Ropes (sheets, haulyards, mainbrace) ends would eventually unravel and fray. This was known as "a loose end". With so many lines onboard an old sailing ship the job of whipping loose ends was never ending. So, whenever a sailor was idle he would be ordered to go and find some loose ends to tie up; a boring job that would keep him busy for a long time.
By SailingQuiz November 2019 Category: Nautical Saying
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Definition of the nautical phrase "At a loose end".