Jackspeak: Anchors and Cables

HMCS Calgary crew members set the anchor during Task Group Exercise (TGEX) 20-1 on 27 March 2020. Photo: Corporal Jay Naples, MARPAC Imaging Services.

An anchor has been a ship’s necessity since the ancient Greek mythological hero Jason sailed the ship Argo, as it allows a ship to stay in place despite wind, current and tide. Killick is the Gaelic name for a stone anchor wrapped in tree branches. For decades this name stuck with Commonwealth navies as a nickname for the rank Leading Seaman, mainly because their rank badge used a depiction of a fouled anchor, the situation when the anchor cable becomes wrapped around the anchor itself.

The Admiralty pattern anchor may be the most familiar to non-sailors. It consists of a central shank with a ring or shackle at one end for attaching the rode and a crosswise stock nearby. At the other end of the shank are two arms carrying the flukes at ninety degrees to the stock.

The anchor cable is the ship’s connection to the anchor, and runs up through the hull via a hawse pipe, then across the fo’c’sle, over a windlass and down to the cable deck via the naval pipe. A modern ship’s cable is a hefty chain marked off in ninety-foot segments using paint and tarred marlin. Each section is referred to as a shackle. The cable’s bitter end is attached to the ship via a sturdy ring welded to the inside of the cable locker. On a cozy night in their rack, a ship’s boatswain has pleasant dreams of this rig.

Casting an anchor might be dropping the hook (mud hook) or setting the pick. This can be a rest time for a ship’s company, where watches may be reduced. Normally, an anchor watch comprised of the ship’s personnel is set to monitor the ship and detect if the anchor is dragging, which plays an important role in anticipation of inclement weather. Sailors might place their hand on the cable to feel it jumping, indicating the anchor dragging along the bottom. They also report the state of the anchor cable using the terms long stay – the anchor cable is taut and extended; and short stay – neither vertical nor fully extended, nor up-and-down, meaning the anchor cable extends vertically.

Weighing the anchor is the act of pulling up the anchor. An anchor’s aweigh is said of an anchor when raised just clear of the sea bottom. Of course, ‘Anchor’s Aweigh’ is also the name of the United States Naval Academy’s fight song and is strongly associated with the United States Navy, not the Royal Canadian Navy.

‘Slipped their cable’ refers to leaving an anchorage in an emergency where the cable is abruptly slipped, and the ship departs quickly, leaving the anchor and cable behind; it is also a sailor’s way to describe a person who has passed away suddenly. The term ‘swallow the anchor’ is commonly used to indicate a retirement from naval service; i.e., ‘Next July, Bloggins plans to swallow the anchor’.

You will find over 4,000 examples of Jackspeak in my book Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy (2nd ed.).

The author of ‘Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy’ and ‘Whiskey 601’, Mark Nelson developed a love of the Navy’s language and lifestyle over his 26-year career in the service. After retiring as a Chief Petty Officer Second Class, he now works as a Library Systems Specialist at Red River College Polytechnic in Winnipeg, Man.

Follow Mark on Twitter @4marknelson

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