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The Ship’s Bell Rope

Malcolm's own bell rope at home with the colours of the Merchant Navy colours: green for starboard and red for port.

Malcolm's own bell rope at home with the colours of the Merchant Navy colours: green for starboard and red for port.

  • by Malcolm Doherty
 

The ship’s bell rope is the shortest working rope on board ship.

The bell rope is spliced unto the Bell’s clapper and decorated with Fancy Knots, Turk’s Heads, Wall and Crown, Pineapple Knot and the Start and Finish Star Knot.

The bell rope was used to mark the passage of time on board ship when the 24 hour day was divided into six watches.

The passage of time on each watch was marked by the striking of the bell every half hour, one bell marking the end of the half hour and eight bells marking the end of the watch.

The bell was also used when the ship encountered heavy fog. It was rung for five seconds every five minutes letting other ships know your location.

The bell was also used when the ship had to drop anchor.

It was struck for every shackle that entered the water, and the same for every shackle that came on deck when the anchor was being heaved to.

The bell rope would have been coated in varnish to protect it from the harsh elements of the sea while the bell was polished to a shining gleam.

On long sea passages seamen would have made mats or maybe carved out a ship from a piece of wood, but the bell rope was a task that many seamen enjoyed making, taking it home at the end of their voyage and displaying it in their local ale house and rung when last orders were called.

Anyone who dared ring the bell before last orders would have been ordered to buy the next round of drink.

There is over 24 metres of rope used in the making of one bell rope - a lot of rope for the shortest rope.

 

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