Can the Kalmyk Unseat the Bowline as King of Knots?
The bowline is referred to as the “King of the Knots,” and with good reason. It is easy to tie, resists jamming, and retains rope strength decently. Tying the bowline with a bight at the end is a convenient way to make an exploding knot—one that unties with a simple tug on the free end. I was pleasantly surprised to learn of a new knot, which this Russian site calls a “Kalmyk (калмыцкий)”.
(post updated in 2017)
The Kalmyk Loop
The following three images and video (originally from dimview.org but no longer posted) are just about all of the information I could find on this knot on the Internet when I started looking in 2011. I
assume it is not (pun intended) have not (pun intended) found it in Ashley’s Book of Knots or else it would be more well known in the west.
The author of the other website mentions a book called Скрягин Л. Н. Морские узлы by Lev Skryagin. Google translates the title for me as “Skryagin LN Marine units.” Maybe this is the Russian equivalent to Ashley’s Book of Knots. I found a PDF copy of the Russian book, and I found the knot on page 79 (80 of the PDF):
I studied the pictures and the video and learned three ways to tie the knot. It is a beautiful knot. As an exploding knot it, it beats the bowline with a bight by untying more cleanly. You can see it untying in the video. Here are two pictures I took of the kalmyk, before and after exploding.
Kalmyk Compared to Bowline
The kalmyk and bowline (with a bight) knots have similar features, but I think the kalmyk is more elegant. Here are the two side by side:
Here are the two knots after they have been exploded. They look similar, but the kalmyk wins. When you pull on the standing end of the kalmyk to pull the loop off its anchor, it pulls free. When you pull the standing end from a bowline, the rope tightens on itself. This has always bothered me about the bowline, but it was the best I had (until now).
Notice how the kalmyk standing end, when pulled, wants to move down, along, and off the free end. When the bowline standing end is pulled, it wants to pull against and tighten the loop it has formed around the free end, similar to the effective function of a sheep shank.
Kalmyk Compared to Mooring Hitch
I had the idea that the kalmyk might be a mooring hitch. It is not, but they also share similar traits. Look at these two pictures of them side by side:
If you look closely, you can see that the mooring hitch is in fact an adjustable loop—a slip knot. In case you did not know how cool the mooring hitch is, though, look at how the mooring hitch, when exploded, completely separates the standing end from the free end:
Tying the Kalmyk
Since the other website did not have step by step tying instructions, I thought I had better provide some.
The Kalmyk in Literature
Two comments (below) by Bill Mollenhaue and Hugh, brought the book On the Trail of Genghis Kkan by Tim Cope to my attention. In it the author describes a very popular knot in the part of the world he was visiting. The knot went by other local names including the Kalmyk. The author reports one person as saying,
You know, we say that if you don’t know this knot, then you are not a horesman … In western Hungary, beyond the Danube and the great Eurasian steppe, no one knows this knot. We call it the Cumanian knot.
Update: I contacted the author Tim Cope about this knot, and he checked what we have here. This was his response:
This is definitely the same knot 🙂 its used in mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kalmykia and Hungary…the exact same knot. I learnt how to tie it in Mongolia.
This kalmyk loop amazes me, both in its function and in its secrecy. How can this knot not be known in the west? I have two theories:
- Is the knot is fatally flawed? Is that why no one talks about it in the west? That might be, and I would like to know if the knot does in fact have a fatal design flaw, but there are plenty of “fatally flawed” knots in Ashley’s Book of Knots that we are all taught anyway (like the square/reef knot). This brings me to my second theory.
- The knot is not in Ashley’s Book of Knots; that is why no one talks about it in the west. I have not found it in ABOK. If you have, please let me know, but perhaps this is why the western world never learned of it.