Roped into Shopping in Cape Town

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Sun 6 Apr 2014 16:37

On Sun, Apr 6, 2014 at 7:36 PM, Peter Benziger <peterbenziger2 {CHANGE TO AT} gmail {DOT} com> wrote:

Roped Into Shopping

Now it’s true that, for the most part, men do not like to shop but let me say this unequivocally, “I hate to shop!”  But, there are a few items that encourage me to dust off my Mastercard or blow the cobwebs off my wallet.  I guess it will come as no surprise to just about anyone who knows me that those items are usually connected with something on a boat!

The story today starts hundreds of years ago when the British ruled the seas. The mighty vessels of the British Empire needed sound ropes to rig them and strong ropes to anchor them.  In Durban, Margie and I visited the Royal Maritime Museum and found an early rope making machine.

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There are two components to this machine.  One end fed thin strands of line (hemp, manilla or cotton string) out and the other end twists them together into rope.  They actually start working quite a distance apart and work their way together according to the length of rope needed.  Rope is essentially taking thin pieces of string and twisting, twisting, twisting.  I’ll talk more about this later.

Jumping back to recent times, I got my MBA from a graduate school in Arizona that focuses on international business.  (Yes, I consider the 70’s “recent times!”)  The American Graduate School for International Management, known as “Thunderbird” or the abbreviated “T-Bird,” has placed graduates in hundreds of cities in countries all over the world. 

T- Bird has a wonderful tradition to keep its’ far-flung alumni together called “First Tuesday.” On the first Tuesday of every month, there is a social event where all the local T-Birds (and any visiting alumni) are invited to meet for dinner at a local restaurant.  It’s a terrific networking opportunity and a gathering of kindred spirits touched by wanderlust.  And, yes, it’s also a chance for everyone to tell “tall tales” about how well they are doing!  Margie and I have attended six “First Tuesdays” in various countries during our circumnavigation.  I love it since, as you know, no one can tell a “tall tale” like me…that is, like a sailor!!!

Well, it was at “First Tuesday” in Cape Town, South Africa that I was lucky to met Adrian Kuttell.  (Adrian graduated a few years after me at T-Bird but who’s counting?)  I knew we were going to hit it off because Adrian is an avid and accomplished sailor.  He just returned from the 2014 Cape to Rio Challenge. Adrian also happens to be one of the owners of Southern Ropes. Yes, dear readers, we do come back to ropes.

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I could hardly contain myself!  (It would be similar to Margie’s reaction if she met the owner of De Beers Diamonds)  Practically the first words out of my mouth were, “Can I see your factory?”

Well, a few days later, Adrian gave me a guided tour of rope-making from A to Z.  While the principal is the same, (twisting, twisting, twisting) the equipment and the materials have become much more technologically advanced.   I got a Masters Course in Rope-Making in about an hour and a half.  This is MY idea of FUN!!!

Now, I have to tell you that the inside of a rope-making factory is really, really loud. In fact, it is so loud that a large part of Adrian’s work force is specifically hired because they are hearing impaired. People with hearing impairments love to work at Southern Ropes since they normally use sign language to talk and the noise doesn’t bother them. Adrian loves having them there because they are great workers and happy in their jobs.  Southern Ropes is helping the disabled while making the best ropes in Africa.

I am also telling you about the noise to give myself an excuse for not really understanding all the intricacies of rope-making.  I can blame my inability to follow the technical aspects that Adrian and I discussed in my Masters of Rope-Making course on the factory noise!

Machines like the one below take plastic pellets, (not hemp anymore) melt them down and extrude them into plastic string.  There must be lots of different plastics because Adrian told me many, very long, technical plastic names such as co-polymer fibers, crystalline hydrocarbons etc which I cannot share…NOT because I did not understand them, of course,  but …. remember all that NOISE in the factory?

In this picture, the metal bin on the left holds plastic pellets which are heated until they melt.

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Next, they are extruded into little plastic strings which are cooled by water. See the little black strings coming out?

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Then, all these little strings go onto spools.  This factory is Spool City. There are small spools, big spools, colored spools, fast moving spools, slow moving spools. If you love spools, you should quit your job and go work in a rope factory!

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After the string is on the spools, the next stage needs Chubby Checker singing his famous song “Twist and Shout” to get in the groove!  Yes, you got it….it is time for more twisting, twisting, twisting.

Adrian told me all the details about Right-twisted rope, Left-twisted rope, Bias-twisted rope, braid twists etcetera,  etcetera… but all you really need to know is that there are many machines doing their own kind of  “Twist and Shout” dance.

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At the end of the tour, Adrian showed me his “Big Kahuna” machine. This machine cost about a zillion dollars and is takes up over 100 feet of the factory’s building. It uses high-tech miracle fibers - heats them, microwaves them, realigns their cell structure and produces rope.

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The rope that comes out can just about lift the new World Trade Center in New York!  (Well, maybe not but it’s REALLY, REALLY strong!)

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Who does he make these high tech lines for?  What a silly question….Racing Sailors, of course!

At the end of the tour, Adrian directed me to his factory outlet store.

NOW you can understand how I can be roped into shopping!

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Peter Benziger