Because mooring a Navy ship to a pier is not always possible or desirable, anchors often are used to secure a vessel in place. The equipment associated with anchoring is called ground tackle and includes the anchors themselves, the chains used to attach them to the ship, and the windlasses used to weigh anchor (lift them back on board).
An anchor is a type of hook that embeds itself into the sea bottom. The body of the anchor is called the shank, and the flukes are the “teeth” that actually bite into the bottom. Older-style Admiralty-pattern anchors have a stock, which is a crossbar that prevents the anchor from lying flat, thus making it easier for the flukes to dig into the sea floor.
The hawsepipe serves as a passage for the anchor chain, leading from the forecastle deck to the outer surface of the ship’s hull closer to the water. Modern anchors are stored in the lower end of this tube. The unused portion of the anchor chain is stowed belowdecks in a large compartment called the chain locker.
The anchor chain is a vital component in mooring a ship to the bottom. Along with the anchor, the chain’s weight holds the vessel in place. The amount of chain used is very important, because too much will allow the ship to move around excessively and too little may allow the ship to drag its anchor.
Navy anchor chain comes in 15-fathom (90-foot) lengths called shots. Individual shots are connected to one another by detachable links, and a special color-coding system allows one to tell, just by looking at visible chain on deck, how much has been paid out.
Scope is the amount of chain put out to hold a ship in place. The scope used is normally five to seven times the depth of the water. For example, if a ship is anchoring in ten fathoms (60 feet) of water, she will use between 50 fathoms (300 feet) and 70 fathoms (420 feet) of chain.
Chain stoppers are used to hold the anchor securely in place when it is not being let go or heaved in. A Navy stopper consist of a shackle that attaches it to the deck of the vessel, several links of chain, a turnbuckle, and a pelican hook fitting over the anchor chain that can be securely closed or opened as needed. The turnbuckle allows for adjustments so there is no slack in the chain once the stopper is attached.
When a ship is nearing her anchorage, the bridge tells the forecastle to “stand by.” Personnel on the forecastle will release all but one of the chain stoppers and the windlass brake so that the weight of the anchor is on the chain, which is then being held by the one remaining stopper. With everyone standing clear of the chain, a sailor will knock loose the pelican hook on the stopper and, with a great roar, the anchor will plunge into the water and fall to the bottom. Allowing an anchor or its chain to run out using its own weight is called veering.
With the windlass brake set, the ship is backed to set the anchor (cause the flukes to dig into the bottom). The brake is then released and the ship is backed down to veer more chain until it is at the desired scope. Stoppers are then set and the ship is anchored.
A sailor begins heaving around (operating the windlass) to haul in the chain until it is at short stay (retrieved to the point that the anchor is just short of being pulled from the sea bottom). Heaving is continued, and the bridge is informed when the anchor is up and down (pulled out of the ground, but still resting on the bottom). Once the anchor is clear of the bottom and its weight is on the chain, the report “anchor’s aweigh” is sent to the bridge. At this point, the ship is officially under way. A hose team will spray the chain as it emerges from the water to remove mud and debris, and once determined that the anchor is clear (not fouled), it is housed (raised into the hawsepipe) and stoppers are set to hold it in place.
Although they have changed in appearance, anchors have been a vital component of seafaring since ancient times, providing vessels of all shapes and sizes the ability to “park” when needed.
A quick note for the novice sailor: Although it is incorrect, you will often see the familiar Navy song referred to as “Anchor’s Away.” But as you can discern from the above description, “Aweigh” is the correct word and refers to heaving in the anchor, not letting go.