Mike's Book Reviews

The Complete Rigger's Apprentice


Brion Toss

Subtitle:   Tools and Techniques for Modern and Traditional Rigging

Click here. Classification: Nonfiction

What it's about:   The Complete Rigger's Apprentice  has a pretty large scope. It's both a primer and a reference book. It explains what you need to know to deal with the "hardware side" of sailing. By that I mean the physical stuff--lines, knots, fabrication techniques, useful tools and the like. It also addresses related issues such as safety do's-and-don'ts when working aloft on rigging.

It's one of the standard reference books in this field. A frequent answer, when people are sitting around discussing sailing issues and a question comes up, is "look it up in Toss--it's in there." If you've been around sailing much, that's all you need to know.

The book also has a lighter side, with a good treatment of various decorative knots and ropework, plus complete "how to do it" descriptions of many tricks and puzzles easily created from short pieces of rope and other common boating materials.

Discussion of the book's contents:  To clarify the situation: when I began reading this book I was a complete landlubber. I didn't know a lanyard from a halyard, what a "sheet" was, nor what tacking and gybing were. I'd recently started sailing as a volunteer with a "tall ships" sail-training group that takes at-risk kids out of their normal "city streets" environment and puts them into a completely different place. A place where old habits can be broken and the value of hard work and teamwork instilled. "Tall-ship" sail training works very well for that. But I didn't feel I knew enough about the ship, and sailing in general. So I bought this book. I'm very glad I did.

Be warned: This is a long read! It has more than 360 pages, and I'd say 2/3 of them were worth close study for this new sailor. Here's some of the details that stick out in my mind:

I found his discussion of tools very useful. I'd never even seen a marlinspike before, nor a belaying pin. I didn't know even the basics of how to splice lines, form eyes in the ends of lines, and so on. I'd thought "all rope is pretty much the same." (I know better now. :) Perhaps the most useful areas for me were his Chapter 3 discussions of boating knots--bends, hitches and such. His illustrations of the common sailing-related knots such as the bowline, sheetbend, rolling hitch, round turn and two half-hitches, etc. were invaluable to me. And in truth these are useful in many areas of life, not just nautical applications. His illustrations of how to tie the knots are the best I've seen--they make a hard-to-explain action clear.

His discussions of how to splice and repair rope were very thorough. Frankly I'm still pretty daunted by that, and have yet to use a marlingspike for any real rope work. But I will someday.

I also appreciated his discussion titled "Living Aloft." How to not fall; what's safe and what's not; how to maximize safety when working alone; how to keep people on the deck safe as work is being done above them; and similar issues. Wise counsel. Read it and profit.

I have to admit I've spent more time than I should have reading two of the "fun" chapters in the book, and experimenting with what's in them: The first one, Chapter 10 -- "Fancy Work" -- keeps me coming back to try what I see there--Turk's Head knots, fancy rope bracelets, and similar decorative effects.

But his Chapter 11 -- "Tricks and Puzzles" -- is the one that's caused me to dissipate a completely inordinate amount of my time. I'd seen some of the effects he reveals done during slow hours on the boats with the kids, and was suitably flabbergasted and puzzled by them. "It's in Toss" was the answer. For the "kid" in all of us I recommend starting with this chapter. The "tying an overhand knot without letting go of the ends" is incredible when you see it done--simply unbelievable. The "handcuff trick" of loosely linking two kids together and challenging them to get free always draws a crowd of onlookers on deck when it's started. Then there's how to fiddle around a bit and then pull a rope out of your fist with knots already tied on it, and ... you get the idea. When we're at sea and there's no wind, these really engage the kids' attention. And they puzzle most adults, too! They work just as wonderfully on land as well. Fun to watch, and fun to teach the kids how to do.

What can I say? I'm just a kid at heart!

My evaluation of The Complete Rigger's Apprentice:   A thorough reference work that conveys vast amounts of hard information. All imparted with a wry sense of humor and interspersed with the occasional whimsical offshoot to remind us that while sailing and boating must be done SAFELY, they're also supposed to be FUN.

I think this is the best book I've yet found for a new sailor, or anyone interested in "how's that stuff work, anyhow?" It's at the top of my reference pile, and I open it more than any other nautical/sailing book I own. VERY highly recommended.

To give you a better feel for its contents, here are the book's chapter titles and major topics:
Lots of information, presented in a most engaging fashion!
This book is a pleasure to read.
Click here.
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