Second of two parts.
By the 18th century, the anchor industry had become regulated and standardized, helped by the burgeoning British Royal Navy. Even their forging techniques, once protected secrets, were listed in the encyclopediae of the day.
Anchors had also become huge in size to keep pace with the increasingly larger wooden sailing ships being produced by the European nations. With the larger anchors, the anchor cable, too, became an
issue. For a 74-gun ship of the line, its anchor cable was 18 inches in diameter, far too heavy for crewmen to take up around a capstan.
The process soon developed that a smaller rope, called the messenger, would be taken up around the capstan first. Then the thicker anchor line would be led forward around rollers under the deck-head of the upper deck. This required heavy labor.
In fact, the process of weighing anchor for these huge ships became a well-rehearsed choreographed dance, oftentimes aided by a fiddle and sea-shanties being sung. Known as capstan shanties for raising and lowering the anchor, they were used to keep rhythm during the work.
“Roll the Old Chariot” was a capstan shanty of African-American origin, which told about the wonderful things sailors dreamed of doing once they got ashore. Each sailor could participate, listing things they loved most that “wouldn’t do them any harm,” which was effective, since it took a lot of choruses to bring up these huge anchors.
Other capstan shanties included “The Black Pig” and “Blow Ye Winds.” As well as one of the more popular homeward-bound shanties, “Goodbye Fare-ye-well,” which sailors would sing at the capstan when raising the anchor to start heading home.
Weighing the anchor of a major British warship required several sailors and Royal Marines manning their bars and beginning their circular dance pushing around the capstan. Short lines called nippers would be attached to the messenger and anchor line or cable, which bound them together, the job done by an able seaman.
The nipper would then be passed to a boy rating who would hold the end of it walking the line as it was hove aboard until he reached the hatchway. There, he unhooked the nipper and handed the line down the hatch to the cable tier in the hold. The boy then took the nipper back to the seaman so he could use it again to marry the cable to the messenger.
In the hold, sailors stowed the wet and slimy cable. Up to 90 fathoms, or nearly 550 feet, needed hauling for an anchor to be weighed. It was a slow, tedious, dirty job and usually required most of the crew involved.
The recovery or retrieval of the anchors also proved difficult. If lost, they had to first be canted or lifted with tackle to the cat-head or short beam at the bow, then fished by tackle onto the fish davit. It was a cumbersome operation, so a stockless anchor began to be developed that could be stowed in a hawse pipe.
By the 19th century, anchors were big business. Locally, Horatio and William Alden started the Camden Anchor Works where they manufactured anchors used by ships all over the world. It drew power from the dam on the Megunticook River but burned May 19, 1935. The Camden Public Landing was built in its place.
The Admiralty Pattern anchor also called the “Fisherman” anchor appeared by the 1840s. It had a central shank with a ring or shackle to affix the rope. At the opposite end of the shank were two arms supporting the flukes. The stock was secured at the shackled end 90 degrees to the arms. With its improved construction and better iron, it became the standard fixed-arm anchor.
By the start of the 20th century, close-stowing anchors were being developed. Usually housed on a ramp, this anchor was designed so that it could sit flush to the shipside or deck. The close-stowing anchors were the intermediate design, soon replaced by the close-stowing stockless anchors, which could be hove right into the hawse pipe or anchor pocket.
To be stockless, the anchor was fitted with a large shackle at the top of the shank. By the 1940s, the joining shackle was lug-less and needed a steel locking pin to hold it in place. That is what you see on World War II warships.
At that time, the Danforth anchor also came out. It uses a stock at the crown where two large flat triangular flukes are attached on a hinged stock, so the flukes can orient toward the bottom. It is what we decided to go with for our kelp farm site off City Park.
The two 814-lb. anchors that were recently transported back east from the salvage of the National Science Foundation Research Vessel Hero are known as stockless Baldt Anchors. They have two large flukes that dig into the sand at the same time to keep the ship stable. Usually used as bower anchors (located on either side of the ship’s bow), they are widely preferred by merchant ships for all kinds of bottom terrain.
Baldt Anchors’ high holding power in sandy or muddy bottoms and their excellent stability make them a favorite for owners of large and small ships. These two that just arrived from Washington State need a good cleaning — lots of rust and marine life built up on them. What a great historical conservation process to be involved with, saving these two anchors!
For divers, anchors are big business. Boaters and ships lose them more often than you might think. Old ones lost years ago are often snagged by fishing gear. Divers then use lift bags and other means to bring them to the surface. Usually, they are easily and quickly re-sold. The conventional wisdom goes that if you ever find one and have the capability, make a plan to bring it up. Someone will want it. Anchors aweigh, my friends!
Charles Lagerbom teaches AP U.S. History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He is author of “Whaling in Maine” and “Maine to Cape Horn,” available through Historypress.com.