Sheepshank

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The sheepshank is a type of knot that is used to shorten a rope or take up slack. This knot is not stable. It can easily just fall apart under too much load or too little load.

The knot has several features which allow a rope to be shortened:

  • It provides two loops, one at each end of the knot which can be used to pass another rope through
  • The knot remains somewhat secure under tension; the coarser the rope the more secure it is (see Disadvantages, below)
  • The knot falls apart easily when tension is removed

Contents

Construction methods

A sheepshank knot may be constructed as follows:

  • Pull a section of rope back and lay it alongside the rope, so that the rope forms a Z approximately 20 cm long.
  • Flatten the Z so that there are 3 sections of rope lying alongside each other, with two U-bends where the rope reverses direction.
  • At each U-bend, grasp the U-bend in one hand, thus holding two of the rope sections. With the other hand form a small loop in the remaining section and draw it over the U-bend so that the loop forms a half hitch and stays there if the free end of the rope is pulled taut.
  • Repeat at the other U-bend.

An alternative method for quickly constructing a sheepshank is as follows:

  • Create a simple loop in the rope, so that the (left) leading end is on top of the (right) trailing end of the loop.
  • Repeat this process further down the rope to create 3 total loops that overlap slightly (similar to a venn diagram with three circles).
  • Reach through the outer two loops and grab either side of the middle loop and pull outward while also keeping the rest of the rope slightly taut.
  • Once the middle loop is pulled through the outer loops, pull on the free ends of the rope to secure.

The result is a flattened loop which is held at each end by a half hitch. If the sides of the flattened loop are pulled away from each other, the flattened loop ends pull out of the half hitches and the knot falls apart, but if the free ends are pulled taut then the knot remains secure.

Usage

Sheepshank knots are typically used for securing loads to trucks or trailers, and in sailing applications.

Bear Grylls uses a modification of this knot by cutting one of the lengths of rope in the knot, while rappelling down an edge during the Ireland episode of Man vs. Wild in order to retrieve his rope at the bottom by severing the middle leg of the sheepshank knot before his descent. He refers to it as a "kamikaze" knot.

Disadvantages

The sheepshank was developed before the use of modern "slippery" synthetic ropes. Constructed from such ropes, under load, it can fail. It is strongly advised that an alternative knot be used.

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