Anchoring HMS Victory

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    Malcolm Lewis

    I am interested in the procedures used to anchor a wooden wall such as the three-decker Victory.
    John Harland in Seamanship in the Age of Sail [London 1984], notes (page 241): “The hawse-bucklers were removed,the anchors got off the bows, cables bent..” It is noted elsewhere that anchor cables were unbent prior to a long voyage except for the sheet anchor. Hawse holes were then closed with hawse bags to prevent ingress of water.
    Arthur Bugler in HMS Victory: building, restoration and repair [London 1966], notes (page 70): “A wooden cover, in two halves with joint horizontal, was provided for each hawsehole for use when at sea … A semi-circular hole a little larger than the cable was provided in each of the half covers”.
    This would mean that the cable had not been unbent after weighing. I can appreciate the merits of both routines but I have often wondered about the difficult task of feeding a heavy 24″ cable from the hawsehole to the anchor stowage or cathead in rough conditions.
    Would a messenger rope have been used to haul the cable to the anchor ring? Would chain cable have been bent and unbent from the anchor in similar circumstances? Are there any examples or drawings of half covers? I assume a half cover would have been used for the sheet anchor cable hawsehole. Did merchant vessels follow similar anchor handling procedures as naval vessels?

    Frank Scott

    Use of Covers or Unbending the cable would have depended on the situation.
    While operating on blockade duty, in relatively confined waters (e.g. the Baltic), or on near coastal passages, when anchoring might be required at short notice, then the covers would have been used.
    By contrast for long ocean passages the cable would have been totally unbent and pipes sealed to make the ship that much drier and more comfortable for the crew in heavy weather. Towards the end of the passage it would all have been connected up again. This would not have been a sudden evolution, but one programmed well ahead and executed in reasonable weather.
    Obviously a messenger would have been employed, this almost goes without saying.
    As late as 1949, when the last two Erikson barques (Pamir and Passat) made passage from Australia, it was the custom to unbend the (chain) cable and seal the pipes, once clear of the coast, and reverse this procedure towards the end of the passage. From the many books that I have read, and conversations with veterans of those days (such as the late Capt. Martin Lee), I think that this can be said to have been the common procedure for sailing merchant ships, even with chain cable.

    Obviously the smaller the ship, the easier this would have been, and before the size growth that came with iron and steel few merchant ships were anywhere near as large as ships-of-the-line.

    J. W. M

    The following may be of passing interest to readers.
    Similar techniques for securing hawse and spurling pipes continue in use in merchant vessels to this day, although obviously with dedicated bower anchors and chainlockers and lack of accomodation forward, the reasons for doing so have changed. Now, covering spurling pipes is done simply to prevent unwanted water ingress into chain lockers.
    In my own time deepsea, during the 1950s and 60s, for longer passages spurling pipes were sealed by various alternatives or combinations thereof. These included wooden bungs or steel half-plates, gaiter-like canvas sleeves secured around cable/spurling pipe lip by lashings and burlap stuffed into the pipe and sealed with cement.
    During more recent positioning voyages in small hoppers and dredgers I have seen the latter technique used but adapted to the 20th century by substituting polystyrene-foam aerosols in lieu of cement.
    Subject to the method of stowing anchors, hawse pipes are still provided with steel half plates, slotted to marry up to chain links and sliding in channels. While neither water-tight nor weather-proof, such covers prevent significant quantities of water arriving on the focsle head via hawse pipes if the vessel pitches heavily.

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