Thinking that 2 heads were better than one I set out today with a good friend and colleague, Jez Parr. Jez in another CIC holder with many years of experience. He was also my mentor through the CIC scheme and the ideal person to bounce ideas off.
Our first stop was local gear shop and purveyor of lovely shiny things, Hitch N Hike. We purchased 5 metre lengths of all the most commonly used semi-static rope they had, in both 9 & 10mm. The test this time was set up identically to the ones done previously on the 8th Jan. We had a mock Y-hang arrangement that allowed us to position the test ropes at varying heights and angles as well as a solid bar from which to rig a secure dynamic safety back-up for ourselves.
The aim of the first testing done previously was to identify the main contributing factors that caused the failure in the Bowline-on-the-Bight, or BotB. This was achieved and we could generate failures almost 100% of the time. This test is written up in the last blog post.
Today’s testing was all about trying to get a failure in a normal use environment with normal conditions. All the tests we did were on knots that has been tied, dressed and set as we would and have done thousands of times underground. We were not wanting to tie sloppy knots, we wanted to see if it would fail when it was done well.
For every test of every rope in every combination of orientations we tried, so long as the cowstail was attached through both loops of the knot there were no failures. This was as expected and ties in with the best practice advice that has been taught for years with the use of the BotB – ALWAYS CLIP BOTH LOOPS.
For tests carried out where we dropped onto a single loop – the one formed from the traverse line or stopper knot, we could also generate no failures. However this is outside the intended use of the knot so little time was spent investigating that scenario.
When connected to the Bowline-on-the-Bight with a cowstail attached to the single loop formed by the pitch rope we were able to generate failures in knots that were tied and dressed correctly that had been hand tightened or on occasion body weight tightened.
Below are a pair of images showing slip through the knot. Note the blue mark.
A second set of test images:
The Bowline-on-the-Bight can fail when you are clipped into a single loop and the knot is dressed correctly and tightened. The failures we generated included ones where we both agreed that we had tied a perfectly acceptable BotB before testing.
Although we can identify many modes in which we could not get a failure to occur, the fact that one can occur in normal* use is very worrying.
* normal use if you only use one loop to attach your cowstails as is against the best advice – always clip through both loops!
So now what?
Cavers should draw their own conclusions from these tests or indeed conduct their own perhaps.
I believe that it is still appropriate to teach the Bowline-on-the-Bight as one of the standard knots for caving alongside the information about how to use it safely and the consequence of misuse.
I will copy this information to the British Caving Association for review. It is not my place to advise on caving policy for the UK.
I have been offered the chance to use a rope tester to look at potential replacements for the BotB. The test will give us a chance to see how a replacement compares with the existing methods in terms of strength and durability.
The French’s preferred option – the Fusion Knot, which has also been called the Karash Knot, is high on the list of contenders but I feel that a similar knot to the BotB would be more easily absorbed by the caving community. Both myself and Jez think a closer look at the Double-Bowline tied on the Bight may give a very good alternative. We’re calling it a D-BoB, or Double Bowline-on-the-Bight, until we can establish its correct name.