Day 583.

The ratlines are a very noticeable detail on the ship’s rigging.  Many people would instantly recognized ratlines, even if they don’t know what they’re called, and think of a sailing ship.

Ratlines are basically rope ladders that run up the shrouds on either side of each mast.  These allow sailors to quickly climb up to a higher spot on the mast.


Installing the ratlines on the Model Shipways Bluenose is fairly easy, but a little monotonous.  As long as you can get the spacing and tension right, it is just a matter of tying around 500 clove hitches.

To get started, I installed the sheer poles on the shrouds.  These are metal bars that are tied to the shrouds right above the deadeyes.  These will help to keep the shrouds from moving around too much while I tie the ratlines.

I made the sheer poles from some brass rod that was painted black.  They were tied on using some black thread.

Sheer poles are made from black-painted brass rods and tied to the shrouds.

With the sheer poles in place in all four places (port and starboard sides, both fore and main masts), I started tying little knots.

Tying knots isn’t hard, but you do need to keep the shrouds properly spaced as you work, and ensure that the knots don’t cause too much tension on the shrouds and pull them out of place.  You also need to try and keep the lines as evenly spaced as possible as you work your way up.

So, I made a quick jig.  Two pieces of strip wood were glued together on one end, so that the other end could be open.  The strips’ natural tendency to snap back into place when opened will keep them shut.  This forms a kind of clamp that will keep the shrouds properly placed.

I glued this make-shift clamp to a another piece at a right angle.  This other piece has lines drawn at even intervals, and will for the guide for where the ratlines go.

My ratline jig.

I stated by placing my jig on the shrouds so the bottom mark lines up with the sheer pole, and started tying knots.

The individual ratlines were made with 0.008″ black line from Syren Ship Model Company.

I chose not to have the ratlines run across all 4 shrouds.  The plans indicate that the ratlines would sometimes run across all 4, or sometimes just run across 3, depending on the time and the configuration of the ship.  I chose 3 simple because it means less knots to tie.

On all four sets of ratlines (port and starboard, fore and main), I tied the ratlines to the first 3 shrouds, and left the aft shroud un-ratlined.  The picture below makes it look like the fore shroud doesn’t have ratlines, but the ship is actually pointing to the right in this photo.

ratline jig
Ratlines are made from thin line, tied to each shroud with a clove hit.  I started at the bottom and worked my way up.

Once all the lines are tied, I used a drop of white glue on each knot to secure it, then trimmed of the extra line from each end.

With the ratlines done on the lower shrouds, I could finally run the top mast shrouds that have been hanging around for a while.  The top mast shrouds run from the very top of the top mast, through the spreaders, and down to the chainplates.  I didn’t install them when I did the other shrouds because I felt they would make it harder to tie all the ratlines.

The top mast shrouds run through holes in the ends of the spreaders.  This gives them a distinct angle from the rest of the shrouds.

top shroud spearder
The top mast shrouds run through holes at the ends of the spreaders.

These run down to the chainplates, and are secured like the other shrouds.  The ends of the lines are wrapped around deadeyes, which are tied off to the chainplates using lanyards.

Note that since these come from a different angle, they are not tied to the sheer poles like the others.


side 3
The ratlines and top mast shrouds installed.
side 2
You can see the top mast shroud going through the spreader and coming down well outboard of the other shrouds.

Next up are the upper ratlines.  These go much faster than the lower ratlines.

The fore mast has a handful of ratlines on the spreader lifts that run from the spreaders to the mast cap.

fore top ratlines
The ratlines on the fore mast’s spreader lifts are quick and easy.

The main to mast actually has its own top mast shrouds on either side, that run from the top of the top mast to the spreaders, so those get their own ratlines.

The plans indicate that the ratlines on these top shrouds do not run all the way to the top. These are also given short spreader bars.

main top ratlines
The main mast gets sheer poles and ratlines on the top mast shrouds that run between the top mast’s tip and the spreader bars.

All told, there were 488 clove hitches that had to be tied to make the ratlines.

With the ratlines done, all the standing rigging on the masts is complete.  I’m almost ready to start installing the booms and gaffs, as soon as I get a couple lanterns installed.