The Cable: A Paper
By
Bro. Garth Cochran
Taken from a Masonic playlet in one act of the same name
by
Bro. Garth Cochran
and
Bro. Barry Maynard
Calgary Lodge,  #23
Grand Register of Alberta
The Cable
Considerable discussion has been generated of late on the difference
between a cable and a cable tow, and on whether the burial in the rough
sands of the sea (or is it coarse sands) is a cable's length or a cable-tow's
length from shore.  I propose to explain why such a burial is a cable's
length from shore, and to further explore the analogy of the cable and
cable tow in Masonic allegory.
Our Freemasonry started in Britain, and I think it important to bear that in
mind when we are researching questions such as this.  What are the
traditions there and at that time that would affect the development of the
Craft.  Clearly, the naval tradition which made Britain a major power from
the time of Elizabeth I would have been paramount.  In fact, the concepts
of cable, cabletow and the burial in our first degree penalty come directly
from that naval tradition.
To explain, first what is a cable or rope? We start with fibres, which are just
a jumbled mess of short pieces or oakum, without direction or form.  If we
twist these fibres together, we can make them into a yarn.  That a yarn,
however, is a long way from a rope or cane.  In fact, we twist several yarns
together to make a strand.  A number of strands, usually three, are "laid-up"
to form a rope.  Three such ropes laid up together makes a cable.
Why doesn't a rope simply unravel and leave you with a pile of fibres?
It's all in the twist! And, with a couple of brothers to assist, I'll demonstrate.
(Two Brothers are invited to take the ends of the rope and twist.) One of
you take this end, and you take the other.  Now both of you twist it
clockwise while you keep some tension on it. (Lecturer continues while
Brothers twist.)
Rope is made in a similar manner, except that three or more strands are
attached at one end to a mechanical device that winds each of them
equally.  The other end of all the ropes are attached to a free-wheeling
bobbin so that they may spin around each other as the twist is applied. 
Although we aren't doing that here, we'll see the effect if you hold the rope
up high and walk towards each other. (Pull centre down as the volunteers
approach each other, and then release it to allow the rope to spin around
itself.  Take the rope from the volunteers. Thank the volunteers and have
them take their seats.)
Each part of the rope is trying to untwist, but the close contact with its
neighbour counteracts the tendency to unravel and causes the strands to
wind around each other.  The fibres stay together, and this is what gives
the cable its strength.
Now, all the cables on board a ship are all the same length.  That's
because of the length of the ropewalk where they are made.  Some are 100
fathoms, some could be as long as 130 fathoms.  In the British Navy, the
standard length of a cable is one hundred fathoms, or six hundred feet. 
That was chosen because it is one-tenth of a nautical mile.  Thus, the cable
is also used as a measure of distance.
Now we come to the burial.  Life in the British Navy from the time of
Elizabeth I to this century was governed by the Articles of War.  Each
Sunday these Articles were read to the men so that they were constantly
reminded of their duty and of the penalties for shirking it.  Included in these
articles is the penalty for treason.  A man found guilty of treason would be
hanged from the yardarm and, after being left there for a suitable period of
time, would be taken down and buried.  To ensure there is no honour to
the traitor, the Articles of War specified that burial will be a cable's length
or 600 feet from shore.  Burial on the tidal flats is neither an honourable
burial at sea nor on land.  This is where the garbage of both land and sea
is thrown together to rot.  So when burying a traitor, the navy looked for a
large tidal flat and dumped the body a cable's length from shore.  In fact,
both main anchorages at the time of sail - Spithead and the Nore at the
mouth of the Thames and at Portsmouth - had such extensive tidal flats. 
They were also the only places where enough Captains could be brought
together to hold a Court Martial.
That covers the cable, and the burial. But what about the cable-tow?
I mentioned that a cable was a rope of 600 feet.  But when a tug is towing
a ship, they are almost always more than six hundred feet apart.  That's
because a cable and a cable-tow aren't the same thing.  The cable is a
rope of a specific length.  When we make up a tow, we might tie or "bend"
several cables together.
The number of cables needed to make up a tow depend on several factors. 
First, how heavy is the tow? A light object isn't hard to move, but a heavy
one is.
A short rope has very little give in it, very little stretch.  If you attach it to a
light object, it will pull it. (Hold a short rope up between both hands and
give a couple of light tugs.) But if you tie it to something heavy (give a
sharp tug and let go of one end) it will break before it starts to move the
tow through the water.
(Give one end of a longer rope to a Brother sitting on the side and walk
across the Lodge allowing the rope to loop down towards but not touching
the floor.  Give a couple of pulls on the rope to demonstrate the ability of
the rope to absorb the force of the pull.)
As you can see, a longer rope has more stretch and give in it.  So, too,
with the cable-tow.  The tug's force is applied more slowly, giving enough
time to overcome the inertia of the disabled ship and get it moving before
the cable snaps.
The burden of the ship is not the only factor that determines the length of
the tow.  The condition of the sea is also important. If the sea is calm, a
shorter cable-tow is enough.  Once you get the tow moving, it will follow
smoothly.  However, if the sea is rough, then a longer cable is needed. 
The tow may be trying to climb the back of one wave while the tug is
surging down the front of another.  If the tow is too short, then there isn't
enough give in it to allow the tug and the tow to scend apart.  The rope will
snap.
So the heavier the burden, and/or the rougher the conditions, the longer
the cable-tow.
The point is that the terms we use in Masonry today have their basis in real
terms and in real penalties.  That gives them both a strength and a sense
of purpose to anyone who comes to understand their origins.
Brethren, I have now explained the construction of a cable and how it may
be used as both a unit of length and as a cable-tow.  But what, you might
ask, has this to do with Freemasonry?
The second thing to understand is the depth of meaning available to us in
the use of a cable as a metaphor in Masonry.  As the cable is made of
many parts put together for a common purpose, so might we look at
Freemasonry.
The cable consists of individual fibres, worked together to form strands. 
These strands are laid together to make up ropes and the ropes to form a
cable.  As separate entities, the fibres have little strength.  However, when
organized into a cable, as we have shown, their strength is immense.
So it is with Freemasonry.  A Masonic Cable is made from individuals who
form a Lodge.  Lodges organize into Districts.  Districts unite in a Grand
Lodge.  And as three ropes entwined produce the strong cable, so too
does Virtue, Morality and Brotherly Love give strength to Masonry.
Further, a cable gains its strength from three equal ropes, laid together. 
Each rope is as important to the whole as the other.  So it is with the three
degrees of Freemasonry.  One should not be tempted to forget the lessons
of the Entered Apprentice or Fellowcraft just because he has been rated to
the Sublime Degree of Master Mason.
As a strong cable is made of three ropes entwined, the strength of a Lodge
comes from the Three Great Lights, the Three Lesser Lights, the three
principal officers and the three pillars denoting Wisdom, Strength and
Beauty.
A cable's great strength is only apparent when it is put to use.  So it is with
Freemasonry.  The strength of our craft remains hidden until it is put to use.
We can also think of the cable-tow as the bond connecting the individual
Brother to his Lodge and to Grand Lodge, those venerable institutions that
give direction to a Brother in his journey through life.
Consider what we have just learned.  The cable-tow, which connects the
tug to the barge at sea, is not of a specific length.  In fact, the amount of
cable let out by the tug as it attempts to direct the course and speed of the
barge depends on the condition of the sea and the burden of the tow.  The
heavier the burden and the rougher the sea, the longer the cable-tow that
is necessary.  Strange as it may seem, in stormy seas, a tug actually gives
more secure guidance and direction with the longer cable-tow.
So, too, with our Masonic cable-tow: that bond that binds a Brother to his
Lodge and to the Craft.  What about the Brother who finds himself
encountering stormy seas or who finds the burdens of his responsibilities
bear heavily on him? Undue pressure from the Lodge or from his Brothers
to attend meetings, participate in degree work or to "be a good Mason"
may cause his cable-tow to snap and sever his bond to the craft.
Finally, once the nautical cable-tow is severed, the state of the seas or the
poor condition of the disabled ship may make recovery of the tow
impossible.  The ship is therefore lost while the tug stands by - helpless.
So might a brother be lost to the craft.
And Masonry would be thus impoverished.











THE CABLE
A Masonic playlet in one act.
by
Bro. Garth Cochran
and
Bro. Barry Maynard
Calgary Lodge, #23
Grand Register of Alberta
The Cable
Cast of Characters
A Seafaring Man (SFM): the skipper of a small vessel.
Three Young Gentlemen (YG): three lads entered on the ships books as
Midshipmen.
The Situation
The three lads are standing on the deck, awaiting the master of the ship to
receive their daily lesson.
Props
Either one short and one long rope, about five feet and 20 feet, or several
cable-tows made up into short and long pieces.
1 YG - Three months we've been on board this ship, and though we can
call ourselves sailors, I can't even sail our ship's boat.
2 YG - That's because when you were told to grab the painter, you didn't
know it was the rope tied to the bow!
3 YG - That's the pointy end, in case you didn't know.
1 YG - And I suppose you think "stern" is how the skipper looks. 
SFM - (enters) Belay that idle chatter! 
1 YG - (Embarrassed) I'm terribly sorry, sir.
SFM - I heard more than you think.  And since none of you is likely to know
much about a painter, or any rope or cable aboard ship, we'll discuss them
for todays lesson.
All YG - Aye, aye, Sir.
SFM - First, what is a rope? We start with fibres, which are just a jumbled
mess of short pieces, without direction or form.  But if we twist these fibres
together, we can make them into a yarn.
2 YG - My mother knit my sweater from the yarn she spun from our sheep's
wool.
SFM - That may be, but a yarn is a long way from a rope or cable.  In fact,
we twist several yarns together to make a strand.  A number of strands -
usually three - are "laid-up" to form a rope.  Three such ropes laid up
together make a cable.
3 YG - Why doesn't a rope simply unravel and leave you with a pile of
fibres?
SFM -  It's all in the twist! Here, you (pointing to 1YG) take this end, and
you (indicating 3 YG) take the other.  Now both of you twist it while you
keep some tension on it. (YG twist the rope tight and as they twist, SFM
continues.) Rope is made in a similar manner, except that three or more
strands are attached at one end to a mechanical device that winds each of
them equally.  The other end of all the ropes are attached to a
free-wheeling bobbin so that they may spin around each other as the twist
is applied.  Although we aren't doing that here, you will see the effect if you
hold the rope up high (SFM holds twisted rope in centre while YG hold it
above the head) and walk towards each other. (SFM pulls centre down as
the YG approach each other, and then releases it to allow the rope to spin
around itself.)
2 YG - That's amazing! But how does it hold together?
SFM - Each part of the rope is trying to untwist, but the close contact with
its neighbour counteracts the tendency to unravel causes the strands to
wind around each other and gives the rope or cable its strength.
1 YG - Why are the cables stored below all the same length?
SFM - Basically, that's because of the length of the ropewalk where they
are made.  Some are 100 fathoms, some could be as long as 130 fathoms. 
In the British Navy, the standard length of a cable is one hundred fathoms,
or six hundred feet.  That was chosen because it is about one-tenth of a
nautical mile.  So we can also use the cable as a measure of distance.
2 YG - So when you read the Articles of War each Sunday, the penalty for
treason actually defines a specific distance from shore where the body is
to be buried.
SFM - Exactly! To ensure there is no honour to the traitor, the Articles of
War specify that burial will be one cable's length or 600 feet from shore. 
Burial on the tidal flats is neither an honourable burial at sea nor on land. 
This is where the garbage of both land and sea is thrown together to rot. 
So when burying a traitor, we look for a large tidal flat and dump the body
a cable's length from shore.
3 YG - Last week when we used our cables to tow that disabled ship, it was
certainly more than six hundred feet away.
SFM - That's because a cable and a cabletow aren't the same thing.  The
cable is a rope of a specific length.  When we make up a tow, we might tie
or bend several cables together.
3 YG - How do you know how many cables to put in your tow?
SFM - That depends on several factors.  First, how heavy is the tow? A light
object isn't hard to move, but a heavy one is. (SFM gives one end of a rope
to 3YG.) A short rope has very little give in it, very little stretch.  If you
attach it to a light object, it will pull it.  But if you tie it to something heavy
(motions the other YG to grab onto the end of the rope with 3YG) it will
break (three YG pull back and SFM lets rope go) before it starts to move
the tow through the water. (SFM gives the three YG the end of the longer
rope and, holding the other end, walks away from them, the rope looping
towards the floor between them.)
As you can see, a longer rope has more stretch in it. (3YG lean backward
and the bight of the rope rises from the floor.)
So, too, with the cable-tow.  The tug's force is applied more slowly, giving
enough time to overcome the inertia of the disabled ship and get it moving
before the cable snaps.
1 YG - Is that the only factor?
SFM - No, the condition of the sea is also important.  If the sea is calm, a
shorter cable-tow is enough.  Once you get the tow, moving, it will follow
smoothly in the calm sea.
However, if the sea is rough, then a longer cable is needed.  The tow may
be trying to climb the back of one wave while the tug is surging down the
front of another.  If the tow is too short, then there isn't enough give in it to
allow the tug and the tow to scend apart.  The cable-tow will snap.
2YG - So the heavier the burden, and/or the rougher the conditions, the
longer the cable-tow.
SFM - Correct! And that ends our lesson for today.  Time to swab the deck!
Lecture
Short Lecture to be addressed to the Lodge members and to be given by
SFM or a Brother who did not take part in the playlet.
Brethren, we have by way of this short skit explained the construction of a
cable and how it may be used as both a unit of length and as a cable-tow. 
We trust you have found it interesting.  But what, you might ask, has this
to do with Freemasonry?
Considerable discussion has been generated of late on the difference
between a cable and a cable tow, and on whether the burial in the rough
sands of the sea (or is it coarse sands) is a cable's length or a cable-tow's
length from shore.  I propose to explain why such a burial is a cable's
length from shore, and to further explore the analogy of the cable and
cable tow in Masonic allegory.
The selection of the Cable and Cable-Tow as Masonic symbols was surely
not by accident since they form such an apt metaphor for Masonic
teachings.
Our Freemasonry started in Britain, and I think it important to bear that in
mind when we are researching questions such as this.  What are the
traditions there and at that time that would affect the development of the
Craft.  Clearly, the naval tradition, which made Britain a major power from
the time of Elizabeth I, would have been paramount.  In fact, the concepts
of cable, cable-tow and the burial in our first degree penalty come directly
from that naval tradition.
Terms such as cable and cable-tow were both used and understood widely
amongst the British people.  Further, the penalty for treason in Britain's
navy, almost to the turn of the twentieth century, contained the specification
that the body of a traitor executed under the Articles of War shall be buried
a cable's length from shore.  That specification was clearly 600 feet and not
an indeterminate distance such as a cable-tow's length from shore.  In fact,
to anyone in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the term
'cable-tow' used in this context would not make any sense.
The point is that the terms we use in Masonry today have their basis in real
terms and in real penalties.  That gives them both a strength and a sense
of purpose to anyone who comes to understand their origins.
The second thing to understand is the depth of meaning available to us in
the use of a cable as a metaphor in Masonry.  As the cable is made of
many parts put together for a common purpose, so might we look at
Freemasonry.
The cable consists of individual fibres, worked together to form strands. 
These strands are laid together to make up ropes and the ropes to form a
cable.  As separate entities, the fibres have little strength.  However, when
organized into a cable, as we have shown, their strength is immense.
So it is with Freemasonry.  A Masonic Cable is made from individuals who
form a Lodge.  Lodges organize into Districts.  Districts unite in a Grand
Lodge.  And as three ropes entwined produce the strong cable, so too
does Virtue, Morality and Brotherly Love give strength to Masonry.
Further, a cable gains its strength from three equal ropes, laid together. 
Each rope is as important to the whole as the other.  So it is with the three
degrees of Freemasonry.  One should not be tempted to forget the lessons
of the Entered Apprentice or Fellowcraft just because he has been rated to
the Sublime Degree of Master Mason.
As a strong cable is made of three ropes entwined, the strength of a Lodge
comes from the Three Great Lights, the Three Lesser Lights, the three
principal officers and the three pillars denoting Wisdom, Strength and
Beauty.
A cable's great strength is only apparent when it is put to use.  So it is with
Freemasonry.  The strength of our craft remains hidden until it is put to use.
We can also think of the cable-tow as the bond connecting the individual
Brother to his Lodge and to Grand Lodge, those venerable institutions that
give direction to a Brother in his journey through life.
Consider what we have just learned.  The cable-tow, which connects the
tug to the barge at sea is not of a specific length.  In fact, the amount of
cable let out by the tug as it attempts to direct the course and speed of the
barge depends on the condition of the sea and the burden of the tow.  The
heavier the burden and the rougher the sea, the longer the cable-tow that
is necessary.  Strange as it may seem, in stormy seas, a tug actually gives
more secure guidance and direction with the longer cable-tow.
So, too, with our Masonic cable-tow: that bond that binds a Brother to his
Lodge and to the Craft.  What about the Brother who finds himself
encountering stormy seas or who finds the burdens of his responsibilities
bear heavily on him? Undue pressure from the Lodge or from his Brothers
to attend meetings, participate in degree work or to "be a good Mason"
may cause his cable-tow to snap and sever his bond to the craft.
Finally, once the nautical cable-tow is severed, the state of the seas or the
poor condition of the disabled ship may make recovery of the tow
impossible.  The ship is therefore lost while the tug stands by - helpless.
So might a brother be lost to the craft.
And Masonry would be thus impoverished.