Knits & Knots

The last few days here the wind’s been gusting. Yesterday afternoon, we estimated northwest winds at 25 knots--that’s the kind of gust that makes you grab for your hat when it hits. Technically, to be gusting, the peak wind speed has to be at least 15 knots with the fluctuation raising it by 5 knots or more; meaning that, those gusts were hitting us at about 30 knots yesterday.

The term “knots” originated from the use of actual coloured knots that mariners tied at 47.33 foot intervals into a length of twine. The end of this “log line” had a circular chip weighted with lead. Mariners cast the log line over the stern and allowed it to run free for 28 seconds. By counting the number of knots that passed over during that time interval, they could measure the vessel’s speed. 

One knot equals one nautical mile per hour (60 minutes). This means, that if a ship is moving at a speed of 25 knots, like our wind was yesterday, it is travelling 25 nautical miles (NM) per hour.

You can see how hard I’m working to understand this concept. 

Nautical miles are based on the Earth’s circumference. This is where latitude comes into play. Mapmakers have divided the Earth into 360 degrees of latitude, running east and west, with each degree equalling 60 nautical miles.

Wow! My head is spinning something like the Earth. 

The equator at 0 degrees is the starting point to measure latitude--the North Pole is 90 degrees north and the South Pole 90 degrees south. Simplified, it looks like this:

Courtesy of the Mariners Museum

Suffice to say, that if this fishing vessel is moving at a speed of 25 knots, she will travel 25 nautical miles in one hour. 

Whew! Thank god, GPS has replaced log lines. Imagine having to throw a knotted rope over the side, count out 28 seconds, and the number of knots that pass over the side, and then having to haul it back on board again, heavy with salt water. Imagine doing that somewhere in a latitude north of 60 degrees.

Knots are genious. I have been knitting knots all this past week, creating a black seaman’s toque for Ivan. 

Knit in bulky superwash merino wool, it will keep his head warm during those gusty winter winds. (The pattern’s available free on Ravelry for anyone who’s interested.) Knitting is really just using two sticks and a length of yarn to tie knots. Sailors, those lovers of knots, were shipboard knitters. 

But enough for now, it’s time for me to do the weather report. 

P.S. For a fascinating history of knitting, read this article by Julie Theaker.


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