Saturday, January 29, 2005

Weighing the Anchor (Mike)

The day we left Dry Tortugas, the captain thought that we should gain some hands-on experience with a very important event in any voyage, the weighing of the anchor. Before modern luxuries such as electric anchor winches, called windlasses, with which the Bounty was thankfully equipped, the crew spent hours using the capstan to raise the anchor by hand. Because we had put out nine shots of chair (9 shots x 90 feet per shot = 810 feet), the captain had used the windlass to haul up all but 2 shots (180 feet).

First, I’ll make a note on the capstan. On the Bounty, the capstan is a meeting place, a classroom, and a warm hearth in addition to being a winch. At the beginning and end of every watch, the entire watch would gather and take a roll call at the capstan before handing the deck over to the next watch and being stood down. Every time the captain needed to address the crew, he would call “Hands to the capstan.” In the afternoons, when the captain and mates would teach us various aspects of seamanship, they would use the capstan as a desk. During long, cold night watches, idle hands would jockey for a position around the base of the capstan where hot air from the engine room was vented. Above the round vent grate, which rises about 18 inches above the deck, the capstan is a narrow cylinder, about a foot in diameter. Around this cylinder are vertical wooden strips tapered to give the entire cylinder an hourglass shape. At the base of this narrow section are four flaps, which fall down into a track and pass over ridges designed to keep the capstan from moving backwards while under tension. At the top of the tapered cylinder is a broad circular section with square holes around its diameter. It is topped in a smooth wooden surface a bit above chest height.

To raise the anchor, a large block (piece of wood housing pulleys) is attached to the chain, which enters the ship on the port bow, and another is fastened to the port deck beside the capstan. A very thick line is then fastened to the block on the chain and runs between the blocks, almost the entire length of the port deck, six times. Then, it is wrapped around the tapered part of the capstan four times so that the tension in the rope provides enough friction to keep it from slipping. After the capstan, the line goes off to starboard, where it is neatly coiled.

The day we left Dry Tortugas, we had an early capstan meeting to weigh the anchor. After the captain explained what was going to happen, we paired off and grabbed capstan bars. When the command was given, we all inserted our bars into the square holes and started walking. Pushing the bar was not difficult, but it was a very long and monotonous process. While, with all the mechanical advantage afforded to us by the capstan and tackle system, we only had to push each bar with about 18 lbs. of force, every trip around the capstan brought only 6 more inches of chain onto the deck. Can you tell I’m a physics major? With 180 feet to be brought up, 60 feet at a time, that translates to a lot of continuous walking. With each lap around punctuated only by hopping over the two ends of the rope coming off the capstan, we tried to occupy ourselves by talking, singing sea chanties, and telling jokes. While Rose, my capstan buddy, didn’t really appreciate my sense of humor, Lindsey liked one joke so much that she tried to use it later for wakeups. Though she didn’t quite get it right the next morning, I doubt it mattered to her yawning, half-asleep audience.

Once the two tackle blocks had been drawn together, the chain was fastened at the bow and the block was detached from the chain. Working together, we played out the lines snaking back and forth between the blocks and pulled the forward block back up to the bow, where it was reattached to the chain. Then we returned to the capstan. As time went on, we became hotter in the rising morning sun, hungrier, and less talkative. Finally, as the tackles were being drawn together for the third time, Andy announced from the bow that they could see the anchor leaving the water. We redoubled our efforts, pushing intensely then surging ahead as link after link was drawn over the bow. After three hours of marching nowhere, the anchor was up and ready to be fastened and we hurried below decks, eager to enjoy our long-awaited and well-deserved lunch.
posted by Mike

p.s. How is recovery coming along? I had one done that Carly says she sent off and another one that was almost completed but never sent.