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I have been working on a model of a topsail schooner, and had a number of questions about how the anchors were handled. Looking through the literature, and at some of the schooner models on the Forum, it seems that there are several different methods. So which was right for the model I am building?


I have a 1980s Mantua Albatros "Goletta Typpica de Baltimora" kit. The kit contains a lot of the "standard" parts the company threw into many kits, regardless of scale and many of these were not well made. When I compare the kit to drawings in Chapelle's The Baltimore Clipper I see a lot of questionable details. The kit includes a capstan, and some topsail schooners used capstans for weighing anchor. But many kits and drawings have windlasses, and some show nothing for handling the anchor.


There are other discussions on the Forum about anchor handling in small craft, with lots of opinions. What I present here is a compilation of these discussions and material from several references. What I am interested in is how smaller ships that had no windlass or capstan handled the anchor.


Anchor Tackle


The anchor tackle on smaller vessels consists of two assemblies used for dropping and raising the anchor. Larger ships may have permanent fish davits and a different arrangement for handling the anchor. Small ships often used a version of what is shown here.


The crown or fluke end of the anchor is typically secured to the side of the ship with a shank painter of rope or chain secured to bitts or timberheads to support the fluke end. A stopper rope to support the stock of the anchor is secured to the cathead on one end, looped through the anchor ring and then the free end is looped around a cleat and secured to a timberhead.


To drop the anchor the anchor cable is brought up from the cable tier, run through the hawse hole and secured to the ring on the anchor (on some ships the cable is always attached to the anchor ring). Then the cat block and hook are attached to the anchor ring.


The fish davit is rigged with it resting on the cap rail and the inboard end resting against some firm object like the mast or knight head. The davit may be positioned over the anchor flukes using fore and after guys. The fish pendant runs over a sheave in the end of the fish davit. It has a large fish hook on the lower end and the upper end is tied around a thimble. The fore tackle is hooked into the thimble and provides the lifting force to raise and lower the anchor. I have also seen drawings where the fish tackle was rigged to the fore course spar and a fish davit was not used.


With the fish pendant and cat tackle pulled tight the shank painter securing the anchor to the ship is removed. The anchor is then lowered along the ship's side with the fore tackle and fish pendant until it is hanging beneath the cathead on the cat tackle. Then the fish pendant is unhooked. The cat tackle is slacked to allow the stopper to carry the weight of the anchor, and then the tackle is tied back to clear the anchor. To drop the anchor the stopper is released from the timberhead and allowed to slip over the cleat, allowing the anchor to fall.


2134712080_Weighinganchor.jpg.5569fffb6c88eac9fc067c814eac3423.jpgTo weigh (raise) the anchor the anchor cable is hauled in using tackles (smaller vessels), a windless or a capstan and messenger line (larger ships). Smaller schooners often did not have a capstan or windlass so one or two luff tackles were used to pull a messenger line that was lashed to the anchor cable. If one tackle was used when it became two blocked (both blocks come together) the anchor cable was secured to the bitts and the messenger was run out again and tied to the cable. When two tackles were used and one tackle was two blocked the other tackle was tied to the cable to continue pulling while the first was run out again. When the anchor broke the surface the cat hook was attached to the anchor ring. Then the anchor was “catted” by raising it to the cathead with the cat tackle.


The fish davit was rigged and the fish pendant was hooked to the anchor stock at the flukes. The anchor was “fished” using the fore tackle to hoist the flukes up to the cap rail where the shank painter ropes or chains were passed around the anchor and secured to timber heads or cleats to support the anchor. Then the fish pendant was unhooked. A wooden fender or "shoe" was placed between the anchor flukes and the side of the ship to protect the hull as the anchor was being fished.


On some ships the anchor head remained suspended by the cat tackle. On other vessels the head of the anchor was secured with stopper lines to cleats or timberheads. The cat tackle was usually left hooked to the anchor ring. The anchor cable may have been removed and stowed in the cable tier.


One reference said two hefty seamen could hoist a relatively light anchor with a simple tackle. By increasing the number of sheaves in the tackle greater lifting power could be achieved, but at the expense of having to pull more line through the tackle and a much slower process. But with heavier anchors this system was not practical.


Instead of the luff tackles a capstan could be used to pull a messenger loop wound around the capstan and running around the fore deck and back to the capstan. The messenger was tied to the anchor cable and hauled back until the lashings reached the cable tier. Then new lashings would be tied around the cable and messenger up forward and the hauling would be continued until the anchor was catted.


With a windlass on the fo'c'sle the anchor cable would be wound around the  barrel or warping drum. For dropping the anchor the winch would be allowed to rotate freely. When weighing the anchor the windlass ratchet mechanism would allow men with poles to turn the barrel to haul in the cable. The cable could be secured with stopper lines to bitts.


One other detail I came across is that the anchor might be hauled inboard after the cable was detached and stored below decks in the cable tier.


Here are a couple of useful references:


The Young Sea Officer's Sheet Anchor by Darcy Lever in 1808 (reprinted by Algrove Publishing Ltd., Ottowa, Ontario, Canada, 2000) tells the novice officer or seaman how to rig a ship - every detail of how to put all the pieces of the masts and rigging together. It is essentially an illustrated glossary of nautical terms and a how-to book. It has a discussion of anchors and anchor handling.


The Art of Rigging by George Biddlecombe  in 1925 (reprinted by Echo Point Books & Media, LLC., Brattleboro, Vermont, USA, 2016) is based upon David Steel's 1794 The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship. It has an excellent glossary and many illustrations. I think you can find Steel's original book on line as a PDF file.


Edited by Dr PR
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  • 1 month later...

Thanks for this. I was just preparing to rig the anchor on my own topsail schooner model (Marine Models’ Virginia Privateer) and studying my references. It helps to clarify some of my questions. 

An additional reference that I would recommend is “The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War 1600-1825” by Peter Goodwin. There is a good discussion of stowing anchors on page 54.


Vince McCullough

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Vince, Phil,


The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War 1600-1825 is by Brian Lavery.   Goodwin's most sought after book is also a great book to have, that is the Construction and Fitting of the English Man of War 1650-1850   Similar titles but totally different information in each.  Both are in my top 10 when it comes to actually be used as references.



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The Cat tackle is used to lift the anchor from the water after being hoisted, can also be used to hold and control it while the rigging for stowage was put in place, it is not used to let go by releasing the hook on the Cat Tackle. To be used to let go, a pelican hook or similar device would be needed on the Cat Tackle instead of the hook you find there. The cat tackle is also used to lift the anchor to a quick release fitting attached to the Cat, then removed and two-blocked out of the way while the anchor hangs from the quick release device, when ready, it is let go from there, the cable follows it down being fed by the measured and flaked out cable on deck led through the Hawse Hole. Never used a Cat, but have anchored by tossing the anchor by hand and lifting it the same way, have used a sledge on the pelican hook aboard a Fletcher Class Destroyer to let go, in that case the chain ran out the Hawse, fed around the capstan from the chain locker below. Anchor cables unless very small were not wrapped around the drums of Windless or Capstans and allowed to run freely when letting go, until brakes became the norm to control them, by then it was mostly anchor chain. Good post, just a little more research with some study of the laws of physics needed. Loosening the brake to much and then overheating in an attempt to regain control, modern, but the forces at work are the same and the folly of letting capstans and windlasses to run free can be seen. https://bangshift.com/bangshiftxl/runaway-anchors-watch-what-happens-when-ships-lose-the-handle-on-100-tons-of-iron/

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Thanks. You are correct that the anchor was not let go from the cat hook! My error!


Lever/Blunt "Young Sea Officer's Sheet Anchor" doesn't describe letting go the anchor. However, it says that when the anchor was catted a rope stopper that was attached on one end to the cathead was looped through the anchor ring and then the free end was taken round a cleat on the cathead and hauled taut, and the end secured to a timber head and stopped.


To drop the anchor it was lowered until it is hanging from the cathead by the stopper. The cat tackle could be used to carry the ring while the crown end is being lowered. Then the cat tackle would be slacked to let the stopper hold the anchor. The tackle would be tied back to clear the anchor. To let go the anchor the stopper was freed from the timberhead and allowed to slip off the cleat, allowing the anchor to drop.


I will correct the original post.


Of course, like everything else in the construction, rigging and operation of wooden sailing ships there was no single "correct" way to do things. There were different techniques used in different parts of the world and at different times. I do not know when pelican hooks were introduced, but I have read somewhere there was at least one other quick release "hook" in use before the pelican hook.


I am familiar with modern (20th century) anchor handling:


https://www.okieboat.com/Free steaming.html

Edited by Dr PR
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