chunk of painted broom handle to test
my abilities with the hitch. It always slipped when
pulled hard. Some hitch.
Time for a side bar here. There was a story on the
history of the Icicle Hitch in the book of knots that
I was reading. If I remember the story correctly,
the "International Guild of Knot Tyers"
(English origins) was having one of their meetings
when the members entered one of the training rooms.
There in front of them was a man hanging (by his hands)
on the end of a line that was "attached"
to a marlin spike (point down) fixed to the ceiling
by the large end. Alas the name of the hitch.
The more I tied the hitch, the more I thought that
the emperor had no clothes. Oh well, there were lots
more knots in the book to study and learn. One of
the hitches was called the Kleimheist Hitch. Something
that was developed and used by mountain climbers in
the alps, to tie on to a main line, to hang things
on, or us as an ascender knot. It's basically a loop
with the ends done in a figure eight knot, and then
the looped end is wrapped around another line. The
knotted end is then pulled through it's own loop and
tightened. I tried it on my painted broom handle and
it never slipped no matter how hard I pulled. The
broom handle slipped out of my hand a couple of times
and whacked me up side the head as I was pulling the
working end. Hummmmm?
I went back and forth between the Icicle and Kleimheist
hitches on my painted broom handle. The Icicle always
slipped and the Kleimheist always tried to break my
eye glasses if the broom handle slipped in my hand.
Was there a way to tie the Kleimheist hitch by just
weaving one end of the line down and back up the main
working line? It could be done, but there was no "usable"
long end to work with that could be taken back and
used to tie off on a cleat or winch; so you could
adjust the working length of it. Hummmm?
What was I trying to accomplish with the hitch I
wanted to create? One, it could not slip. Two, one
end of the line had to have an adjustable (long) working
length. Three, it had to be able to be tied anywhere,
and tied in both directions to work with a strain
from astern, on the Port or Starboard sides of the
boat. With that in mind, I started wrapping my length
of ¼" line around the broom stick every
moment I wasn't busy with something else. You can
tell I'm single and retired.
After "supper" one night (a Kansas farm
boy, and I used to warsh my car too), I was sitting
on the couch, playing with the line and stick, and
something formed in my hands. Hummm, what is this?
It was a simple wrap, but it seemed to work! What
did I do? After a good hard look up and down, and
all around to see what I had done, I crossed my fingers
and took it apart. I wrapped the line around the broom
handle again, and it was back. Point number two was
satisfied, it would have an adjustable working end.
It looked like point number three was satisfied also,
but I didn't want to try to figure out the new hitch
in the reverse direction yet. Will this satisfy item
one; will not slip? Taking my glasses off, (mom didn't
raise a complete fool) I pulled on the working end
of the line as I gripped the broom handle. NO SLIP!
Around the forth or fifth hard test pull, the broom
handle slipped out of my hand and I whacked my head
again, but I was smiling.
I had the hitch and I could retie it at will. Now
I needed to figure out how to finish off the "tying
end" of the line so it wouldn't come undone and
let the hitch unravel which was a possibility with
the Icicle Hitch. After trying a couple of different
methods, I settled on the way shown in the photos
with this story. It makes a snug and clean finish
to the hitch, and unless the hitch completely abrades
away rubbing on something, will hold tight until untied.
I then went about using the hitch on different sizes
of line on line, and line on chain. Using the hitch
on chain reduces it's chance of slipping to nil, as
the coils of the hitch rest in the low spots of the
alternating links and resist riding over them. Should
work great with line used as a "Snubber"
on anchor chain. I tried the hitch with two pieces
of ½"three strand nylon line.
Note: With heavier and stiffer line, you
have to work the hitch coils around the main line
with your hands to chase the slack to the two ends
before pulling the hitch tight.
One end of the "main" line was attached
to a 24" fir tree, and the working end of the
hitch to a 5:1 block and tackle attached to another
24" fir tree. I pulled and pulled on the block's
working line and the hitch never slipped. I was worried
that the compression from the tension on the hitch
would bind it up and make it impossible to undo. After
slacking off the block and tackle, the hitch was still
very tight around the other line, but I only had to
pull on the part of the "working line" as
it crosses over the top of the coils from the start
to the "reverse back loop". I was then able
to uncoil the hitch from the slack. With much higher
loads, a marlin spike inserted in the same spot as
the stick in the photo, will produce enough slack
to undo the hitch.
Now that I had my hitch and was satisfied that it
would work as I had outlined, it was time to see if
this was something new, or something forgotten. I
went back to the library and goggled the International
Guild of Knot Tyers listed in The Complete Book of
Knots, to see if it was still in existence, or if
the book gave me out of date information. They were
still there and had a website at www.igkt.net. I emailed
them to ask what I had to do to see if this was something
new or knot. After a few, hello is anyone there e-mails,
I got a response (my inquiry had been forwarded to
someone else, and they were away). I sent them some
information and photos on the new hitch and they said
they would get back to me. I finally got a vague response
that was neither yes, nor no. Visiting the Guild's
website again, I found a North American branch at
www.igktnab.org ; and Brion Toss was listed as a member.
Great, I would send him some photos and a description
of how to tie the hitch. It was spring/summer here
and riggers are busy hanging on masts and such. A
couple of e-mails and a phone call didn't get me much
either. I thought I would see him at the Port Townsend
WBF in the fall of 2006, but I had a boat show close
to home that I had promised to bring my new design,
the Laura Bay to.
Time and life have a way of cooling off hot irons,
so the hitch on a stick was left sitting on my kitchen
counter until it got in the way, and then I set it
in the other chair I have at the kitchen counter.
Since I am not a big socializer, there was never a
need to move it from under the pile of cardboard prototype
models I am always working on. Which later become
the PDF models you see at Duckworks Magazine.
So it sat out of site and out of mind. Then the
TV and Radio started up again with "the boat
show, the boat show, the big Seattle boat show".
Time to go see Brion Toss again, and wait for him
to finish his by then, two millionth eye splice demonstration
so I could talk to him. He takes a well deserved breather
and lets me show him my "Gripper Hitch".
I tell him I wanted to call it the "Death Grip
Hitch", because that's what it does, but have
settled on just the plain version. He watches me do
the wraps down and back up again, and the final tie
off. I give him the finished hitch to study what I
have just done. He smiles and turns it around in his
hands as he looks it over from all sides. I know that
this must be something that he has never seen before
by the way he acts and the questions he has. He had
to go back to boat show mode to answer some rigging
questions from some potential customers. But before
he does, he cuts off all the the excess from the two
lines used to make the finished Gripper Hitch. He
wants to take the finish hitch and study it later
at his leisure. He said he wanted to have the hitch
tested in a stress machine that continually tensions
and relaxes the knot and line for strength and wear
from chafe. His wife looked on in wonder and tells
me she has never seen him do that before. I too was
amazed while standing there watching him cut off the
excess. Watching how much good line was turned into
short pieces in the process.
When I called Brion recently for an update on this
story, he hadn't sent the hitch information to any
of the major rope company's yet, but said he would
and to one of the big three; Samson, New England,
or Yale for the testing work. He did say that the
hitch worked as advertised, and that made my day.
Now it's time for Gripper Hitch tying 101. Choose
the lines, or line and broom handle of your choice.
As a side note, I had to retake all the photos for
the story after I discovered that I had tied the hitch
wrong while doing a check of the photo cropping and
- 1. We will make one the "main line"
(wooden rod), which is the line the drogue is attached
to. In the photos, the drogue is attached to the
end of this line (wooden rod) on your left, and
the other end is wrapped around one of the primary
winches to your right.
- 2. The other line is the "hitch line".
The main part of the hitch line; the part that goes
to the other primary winch, is laying at your feet
(coiled in the photos). Using say ¼"
line for this demonstration, take about two feet
(length will vary with the size of the line you
are using) of the short, or "tying end",
and loop it over the top of the "main line"
and away from you. Starting from left to right.
Pull the end back to you from underneath and over
the top of the "main line" again. Do this
- 3. Before making a coil for the 5th time over
the top; take the longer part of the "winch
line end" (the coiled end) laying at your feet
or on your lap and move it to the right side of
the hitch as shown in the photo below.
- 4. Now make the 5th coil over the top, but this
time bring the "tying end" up and between
the "main drogue line" and the "winch
line end" that you have just moved to the right.
The "tying end" acts like a rabbit, and
jumps over the top of the last (5th) coil and back
down on "your" side, between the moved
"winch line end" and the "main drogue
line". This is the trick of the hitch and you
have to get this part right.
- 5. Now take the "tying end" and coil
it around the "main drogue line" in the
reverse direction. The end now comes to you over
the top from behind, down between the "winch
and main lines" and away from you again. The
"tying end" lays in between the coils
you made from left to right as you reverse the coils
now from right to left.
- 6. Keep coiling the "tying end" between
the left to right coils, until you have to go under
the "winch line"on the left side of the
hitch. Go under the "winch line" and around
two more times to the left of the 1st coil of the
"winch line". At the top of the 2nd wrap,
run the "tying end" under the last two
coils you made, AND the first loop of the "winch
- 7. Work out any slack in the coils in both directions
and snug tight. You are done. After some practice
tying the knot this way; try starting the coils
in the opposite direction, (from right to left)
to learn that the hitch can be reversed. The finished
hitch will not slip when pulled by the "winch
line end", but can be moved the other direction
on the "Main line" by pushing that direction
at the 5th coil end of the hitch. It will act like
an ascender knot. If used as a snubber on an anchor
line, the Gripper Hitch (with no tension on the
"winch line") can be slid in either direction
if the anchor line needs to be let out or taken
in because of chafe. Tension reapplied to the "winch
line" will reset the death grip on the anchor/drogue
- 8. I have added the next two photos so you can
see the lay of the coils on the side and back of
- 9. The next photos are what the Gripper Hitch
looks like with line on line in the bridal "Y",
with the main and hitch lines going to the port
and starboard primary winches on the right. Also
a photo of the back side.
- 10. Give the Gripper Hitch a good pull to test
it. If you practice tying the hitch using a line
on a broom stick, take off your glasses if you wear
them, and put on a helmet. I don't want anyone to
repeat my mistakes. ;)
I hope you have found this story interesting and
was worth your time to read. I still haven't hear
back from the International Guild of Knot Tyers about
the uniqueness of this hitch yet, so I don't know
if this is something new or knot. Maybe this story
will bring out the, "we were using this back
in" folks; and set me straight. ;) Thanks again
for reading my stories and the comments you take the
time to make.
Red Barn Boats
Other Articles by Warren Messer