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, innit?)

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 bulk..."           
All good things must thrum to an end, and so
it is with our 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 forearms.  It
was a close shave...
Another closer view of the thrummage in the
previous view... and there's a porpoise in our

(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
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
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 Nebuchenezzar.   
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
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 right) 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