How Mega-Ships Drop Their Giant Anchors
In the simplest sense, anchors are pretty straightforward. Heave a heavy chunk of metal overboard to weigh down a ship so it doesn’t drift away. Of course in practice, the process is a lot more nuanced, and it only gets more complicated the larger the ship is. More complicated, and more impressive.
Maritime vlogger JeffHK put together this great explainer on anchoring, specifically the kinds of rigs that are used in giant container ships. The whole system is a combination of an anchor specifically designed to dig into the seabed, an enormous chain to keep it attached to the boat, and a windlass, the giant machine that lowers and raises an anchor by that chain.
Dropping anchor can be as simple as letting the anchor free fall into the water, but it’s a process that requires a skilled operator to make sure the anchor doesn’t start falling so fast that the brakes on the windlass can’t stop it.
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While it’s easy to think of an anchor as deriving its staying power from going down, the process of anchoring is more about horizontal force. As the current or wind pulls a ship this way and that, the ship needs its anchor to bite into the sea floor, but with enough slack in the chain that the boat won’t start dragging that hunk of metal all over the place. That’s a process that can actually involve motoring back up over the anchor to make sure the chain doesn’t get too taut.
Turns out staying put isn’t as easy as just stopping everything.
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