The Evolution of the Windlass in the Nineteenth Century
The handling of anchor cable on merchant ships was the subject of much innovation in the early nineteenth century. In warships anchor cable was handled by capstans operated by large crews. On merchant ships, with restricted space and manpower, a windlass was preferred. This article examines the development of the hand-powered windlass from the traditional form to the use of ratchets, gears and sprockets to improve its handling capabilities. The operation of windlasses was a concern of the Académie des Sciences and the large number of patents taken out in Britain and America demonstrate the ways in which science and practical innovation influenced the development of technology for handling anchor cables prior to the application of steam.