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Rope mats

Rope mats
Good nautical stuff to wipe your feet on
by Gregg Nestor

The sailor of yore had a complete repertoire of knots, plain and fancy. The fact that some knots were beautiful or decorative was secondary to their usefulness. One sign announcing to visitors that they were on a sailing ship, or for that matter in the home of a sailor, was the presence of a rope mat. For hundreds of years, rope mats were standard equipment on sailing vessels and well-kept yachts. They were primarily used as chafing gear and to provide skidproof footing at the helm, the companionway threshold, and the gangway. Many of these mats were quite decorative. All were fashioned by able-bodied seamen. However, in recent times this art has been neglected by boaters and is rarely seen.

No matter how you coil it, the Flemish Coil, above, is the easiest to make and the plainest of the rope mats. It's created by coiling a rope and stitching the coils together. The finished Ocean Plat, at left, forms the center of a Flemish Coil mat.

Fear not. With a little effort, the modern sailor can again benefit from the functionality and beauty of the rope mat. Here are three mats that can be fashioned easily and will add functionality and a bit of nautical flair to your boat and home.

Flemish Coil

The simplest and most basic rope mat is called the Flemish Coil. It can be fashioned in a round or oval configuration. This mat is nothing more than a rope that has been coiled carefully with the turns lying close, flat, and smoothly next to one another. Once the Flemish Coil has been laid to the desired size, the turns of the coil are stitched together. A simple overhand stitch works well. Use a single length of heavy polyester or nylon thread and a large sail needle. If the stitches are placed beneath the surface between the coils, the mat can be used either side up. While it's possible to sew the turns together as the rope is being coiled, this is not advisable. If done in this way, the end result is usually a lumpy mat that will not lie flat. Coil first and then stitch.

"With a little patience and practice, a complete set of these mats should take about two hours, from start to finish."

The Flemish Coil is the easiest mat to fashion; it is also the plainest of the rope mats. One way to dress it up is by using colored line. Another way is to start with a decorative flat knot in the center and finish up with the Flemish Coil.

Ocean Plat

While it may look involved, the Ocean Plat decorative knot can be fabricated easily in about a half-hour's time.

Since the weave of the Ocean Plat crosses over and under itself, the knot thickness is doubled. Therefore, when incorporating the Ocean Plat within the Flemish Coil, it is best to use rope that is one diameter size smaller than that used for the Flemish Coil. Approximately 35 feet of 3⁄8-inch rope makes for a striking triple-passed Ocean Plat decorative knot. A 1/2-inch rope is coiled around this to achieve the desired mat size. The knot will hold together without sewing; however, it must be stitched to the coil where it touches the coil. Also, the coil itself needs to be stitched together as described previously.

To begin the Ocean Plat, start with a bight approximately 12 feet from one end of the rope. Arrange the rope loosely as shown on the facing page, top. This leaves one long end and one short end. Weave the long end to the location from where the short end emerges. Continue to weave the long end through the knot, making two complete circuits. This will result in a triple-pass Ocean Plat decorative knot. At this point, it should look like the finished knot . . . however, it may be loose and even a bit lopsided. Finish the knot by starting with a bight anywhere in the knot and begin to take out the slack. Work in both directions until it lies close together and the knot is symmetrical. Once this is achieved, the ends should be whipped and stitched to the knot's underside. To complete the mat, add the Flemish Coil as previously described. The completed knot will flatten out with use. Pounding it with a wooden mallet will accelerate the flattening process.


The Ocean Plat fancy knot is tricky to start. But once you're sure of which part of the line goes over another and which part goes under another during the setup (1, 2, and 3), you simply follow the pattern around, weaving over and under for two more full rounds (4, 5, and 6), winding up with a loosely woven mat (7). Finishing requires patience as you work out the slack, pulling one bight through at a time until you're satisfied with the symmetry of your mat (8).








The last of the rope mats is the Ladder-Step mat. It is sometimes referred to as the Sailor's True Lover Mat Weave. It is fashioned much in the same way as the Ocean Plat.

Approximately 25 feet of 5⁄16-inch rope can easily be transformed into a four-pass Ladder-Step mat. If you want to improve the mat's water-absorbing capabilities, use cotton rope such as good-quality clothesline. Begin by laying the rope up as is illustrated in the picture series below. Pass one end of the rope in a complete over-and-under circuit around the knot.

Throughout this process, remember to keep the knot loose. Repeat the weaving for a total of three more passes, four in all. Whatever end of the rope you're using, always lay the next pass against the same side of the previous rope. Avoid crossing over. Snug up the knot by removing the slack as was done with the Ocean Plat. Keep the knot symmetrical during this process. The ends should be whipped and stitched to the knot's underside, where they are hidden.

With a little patience and practice, a complete set of these mats should take about two hours, from start to finish. Once done, place one of the mats in the cockpit beneath the helmsman's feet, another at the companionway threshold to prevent sand from going below, and the third at the foot of the companionway ladder to absorb the water from your dripping foul weather gear.

On second thought, maybe three's not enough. What about the main saloon, just outside of the head, and at the foot of the V-berth . . . ?






The finished Ladder-Step mat, left, is similar in concept to the Ocean Plat fancy knot. It begins with an intricate setup, but once you've got the overs and the unders, as shown (1, 2, and 3), worked out (what goes over which and who goes under where?!), the next three passes are a breeze (4 and 5). Once you've got a loose knot, work out the slack with patience and care. It will be worth it in the end for its nautical look and utility on your boat (6). Aboard most boats, uses for these mats and smaller thump-pads are unlimited.


The author:
Gregg Nestor, a contributing editor with Good Old Boat, has had a lifelong interest in all things aquatic. He has just completed his second book: Twenty Affordable Sailboats to Take You Anywhere.

Last edited by GoodOldBoat; 10-17-2007 at 08:54 AM.
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