Instructions for Young Mariners, Respecting the Management of Ships at Single Anchor


The author of the following Instructions believes that nothing of the kind has hitherto been offered to the public. Conscious that the smallest error might be attended with fatal consequence, he consulted several experienced Commanders before he ventured to publish them, who not only approved them, but united with him in opinion, that the most beneficial consequences would follow from a strict attention to them. He can therefore confidently recommend them to the serious perusal of every Seaman, epsecially those who have, or ever expect to have, the charge of ships at anchor.

Much of the damage and loss the happens in the Downs and other roadsteads to ships that use the foreign trade, is owing to the want of experience in thise who have the management of them at single anchor; the charge of which falls to the care of Chief Mates.

The following Remarks are not intended as a reflection on that description of men, their want of knowledge arises from their seldom being in a tide-way, and is the cause of the mistakes frequently made in winding their ships.

Colliers and Coasters never like to ride near them, as they often foul their anchors, and thereby risk their own and such ships as they drive on board of.

The writer of the following Instructions used the sea upwards of twenty years, chiefly in the Coal and Baltick trades, and has been witness to the improper manner in which ships trading foreign are managed in a tide-way: he offers his advice from motives of benevolence and good will, which he hopes may apologize for the seeming severity in the foregoing remarks.

Instructions for Mariners.

Riding at Anchor in moderate Weather.

Riding in a tide-way, with a fresh of wind, the ship should have what is called a short or windward service, say forty-five or fifty fathoms of cable, and always sheered to windward,[1] not always with the helm hard down, but more or less so, according to the strength or weakness of the tide; it is a known fact, that many ships sheer their anchors home, drive on board of other ships, and on the sands near which they rode, before it has been discovered that the anchor had been removed from the place where it was let go.

When the Ship will back.

When the wind is cross, or nearly cross, off shore, or in opposite direction, ships will always back; this is done by the mizen-topsail, assisted if needful by the mizen-staysail; such as have no mizen-topsail, commonly use the main-topsail, or if it blow fresh, a top-gallantsail, or any such sail, at the gaff.

In backing, a ship should always wind with a tawt cable, that you may be sure the anchor is drawn round: in case there is not a sufficiency of wind for that purpose, the ship should be hove a-peak.

How the Yards ought to be braced.

Riding with the wind afore the beam, your yards should be braced forward; if a baft the beam, brace them all a-back.

Riding Windward, Tide in danger of breaking her Sheer.

If the wind is so far aft that the ship will not back, (and you should never be attempt to back, if when the tide eases, your ship forges a-head, and brings the buoy on the lee quarter) you must set her a-head; if the wind is far aft, and blows fresh, the utmost care and attention is necessary: as ships riding in this situation often break their sheer, and come to windward of their anchors again. You should note that when your ship lies in this ticklish situation, the after yards must be braced forward, and the fore yards the contrary way: she will lay safe as long as you can keep the buoy on the lee quarter: or, suppose the helm is a-port, as long as the buoy is on the larboard quarter; with the helm thus and the wind right aft, or nearly so, your starboard, main, and fore braces should be hauled in: this supposes the main braces to lead forward.

Tending to leeward, when the Ship must be set a-head.

When your ship begins to tend to leeward, and the buoy comes on your weather quarter; the first thing you have to do, is to brace about your fore yard; and when the wind comes near the beam, set the fore-topmast staysail, and keep it standing untill it shakes; then brace all the yards sharp forward, especially if it is likely to blow strong.

How to manage when the Ships breaks her Sheer.

If laying in the aforesaid position, and she breaks her sheer, brace about the main yard immediately; if she recovers and brings the buoy on the lee, or larboard quarter, let the main yard be again braced about; but if she come to a sheer the other way, by bringing the buoy on the other quarter, change your helm and brace your fore yard too.

When a long Service is out, and the Ship is likely to go to Windward.

Riding leeward tide with more cable than the windward service, and expecting your ship will go to windward of her anchor, begin as soon as the tide eases, to shorthen in your cable. This is often hard work, but it is necessary to be done, otherwise the anchor may be fouled by the great length of cable the ship has to draw round: but even if that could be done, the cable would be damaged against the bows, or cut-water. — You are to observe, that, when a ship rides windward tide, the cable should be cackled from the short service towards the anchor, as far as will prevent the bare part touching the ship.

When the ship tends to windward and must be set a-head, hoist the fore-staysail as soon as it will stand, and when the buoy comes on the lee quarter haul down the fore-topmast staysail, brace too the fore yard, and put the helm a-lee; for till then the helm must be kept a-weather, and all the yards full.

How to manage in a Storm.

When a ship rides leeward-tide, and the wind increases, care should be takem to give her more cable in time; otherwise if you do not give her cable in time the anchor may start, and she may not easily get her brought up again; and this care is the more necessary, when you ride in the hawse of any ship. Previously to giving a long service it is usual to take a weather-bit, that is, a turn of the cable over the windlass-end, that in veering away, the ship may not over-power you. Grease the service, for that will prevent its chafing the hawse.

If the gale continues to increase, the top-mast should be timely struck, but the fore-yard should seldom, if ever, be lowered down, and in case of parting you may always have your foresail ready. At such times, there should be more men on deck than the common anchor-watch, that no accident may happen from inattention or falling asleep.

In a tide-way a second anchor should never be let go, but when absolutely necessary; a ship will sometimes ride easier and faster (especially if the sea runs high) with a very long scope of cable, and one anchor, than with less length and two anchors; however, it is advisable, as a preventative, when ships have not room to drive, and the night is dark, to let fall a second anchor under foot, with a range of cable along the deck: if this be not thought necessary to be done, the deep sea lead should be thrown over-board, and the line frequently handled by the watch, that they may be assured she rides fast.

Caution respecting the Anchor-Watch.

If at any time the Anchor-Watch, presuming on their own knowledge, should wind the ship, or suffer her to break her sheer without calling the Mate, he should immediately, or the very first opportunity, oblige the crew to heave the anchor in sight; which will prevent the commission of the like fault again; for besides the share of trouble the Watch will have, the rest of the crew will blame them for neglecting their duty.

Particular Duty of the Chief Mate.

Prudent Mates seldom lay a week in a road-stead, without heaving their anchor in sight; even though they have not the least suspension of its being foul. There are other reasons why the anchor should be looked at; sometimes the cable receives damage by sweeping wrecks, or anchors, that have been lost; or from rocks, or stones, and it is often necessary to trip the anchor in order to take a clearer berth; which should be done as often as any ship brings up too near you. Do not spend time disputing about having given you a foul berth, for while you are so doing, the wind may increase and prevent you shifting your situation, and the most fatal consequences may follow from your riding too near other ships.

If practicable, there seems more need of Road-Masters, than of Harbour-Masters; because it is nor improbable, but one ship badly situated with respect to others, with bad ground-tackling, and worse management, may be the means of driving twenty sail adrift on the strand, or sands near them.

A good roadstead is better and safer than a bad harbour; therefore never leave the former for the latter, but in cases of real necessity; and I know but of one case where it can be necessary, and that is, when you can ride no longer, and have no lee-road to fly to for refuge.

No ship, however strong or fully built, can lay a-ground loaded, without receiving damage, and probably a great deal more than at first discovers itself. Sharp-built ships in such situations, often break all their bones; this they may do and yet swim; but coming to work at sea, the hidden wounds break out, and inevitable ruin follows. Some of them, however, fortunately for their crews, receive so much damage as to be condemned in the harbour.

It seldom happens but ships have an opportunity of changing their road-steads; as, with a northerly wind from Yarmouth road, to Lowestoft south road, and with the wind to the eastward of north, from thence to Osley Bay. There are many instances of colliers that have gone seven years, eight to ten voyages each year, and never in all that time put into a harbour by the way.

Ships waiting in the Downs for a wind to go westward, should, when it begins to blow southerly and the sea makes, take their anchors up and go to Margate road; especially if there are many ships in the Downs, and you ride leewardly, and exposed to the danger of others driving foul of you. The trouble of frequently looking at the anchor, or changing a road-stead, should never be an object of consideration; you should rather consider that on your doing so, may depend the safety of the ship, cargo, and even of your lives.

As Chief Mates are known to have the charge of ships at anchor, it behoves them to be very attentive to this part of their duty. Heaving a-peak, the anchor in sight, or shifting your birth, or roadstead, may often cause the sailors to grumble; but that should never let this prevent the execution of your duty, nor raise any thing vindictive in your minds, so as to dispose you to treat them ill or give them a great deal of unneccessary trouble. This is a disposition, the indulgence of which will procure you the contempt of every generous seaman; for it is a general maxim, that, "the man who uses a seaman ill, is no seaman himself;" there may be exceptions to this general rule, but they are very few.

1) It has been thought by some theorists, that ships should be sheered to leeward of their anchor; but experience and the common practice of the best informed Seamen is against that opinion: for it is found that when a ship rides leeward-tide and sheered to windward, with the wind two or three points upon the bow and blowing hard, in the interval between the squalls, the sheer will draw her towards the wind's eye; so that when the next squall comes, before she be pressed a-stream of her anchor, it is probable there will be a lull again, and the spring which the cable got by the sheer, will greatly ease it during the squall.

Riding with the wind two or three points upon the quarter, when the wind and tide are nearly of equal strength, and when ships are so liable to break their sheer, if the helm should be a-weather or the ship shore to leeward, I cannot conceive how she can lie still for a moment, but will stagger (if I may be allowed to make a low comparision) like a goose cut on the head.

Every seaman knows that no ship without a rudder, with the helm left loose, will veer; they always in such situations fly too; this proves that with the wind pressing upon the quarter and the helm a-lee, a ship will be less liable to break her sheer, than when the helm is a-weather. Besides, if the helm is a-lee when she breaks her sheer, it will be a-weather when the wind comes on the other quarter, as it ought to be until she either swing to leeward, or bring the buoy on the other quarter: now if a ship breaks her sheer with the helm a-weather, it throws her head to the wind so suddenly, as scarce to give time to brace the yards about, and very probably she will fall over her anchor before the fore staysail can be got up.

Henry Taylor: Instructions for Young Mariners, Respecting the Management of Ships at Single Anchor.
James Phillips, London, 1792. 12mo, 13.5×8 cm, x, 12-32 pp, ill.
This small work was included by David Steel almost verbatim when he compiled his The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship, 1794.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.