Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Cables length from the shore

What is the actual distance of "a cables length" from the shore?
The simple answer to this question can be taken right out of the dictionary:
Cable’s length:
a nautical unit of length equivalent to 720 feet (219 meters) in the U.S. Navy and 608 feet (185 meters) in the British Navy. (cable's length)

But to really understand the meaning of this word lets go back to its context:
The full penalty was that of having the ….and buried in the sand of the sea at low-water mark or a cables length from the shore, where the tide regularly ebbs and flows twice in twenty-four hours.

To some of us young masons the full penalty does not make complete sense because we do not comprehend the full meaning of what is being referred to in the full penalty of the Entered Apprentice degree. I was fascinated when I came to know what it meant as I’m sure you will too.
For the sake of brevity I will limit myself to the importance of a cables length from the shore and its significance. The craft owes some of its practices to the society, customs and traditions of the British. Its navy was a key factor in the supremacy of the British Empire. (Rodger)Therefore it is quite plausible that our craft has some references that allude to a naval tradition.
To make a cable you first need a rope. Ropes are built up in three steps. First, fibers are gathered and spun into yarns. A number of these yarns are then formed into strands by twisting. The strands are then twisted together to lay the rope. Logically, we must wonder why such twisted strands don’t just unravel when the tension is released. The twist of the yarn is opposite to that of the strand, and that in turn is opposite to that of the rope. It is this counter-twist, introduced with each successive operation, which holds the final rope together as a stable, unified object. (Olsen) A larger rope formed by counter-twisting three or more multi-strand ropes together makes a cable. (Nares)
Those brethren in the Chapter will have added insight into the significance of the description that I have just made, but suffice to say even the Entered Apprentice will appreciate the symbolism alluding to the strength in unity of the cable compared to its constituents.

Now we know that a cables length is approximately 600 ft from shore from its definition so let us examine the significance of burial at this distance. The penalty for treason in the British navy was death as can be expected but after executing the person by hanging they needed to bury the body at sea. The distance of a cables length from the shore was where the garbage from both the land and the sea would collect and rot. Therefore to make sure that a person such as one who was convicted on treason – he who brought dishonor to his country in life should be treated with the same after death. This was the reason this particular distance was chosen as his last resting place so he may have no honorable burial.
It is therefore very apt that such be also the penalty for a man who would go back on his obligation as a Freemason.

(I based my article on a small part of an excellent article by Bro. Garth Cochran who enlightens us on the a cables length, a cable tow and finally incorporating it in a masonic playlet please go here to read it.)

Works Cited

cable's length. n.d. 26 Feb 2012. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cable's length>.
Nares, George S. Seamanship (3rd ed.). London: James Griffin, 1865.
Olsen, J. Bohr and K. The ancient art of laying rope. 2011. Feb 2012.
Rodger, N. A. M. The command of the ocean: a naval history of Britain, 1649-1815, Volume 2. n.d.