Making a bow fender
for a tugboat
Cap't Ben Grudinskas
Last updated 06-28-2011
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One thing you'll NEVER be able to accuse me of is providing the same old tutorials as everyone else.   They have tutorials on making a turk's head, or how to
splice a rope, but
I get people to make tutorials on something near and dear to everyone's heart...  (Well, its near and dear to MY heart then, and it's my site,

Making a tugboat bow fender, or a "Tugboat Beard" is something that is just not that commonly done any more.  Most tugs have a sectioned fender made up
of rectangles of used truck tires.  They are very efficient and are easily made and replaced (how hard is it to run some heavy cable thru the requisite
number of pieces of tire?) but they have no heart at all...

Cap'n Ben has a small tug berthed near Boston which is trailerable (!!) and he decided to make up a real rope beard for the boat.

Herewith the pictures he's sent me and accompanying text on making the bow fender for "
The Atlantic Hunter II".  As always, click on the small picture to
bring up a larger shot.
Starboard side view of the mockup for the
bow of the Hunter on which Ben will fender.
These are the component for making up the
"mainwire" or breast suspension line.  On a
large tug, this would either be 3"
shroud-laid hemp or 3/4" wire rope, but
here Cap't Ben used 1-1/4" nlyon line.
Port side of the bow mockup.   Incidentally,
this is set up in Ben's livingroom, a great
space to work in, although I'm not quite
sure just what that rug's on about.
(Update: it USED to be the garage... it ain't a
The breastwire is applied over the matting
frame and will be incorporated into the
weave.  This is what gives the beard it's
lateral stability
Well, if nothing else, a nice shot of the lamp
on the windowsill (in the form of a tugboat).

(Anyone wanna guess what Cap'n Ben
Eye spliced over a thimble and tucked.
Once "puddined", the mainwire gets
mounted to the bow mockup.  

From Starboard
Now the framework for mounting in the rest
of the beard is put into place.
From Port...
The Good Captain here is constructing a "pudding" onto the mainwire in order to produce the characteristic "fat in the middle" appearance of the beard.
A closer look at the pudding section
The pudding starts to take shape
Here's where we actually see the beard starting
to take shape as the "thrums", or woven-in
vertical lines are added.   They loop OVER the
mainwire pudding and then weave back and
forth  thru the matt framework, with the first layer
as shown.  Note how the lower portion is unlayed,
or "fagged" out.
A closeup showing how the thrums are tied
off prior to fagging out the lines.
Starting another layer of thrums and
packing the mainwire some more.   Again,
at a certain point the thrums are fagged,
which is what eventually produces the
"unkempt beard" effect of the bow fender.
"As we thrum, so then shall we
All good things must thrum to an end, and
so it is with out beard.... finished (for all
intents and purposes) and lying on the floor
for Ben to admire while his wife applies the
other three tubes of Ben-Gay to his
Another closer view of the thrummage in
the previous view... and there's a porpoise
in our madness.     

(Ahhhh.... Ben?)
More thrums added equals some girth and
bulk starting to develop.   

Either that, or it's an Amish hula skirt...
Thrummagus realcloseupus deluxe.  It's a
curable condition but you might just note all
the tying off... necessary if you don't want
the thrums to eventually dissolve of their
own volition.
Closer view of the thrummage.
(Dis is a WOID?)
Notice how EVERYTHING gets the "over adn
under" treatment... it's the only way that
you'll hold everything together when
pushing a load!
You can never be too rich,  too thin or have
too many thrums on the floor ready for use.
For appearance, one should always make
sure the thrums are of varying lengths,  
After some use, the bear will "even itself"
out from wear, but if you cut everything
neatly, you start out looking like
The Good Captain speaks:
"I am not an artist and don't have any experience with decorative rope or line other than tying the boat off when necessary, so if there's another
accepted  method of doing this, I wasn't aware of it.  I had no plans and only some vague information gleaned from sites like yours and macrame books of
the '60's.

"The jig was constructed to approximate the angle of the bows of the boat it
( the fender ) was destined to be mounted on.  Lucky for me I have a very
large living room in which to work over the Winter months when it was too cold to work on the boat itself.
Once you get it on and tighten down on the
main and breast wires, you can get it wet,
bash it about a bit and generally set about
the task of "saltifying" the beard fender, but
it looks pretty darn good just as it sits!
Here's a head-on view of the completed and
mounted fender.    
Well, there you have it... a labour of love on the part
received by his peers and the spectators.  

If you have any questions for Ben, please
CONTACT me and I'll forward them along.
The parts that no-one ever gets to (or
wants to) see... inside of the beard,
showing the weaving thru the frame.
Aother view of the internal structure from
Starboard.  Again, note the mount wires
Same thing except with the mainwire
closest the observer, showing the
mainwire and breastwires.
The "Mainwire", which provides most of the
vertical support for the beard... Here is
begins to get the pudding applied.
Hunter.... here she is pushing against tug
W.O. DECKER (on left) showing her own
interesting beard fender.
OK!  Now we've got a nice tugboat with a great bow beard fender, so what do we do?  Why, we head off to the Annual Tug Roundup at Waterford (above
Albany on the Hudson) NY and see if we can punch a couple of the "big guys" in the nose!  Here's a
link to the 2010 Roundup page and you'll see that,
while small, Atlantic Hunter II is "Mighty la'ik a rose" and one of the better looking tugs of any size at the event, thanks in no small part to her neatly
constructed bow fender.