To be familiar with a task.
Up until the 20th Century sailing ships had vast numbers of ropes and a crewman would not be effective unless he 'knew all the ropes'.
The first known appearance in print is in Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before The Mast in 1840, in which he wrote 'the captain, who ....knew the ropes, took the steering oar.'
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All The Gallant Men
The first memoir by a USS Arizona survivor, 75 years after Pearl Harbor.
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