Worm, parcel and serve

Worm, parcel and serve

To worm, parcel and serve a line is to apply a multi-layered protection against chafe and deterioration. It is a technique not usually used on modern small boats, but is found extensively on traditionally-rigged sailing ships. Worming, parcelling and serving can be applied only to traditional twisted rope, not the braided line almost exclusively used on modern vessels.



"Worming" the line is designed to fill in the channels between the strands in order to keep water out and to allow tighter wrapping of the next layers by giving the rope a more cylindrical shape. Three lengths of "small stuff" or string are led along the lay of the rope between the strands, following the twist so that they spiral round the main line.


The line is then "parcelled" by wrapping it in a spiral fashion with long overlapping strips of thin canvas. This is wound in the same direction as the worming - the rule is "worm and parcel with the lay; turn and serve the other way".


The outer layer of protection is formed of twine wrapped as tightly as possible around the line, covering it completely. Following the rhyme above, it should of course run "against" the lay of the rope; this alternation helps prevent sideways chafe from opening up the protection. A serving mallet can be used to help get the outer twine as tight as possible - despite the name (arising from its shape) the serving mallet is not used to hit anything; it forms a kind of guide and tensioning lever for applying the twine to the rope.


An optional final stage for the permanent protection of rope is to paint the outer layer of twine with a mixture of tar, varnish and black paint. This needs renewing periodically, and going aloft to paint footropes and stays is one of the regular maintenance tasks on many tall ships.


* Chapman, C. "Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling", Hearst Corporation, 1972. ISBN 0-910990-10-7

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