Anchor History

An element that accompanies every boat is the anchor. Very useful for the navigator and the archaeologist, as well as for the maritime ethnographer.

The anchors were changing over time and accompanied the evolution of shipbuilding and the movement of the towns by the great highways of the past: the sea and the great rivers.

Origins of the Anchor

Although the origin of the anchor is lost in time, we can say that it is almost as old as navigation itself. In principle, it is believed that it was invented by the Chinese approximately 3,000 years B.C. and that the Egyptians knew it from 2,600 B.C.

Considering the investigations carried out by Thor Heyerdahl in the Tigris and the Persian Gulf, we can think that the anchors made their appearance towards 5,000 B.C.

Of course, those were nothing like the current ones. In many cases, these were primitive baskets with small stones, bags of sand or elements that gave him enough weight. These were tied to the hull by ropes, which prevented the displacement of the ship by friction against the bottom.

Stone Anchors

On the island of Sicily were found the first stone anchor made with a hole where they were tied and some slits to fix the knot of rooting. This type of anchor was of acceptable performance for stone bottoms, since in sand it slid easily.

Stone Anchor

The first mooring lines were made of leather (like all the ropes onboard). Tendons or braided plant fibres (wicker or rushes) were also used.

The Yamana people in the Beagle channel used a rope of braided rushes, as a mooring rope, and guanacos (wild Andean mammal) tendons or whale beards for the other ligatures such as the crossbeams.

Returning to the anchoring, Julio Cesar (I B.C.) tells us about the iron chains used in Normandy (for the ship of the Tribe of the Véneti). It would be the first known case, although, almost simultaneously, the Vikings also used chain.

In the Viking Ship of Labdy, in Denmark, an anchor of stock with 9 meters of chain, that dates from the same time was found: 950 BC. However, the use of the chain did not become general until the 19th century.

It is assumed that the second step was to find an anchor for mud or sand bottoms. They took a flagstone and practised two or three holes where they placed wooden stakes through both sides, which were nailed to the bottom increasing the grip.

The Egyptians practised two holes, perpendicular to each other, and through them passed stakes with pointed ends that formed a right angle. They braided the whole with reed (papyrus).

A more advanced step was to take a stone in a triangular shape (conical, pyramid or conical trunk) with a hole in one vertex for the cape and another two at the base for the stakes.

Then we can find the anchor based on a stone, as far as possible elongated or conical, contained in a wooden frame.

At the apex, a rope attaches to the boat and, at the base, two cross stakes make nails. This type of anchoring is still used today in many places where sailing is still a means of work.

In the Gulf of Ancud, Chile, for example, is used in fishing boats and is called, sacho (stone anchor), a derivation of the brought by Europeans around 1700.

Lead Anchors

Returning to the chronological story, we find civilizations (like the Egyptian or the Phoenician) that used lead to make the anchors heavier. They indeed used that metal for countless applications such as pipes, seals, statues, weapons and anchors (either in the stocks or to give more weight).

Anchors are kept at the Genoa Museum, to which lead was added to give them more weight. They are formed by two wedges of hardwood in cross, perforated and filled with metal, with an iron ring.

In the stories of the time, and according to classical historians (such as Pliny), the anchor without a trap or naked was used in the sandy bottoms and shallow. To increase the grip, a sailor was sent to the bottom to bury it; so, it is discounted that his weight was reduced.

Towards the year 600 BC, iron anchors began to be used between the Egyptians and Persians. At the beginning they were of a single arm and then another one was added to them, as at present.

Iron Anchors

The iron anchors represented an evolution concerning those of stone and wood. Simultaneously the iron ones were used with two nails and those of wood like those found in the Roman ships of Nemi (164 BC).

The parts of an anchor were the cane (vertical piece of wood that forms the main body), the arms (of wood finished in point) and the trap (also of wood, located perpendicular to the cane so that it was not supported by side on the bottom and slide easily).

The Greeks and Romans used anchors of two nails and wooden cane. The trap was made of stone, and sometimes lead, and they wrote legends about the owner of the boat or the port. In the famous Greek port of Piraeus, now a marina, several traps were found that are displayed in the naval museum of Athens, next to the port.

The small Chinese rushes of the north, flat bottom, continue using this type of anchoring with the arms of wood finished in point and a cap of lead.

The iron was used first for the cane and the arms were riveted, cast or ablated to the end of the cane. The shovels and nails were also made of iron and riveted to the arms. These elements were lost very easily because, when they got stuck in the bottom, they simply tugged to get them out, leaving the arm or nail stuck. The one-piece anchor was quickly followed by the detachable one.

Quantity and size

Since the design did not change for a long time, the number and size of anchors a ship should have were established. The oldest data are those related to the triremes, the big ones had to carry twenty-six and the smallest thirteen.

A Byzantine merchant ship, found by an archaeological expedition from the University of Pennsylvania in 1960, carried two anchors on cam at the bow and seven on the deck. They were quite small until the winch and windlasses were invented.

On the ship of Kalmar of the thirteenth century, discovered in Sweden in 1932, was found a windlass that was originally intended to hoist sails and anchoring. From then on, the anchors increased in size and weight while their number onboard began to decrease.

Towards century XV and XVI, a ship of about 1,000 tons took near 12; In the 18th century, a 100-gun line ship had 7 anchors, the heaviest was around 4 tons and the youngest about 225 kg.

Different Uses and Names

According to the inventory of equipment of Henry Grace to Dieu (1514) they appear: four of cam (of work), four of hope (respect), one of charity (stern) and an anchor.

Those of cam, that carried in each boat tack ready to anchor, were those of greater size. Those of hope or respect, apparently, were initially larger, but from the records found it can be proven that they were the same or a little smaller than those of cam. They were used in case of emergency or replacement of the latter.

Those of charity or aft, used as auxiliaries, were much smaller and were stowed on deck or the garrison tables. The reasons were left when there was good weather and / or he stayed in port for a short time. The anchors, of which they carried several, were used for manoeuvres or to reinforce the anchors of cam in places suitable for anchoring (very small).

Also, we find in inventories of expeditionary equipment such as Sir Cook the ice anchor and the layer or floating anchor. The one of ice is of a single arm that is nailed to hammers; It is also used to moor on the beach.

The floating or layer anchor had the purpose of keeping the ship approved or reducing the speed in the runners. It differs a lot from the one used by sports sailboats. It was a wooden frame lined with canvas (or sail) sufficiently ballasted to keep it upright.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the anchor arms acquired a curved shape and, thanks to the improvements in the manufacturing process and the iron quality used, they became stronger. Around the same time, the wooden stock was replaced by another iron one.

To the advantage of being more resistant was added the possibility of sliding to be twinned to the rod, which facilitated the stowage. This is how, by the middle of the 19th century, an anchor was reached with certain dimensions and shape that became known as the patent anchor of the Admiralty.

Rope and Chain

Given this slow evolution of the anchor, an attempt was made to replace the uncertainty it had when anchoring by regulating the number and length of the lines that a ship should carry. Although we saw that the chain was used by the Vikings, it was not until the 19th century that it replaced the hemp ends.

The change was gradual since, given the manufacturing techniques, it was not uncommon for the anchors to remain at the bottom when the links were opened. It was almost mandatory to carry out quality tests and breaking point until the advantages were undeniable. A longer duration with a lower stowage volume caused the hemp to be definitively displaced.

Shortly after, the Lloyds Register regulated the weight and the number of anchors, the type of chain and the length that they should have according to the size of the ship.

Windlass and winch

The use of the winch or the windlass facilitated the task of recovering the anchoring. Lifting the anchor was not easy and the thick hemp rope did not take it to the winch, but it was used with a rope without turning.
Three or four turns were given to the drum of the winch and with a few legs (wet) the anchor rope was fastened to the turnbuckle. When the drum rotated, the turnbuckle dragged the line.

Modern anchors

A great advance in the subject of the anchors was introduced by Trotman who made an anchoring with movable arms placed in such a way that they stuck into the bottom both at the same time. It also had the advantage of not using a trap, which facilitated the stowage. At first, they had an inherent weakness: the nails were broken by excessive grip; the unperfected material could not stand. So, it was not until 1890, with technical improvements in the foundry, that the use of this type of anchor spread throughout the world.

In 1933, the C.Q.R. or plough anchor. Invented by F. S. Taylor, it has the advantage of not having a trap and, although it falls to the bottom, in any way the smallest pull of the chain causes it to take the correct position and nail its two nails. It holds about twice as much as any other of equal size, although its shape is not used in large ships.

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