This book is sexy and smart, a killer combo

Reviewed by Bob Muggleston
For Points East

Technology is everywhere these days – even in the humble world of cordage. At first blush that might seem surprising, but not when you really consider it. Even in this modern era, sometimes the lives of rescue responders, mountain climbers, riggers, and sailors quite literally hang in the balance.


Splicing Modern Ropes: A Practical Handbook By Jan-Willem Polman, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2016; hardcover edition, 176 pp., $30 (,; Kindle edition $15.33, (

Times have changed. Gone are the days of three-strand rope in the marine environment. Today’s lines are usually braided instead of twisted, and the fibers themselves are straight from a mad-scientist’s lab, and have properties you’d expect a mad scientist to insist they have, but which seem too outrageous to believe.

For instance, at the same diameter, rope made of Dyneema (or UHMWPE for you cordage wonks out there) is as strong, if not stronger than steel. Vectran is similar to Dyneema, but creeps less. That is, it doesn’t stretch over time under a constant load, and, for this reason, is often used as forestays and backstays. This seems impossible, but it’s true. How do I know this?

Because of “Splicing Modern Ropes: A Practical Handbook.” The book – in its hardcover version, at least – is downright sexy. The layout of the book is clean and well-organized, and it’s loaded with colorful imagery that’s hard to skip past. I’ve gone back to the Dyneema soft-shackle section at least three times, and played out various scenarios in which a boat I’m on breaks a shackle, and stunned onlookers watch as I save the day by making a new one out of rope.

But the book is so much more than just good looks. When I’m interested in something, I want to go deep, and I want the person telling me the information to go slowly. Jan-Willem Polman does just that: He starts the book by breaking down all the new materials that cordage is being made out of these days, and explains their unique properties. (On a side note, it’s interesting to note that many of the wonder fibers being used today do have an Achilles Heel – they’re UV sensitive. This is the reason most of them have covers.)

Along with the splicing techniques illustrated, which are outlined step-by-step with pictures, the book contains tables for things like calculating breaking loads for sheets or halyards on a particular sail, or how to determine mooring-line size by the length of the vessel. Neat stuff.

Sexy and smart. It’s a killer combination, and, for that reason, deserves a spot in the sailor’s library, the climber’s pack, or the rigger’s toolbox.

Bob Muggleston is Points East’s talented and indispensable associate editor.

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