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  • How to Tie the Turkshead style Sailor Bracelet, In My Grandparents' Voices

    People ask us how to tie our sailor bracelet, more specifically called a 3 lead turk's head knot.  I'm grateful to my friends at Cruising World for sharing this article about my grandparents from the February 1980 issue.

    Don’t Be Hog-tied by the Turk’s Head

    By K.M. (Katy) Burke, N.A., Illustrations by Bruce Bingham, N.A.


    The Turk’s Head long has been a favorite with sailors.  To the uninitiated, it’s a mysterious knot, appearing to have no beginning and no end.

    It’s a romantic knot.  The very name conjures up visions of tea packets battling the elements to deliver their exotic cargoes of spices, silks and jade from the far-flung ports of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bombay.

    It’s a fun knot, and one of the prettiest, yet it does have some very practical applications.  A Turk’s Head traditionally marks the king spoke of a ship’s wheel.  Several large ones along the bowsprit give surer footing than slippery varnish.  We have one on the end of Sabrina’s tiller, mostly for decoration, although it does make a firm grip.  Sabrina’s Thermos jug fits in a hole in the counter behind the sink and a Turk’s Head collar prevents it from slipping through.  Turk’s Heads frequently are used as finishing knots to cover the ends of other ropework, for example at the top and bottom of a coachwhipped stanchion.  The judicious placement of Turk’s Heads can give a flavor of tradition to absolutely any boat.

    We recently met with Mr. and Mrs. Alton Beaudoin in Mystic, Connecticut.  In his youth, Beaudoin signed on as a mate aboard the full-rigged ship Joseph Conrad during her working days under sail. (The Conrad now is part of the Mystic Seaport Museum, a short walk down Greenmanville Avenue from the Beaudoin’s Rope Locker.)  The tobacco-chawing Beaudoin is an authority on marlinspike seamanship.  His work graces museums and ships throughout the world and the Beaudoin’s home is almost a museum in itself.  Incredibly intricate picture frames, knot boards, bell ropes, sea chest handles and Turk’s Heads are everywhere.  Beaudoin showed us one knot board with several dozen different bowlines (and I have trouble remembering one).

    And did you ever wonder who ties all those Turk’s Head bracelets you see in gift stores?  Mr. and Mrs. Beaudoin supply many of them.  When they travel, even just to the grocery store, the one not driving ties Turk’s Heads.  Mrs. Beaudoin told us she makes and sells over 3,000 bracelets a year! In fact, while we were talking she whipped one up before we could bat an eye, with scarcely a glance at her nimble fingers.

    There are numerous varieties of Turk’s Head Knots, some of them quite complicated.  The one shown is a simple three strand, 5 bight Turk’s Head.  It works well on small items (tillers, oars, stanchions) up to about 2 inches in diameter.  On anything larger the Turk’s Head gets stretched out and too lanky, so you’d probably want to add additional bights.  Tying a turkshead first in your hand is the easiest way, then you can slip it onto the tiller or whatever and snug it up.  Obviously, you can’t always do this.  Sometimes you must construct it in place.

    To make the small knot shown will require 7 or 8 feet of line.  Use a smooth line like a hard braided cotton similar to that used for backyard clothes lines, only smaller.  You can find it in several sizes in general hardware stores (rarely in a marine hardware store).  Braided nylon works well in some situations and a brown braid called ‘duck cord’ is very handsome.  If you use a laid line, wrap the ends with a bit of masking tape to keep them from unraveling while you work.  Actually, I wouldn’t initially recommend a laid line, because it is very difficult to work. Later you may wish to try a Turk’s Head with new manila.

    Let’s Give it a go  ---------------------->

    If the knot is to “stand alone” as a bracelet or perhaps a sliding ring around the lanyard of a ditty bag, put a drop of glue on the cut off ends to prevent them from pulling out.  We usually give the decorative knots topside several coats of white paint to help keep them clean and new looking.

    Applications for the Turk’s Head include the king spoke of the steering wheel, the end of the tiller, the oars, the bowsprit, as a sliding ring for ditty bag lanyards, at the ends of coachwhipping or other ropework, the Thermos jug, the bellrope, the flagstaff and a boathook were a good firm grip is needed.

    In any application where the Turk’s Head tends to slip, such as on stanchions or varnished boat poles, a generous application of boiling water will shrink the knot on so tightly that it will be impossible to remove without cutting.


    Turk's Head Sailor Bracelet Mystic Knotwork Turk's Head Sailor Knot Instructions 5-8 Mystic Knotwork Sailor Bracelet Instruction Turkshead knot steps 9-11


    This is from Cruising World February 1980, shared with permission of the publisher