A Short History of Boat Anchors
There are two basic theories floating around as far as the history of anchors is concerned. One must picture early men learning one floating log can assist in crossing a river or stream. Two logs lashed together was much more stable and did not roll over on the captain, and ultimately could be guided with a pole, however there were times it was nice to stop the water craft, such as it was, to fish or just float in one place for security purposes, and anchors were born....
The other theory or theories tell stories of the gods and how they gave us the technology we use to this very day, including seamanship. I am of the opinion it was a little of both going on way back in time, but in any case some of the earliest anchors we have recognized and found come from the Sea of Galilee... When Jesus proclaimed "I am the anchor..." he knew just exactly how important one was. It seems he had sailed for his uncle Joseph who was the Onasis of his day, according to ancient records now in public domain, and so Christ knew the value of these life saving mooring devices.
Stone was the medium of choice as it had weight, could be drilled for a mooring line, and if chaffed off nothing was really lost as there were many stones around. Metal was far too precious to use for mooring purposes because of such risky odds governing losses. The ropes used in those days was of the hemp variety, and sea water as well as sun and just weather rotted the line, especially immersed all the time. It did not take man long to discover treating the hemp with bitumen or petroleum products, if you prefer, extended the life of the anchor "cable". The Near East was full of oil seeps and the bitumen was used for everything man could think of, for men before Christ knew as much about the classes of petroleum such as asphalts, mineral oils, paraffin based oils and the napthas as we do today. In short, petroleum was used to preserve many items in those days, and hemp was one of them. (Tarred Hemp) As far as the mooring device itself, metal still was too precious to use for this marine purpose however, but the anchor stones took on the form of stone disks, wheel like, with a hole in the middle that a line could be passed through and in some cases, detached or slipped through the weight and leave it on the bottom, recovering the precious line.
At some point a windlass was invented to
provide mechanical advantage to retrieving the ship anchor, which
in turn allowed for more efficient anchor design or size, and
allowed vessels to anchor where they would have been too exposed
or possibly fighting too much current before the changes. Try
to pull anchors by hand is no easy task and the vessels were for
the most part under 100 feet long and carried small crews. This
windlass seems to have come about sometime before Christ, however
wide spread use was after the death of Jesus when the idea caught
on in the Roman Empire. On the Pacific side during this time the
Chinese went through much of the same engineering process, and
the sea worthiness of Chinese junks is world renown.
In olden times a Sea Peoples merchant ship would load several of the large stone disks and use them as ballast as well as mooring devices, as the vessels made their ports of call as far away as the English Isles of Tin. There are areas of the Med that were ports at one time and some still are, and the bottom of the harbors reflect this from all the old stone anchors. Spare mooring devices and extra line was a must for the old vessels, and this practice still applies to a large degree today. People lose their boat anchors quite often, mostly through neglect of the cable ( or string), shackles or winch... A smart mariner always carries a spare anchor of some sort.
To make anchors work one starts with the line, or "string" as some have jokingly called any mooring line which is not made of steel. From plant fiber to chain, from hemp to cable and synthetic fibers, and for the anchor: from stone to wood and metal to just plain metal, was the cycle as we know of it. Different ideas and styles of anchors merged through the years, many for select purposes. Have you ever seen photos or real sailing ship anchors at museums, and merely took some time to look around to see what has replaced them? Though the principles have never changed, the relative efficiency of the boat anchoring hardware has, and the Forfjord Safety boat anchor manufactured in Seattle, WA USA, is famous for its superiority in this area. It is often called a Navy type anchor because of its general shape but it actually has twice the holding power because of its unique design. In short, efficiency through refined engineering by way of thousands of years of accumulated sea experience...
The types of anchors best known for actual sea duty are the Navy, Danforth, Plow, and Mushroom style. The Nordhill type of anchor is based off of what the old sailing ships used so the individual boatman has a very good choice this day and age at choosing the style of anchor which suits them best for the waters they frequent. When drifting at night, parachute type sea anchors are employed to slow the vessel wind drift. There are good folding anchors for small sail craft such as sailboats limited to storage space. The metal alloys in a premium anchor are not inexpensive, so watch out for cheap imitations of the above styles of mooring devices, as they do abound, and not all of the imitations originate out of the Orient. Think of a good anchor as you would an insurance policy. Bad insurance never pays off, and bad anchors destroy vessels and crews of all sizes, something the ancient Sea People knew only too well. Always keep in mind sailing any vessel without a good anchor is the same as driving a car or truck without brakes...
By using a shackle and chain (In some cases line or cable) which is properly sized for the your anchor, and making sure your winch or windlass is of proper size and well mounted, protects your vessel and its crew when anchoring in weather. To assure this use a chain or cable length about 5 times the depth of the water from 20-100 feet. Use 4 times the depth of the water from 100-200 feet of water under the vessel keel if high winds are forecast. This is a general good rule of thumb implemented by those mariners using Forfjord Safety Anchors. For the rest of the styles, more chain may be used and a heavier anchor employed (Normally twice the size).
Always try know what kind of bottom you have chosen to drop the mooring device onto. Most charts have the type of bottom (such as sand or clay) displayed in the various areas and bays used for anchoring your vessel. Learn to read your charts. If you are new to vessel ownership, the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary has classes to assist the small boat owner. Buying a boat or a ship is like buying a car and it brings with it the same responsibilities found on the road. There are rules and laws governing vessel conduct on water and many good instruction manuals are on the book market which will assist your learning. Boating safety equipment is a must and your anchor is one of the items...