Anchors and Cables

Originally published by The Lookout Newspaper, on 24 October 2022, this article is reproduced here in its unedited state.

An anchor has been a ship’s necessity since Jason sailed the Argo, as it allows a ship to stay in place despite wind, current and tide. Killick is the Gaelic name for a stone anchor wrapped in tree branches, and for decades this name stuck with commonwealth navies as a nickname for the rank Leading Seaman, mainly because their rank badge used a depiction of a fouled anchor, the situation when the anchor cable becomes wrapped around the anchor itself.

The Admiralty pattern anchor may be the most familiar to non-sailors. ­It consists of a central shank with a ring or shackle at one end for attaching the rode, and a crosswise stock nearby. At the other end of the shank are two arms, carrying the flukes, at ninety degrees to the stock. When the anchor lands on the bottom, it generally falls with the arms parallel to the seabed. As a strain comes onto the rode, one end of the stock will dig into the bottom, canting the anchor until one of the flukes catches and digs in.

The anchor cable is the ship’s connection to the anchor, and runs up through the hull via a hawse pipe,thenacross the fo’c’sle, over a windlass and down to the cable deck via the naval pipe. A modern ship’s cable is a hefty chain marked-off in ninety-foot segments using paint and tarred marlin. Each section is referred to as a shackle. The bitter end of the cable is attached to the ship via a sturdy ring welded to the inside of the cable locker. On a cozy night in their rack, a ship’s boatswain has pleasant dreams of this rig.

Casting an anchor might be referred to as dropping the hook (mudhook) or setting the pick. This can be a time of rest for a ship’s company, where watches may be reduced. Normally an anchor watch comprised of ship’s personnel is set to monitor the ship and detect if the anchor is dragging, an important role when there is inclement weather. Sailors might place their hand on the cable to feel if it is jumping, which may indicate the anchor is dragging along the bottom. They also report the state of the anchor cable using the terms long stay, the anchor cable is taut and extended, short stay, the cable is neither vertical nor fully extended, or up-and-down, meaning the anchor cable extends vertically.

Weighing anchor is the act of pulling up the anchor. Anchor’s aweigh is said of an anchor when it is raised just clear of the sea bottom. Of course, “Anchor’s Aweigh” is also the name of the United States Naval Academy’s fight song, and is strongly associated with the USN, and not the RCN.

“Slipped their cable” is a sailor’s way to describe a person having passed away suddenly, as it refers to the method of leaving an anchorage in an emergency where the cable is abruptly slipped and the ship departs quickly leaving the anchor and cable behind. The term “swallow the anchor” is commonly used to indicate a retirement from naval service; i.e., “Next July, Bloggins plans to swallow the anchor.”

You will find over 4000 examples of Jackspeak in my book Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy (2nd ed.).

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