The importance of the anchor in the history of seafaring people is perhaps little understood. Yet, literally thousands of ships of war or commerce have been lost due to the failure of ground tackle, and the resultant loss of lives, vessels and cargo most probably had significant impact on the world. Despite this fact, it is incredible to note how little advancement was made in anchor design from the earliest Chinese anchors until just prior to World War II. The Greeks, the Romans, the Spanish, the English, and the other mariners would have handled their ships differently in exploration, in trade and in battle had they possessed anchors that could be trusted in bad weather. In fact, ship design itself would have been different had the concepts of modern anchor design been known.

A heavy stone tied to a crude rope was prehistoric man's first "anchor". <stone anchor-1>  To tie the stone more securely, grooves were cut around the oblong shapes but they relied on weight alone for holding rather than hooking or burying as did later anchors. To overcome aimless dragging, wooden crooks, cages or iron hooks were added which resulted in a slight increase in holding power.

Those "killicks" are still used in many primitive societies throughout the world. <killick anchor-2> These were still not true anchors and they dragged on hard bottoms and became buried in mud.

Even the Egyptians, with their expertise in engineering, still used conical stakes with papyrus cable in 2200 B.C. But anchoring was not as important as it would become, becuase early boats were small and always beached when not in use. As water travel increased, so too did the need for larger boats and better anchors.

The earliest true anchors, which held by shape rather than by weight alone, were the East Indian <east indian anchor-3> and similar types. In about 2000 B.C., the Chinese developed an anchor with the stock at the head which is still being used today aboard Chinese junks. <Chinese-4>

The first record of an anchor design, variations of which became known as the "Old Fashioned" or "Common" anchor, was on Greek and Syrian coins of about 750 B.C. <Ancient Greek (from coins) anchor-5> This anchor has two hooked arms and an opposing stock. This general type continued in use for a period of twenty-six centuries, and was still used by the British and U.S. Navies in the 1800's. Flukes had appeared on Roman anchors of this design before the time of Christ.

The "Old Fashioned" or "Common" anchor is also referred to as a "kedge" by ship chandlers and others today. The term originally meant a small anchor capable of being handled by boat cres, which was used to "kedge" or pull a ship off the bottom, or along in shallow water, by dropping anchors out ahead of it.

Ancient Greek seamen used these early anchors to put in for trade at the mouth of the Nile. Stones heavy enough to hold merchant galleys were impossible to retieve from the deep delta mud. the more efficient iron anchors wre much lighter, but even they were often sheathed in wood to keep them from settling too deeply.

Britons, sailing against Caesar's invaders, had perhaps the strangest mooring tackle of all time--heavy stones secured to the world's first anchor chain. Iron links were used because the Britons had no strong rope.

These heavy links, incidentally greatly affected the ship design of that day. The weight of the links plus the weight of the stones was so great that only short lengths of chain could be used. For this reason, the Britons anchored with their chains practically up and down, with no freedom to rise and fall; riding at anchor was one plunge into the waves after another. To survive these rides, a peculiar vessel evolved with unusually high head and gunwales. Sir Walter Raleigh in his "Disclosure on the First Invention of Ships" said, "Instead of fitting their furniture to their ships they formed their ships to their furniture."

Much information on ancient anchors was obtained in 1930 when Lake Nemi, near Rome, was drained. two huge anchors were found there near hulks of two galleys built by Emperor Caligula in 40 A.D.

One of these was an all-iron "Common" anchor weighing 900 lbs. Its shank was 11 ft. 8 in. long, and its stock was 9 ft. 9 in. long, held in place by a cotter pin. Stowing was easily accomplished by removing the stock and laying the anchor flat.

The other anchor from Lake Nemi <Roman Ship anchor-6> had an 18 ft. oak shank with two oak, iron-tipped arms and a 7 ft. 10 in. solid lead stock. The discovery of this anchor explained the presence of lead bars found about the shores of the Mediterranean which weighted up to 1380 lbs.

The Roman wood and lead anchor was lighter than the iron anchor used in those times. This lighter anchor was used regularly by vessels stopping at the Nile Delta. A ship given to Ptolemy by Heiron of Syracuse had eight iron and four wooden anchors.

With the fall of Rome, this great knowledge of morring ships at sea was apparently lost. Some Viking ships in 800 A.D. carried small iron anchors with flukes and rings, and an old tapestry shows Norman invaders carrying a double flukedanchor (without a stock) to England's shore.

In the fifteenth century the large "Old Fashioned" anchor was seen again on the shiops of the great navigators <Old Fashioned anchor-7>. This anchor type with flukes and fixed wooden stock was still standard equipment on U.S. Navy ships as late as 1860.

Other anchoring advancements were being made. In the 16th century, Sir Walter Raleigh reported that first use of the capstan. He also commented on the value of scope, saying "Witness our small Millbrooke men of Cornwal. They ride it out at anchor half seas over between England and Ireland all the winter quarter. And witness the Hollanders that ride before Dunkirk, with the wind at N.W. makeing a lee shoar in all weathers. For it is the length of calbeis the life of the shipos in all extremities."

"And the reason is that it takes so many bendings and waves as the ship riding at the length is not able to stretch it. And nothing breaks that is not stretched in extremity."

Later such navigators as Bougainville and Cook suggested iron chain for securing anchors instead of hemp rope. Lt. Samuel Brown, of the British Navy, fitted the "Penelope" with the first modern anchor chain in 1809.

But the first real depature in anchor design since 600 B.C. was Hawkins' patent in 1821 of the "Stockless" or "Patent" anchor. <Stockless or Patent anchor - 8> This anchor had two wide flukes hinged at the bottom of the shank in such a manner that they would both presumably bitea at once. The "Stockless" is in common use in larger ships today primarily due to its easy stowage in hawse pipe.

A "Wishbone" anchor <Wishbone anchor - 9> was patented by Piper in 1822, but was not widely used. Another hinged-arm anchor <Porter anchor - 10> ws patented by Porter in England in 1838, although it had been shown 16 years earlier in the patent issued by Piper. This "antifouling" design was very popular as evidence by the number still being recovered from the bottoms of Europe's ports.

The "Mushroom" <Mushroom anchor - 11> first appeared sometime after 1850, and has been used mainly for permanent moorings.
 Anchor History Resources

Yale Guide to Anchor Rode - While Yale Cordage Co. calls this white paper "Anchoring Technology", and it has a bit of anchor history as well, it's mainly about anchor rode physics and recommendations.
Anchor Parts
Killick Anchor
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