Whale ships required yards and yards of rope for the rigging of sails. Cartloads of rope and cable were brought from the ropewalk building on the other side of town. There, women and children combed out the stringy fiber of hemp plants. The fibers were then twisted by men into long strands that could hold nearly three tons without snapping. Cordage was delivered to the riggers' loft, a business that filled the air with the scent of pine tar. Riggers coated rope with tar to make it more resistant to salt water and bad weather.
Two and three-story buildings often housed a sail loft on the top floor. Because there were no support columns on the top floor of the building, sail makers could spread out long pieces of cloth. They rolled out sheets of canvas and stitched them together to make sails.
New Bedford Whaling Museum