HOW TO LOSE AN ANCHOR

By Jack A. Eckert

 

The ESCANABA had a rather archaic anchoring system. It had port and starboard bower anchors. Each anchor chain was stored in it's own chain locker and had to be manually flaked out when the anchor was hoisted and the chain fed into the locker. The last link of the bitter end of the chain was attached to a welded ring by rotten stuff which is an old piece of line that is strong enough to hold the end in place but will break if any real tension is put on it. The chain had a fairly short run on deck between the anchor windlass and the hawse pipe. Controls for the anchor windlass were located behind the spray shield. Each anchor had a pawl and an anchor chain stopper.

Many Coast Guard ships would go for years without ever doing anything but man the anchors at special sea detail. This was an emergency measure because the anchor could be dropped if engine control were lost. Often a ship only dropped anchor for a drill and a required exercise. When either anchor was hoisted and entered the hawse pipe it turned and the flutes scarred the paint on the bow flare. It was unsightly and consequently anchoring was usually avoided if at all possible.

Because they don't usually have much to do during sea detail the anchor windlass was manned by the Damage Control Officer and the Damage Controlmen. A seaman was assigned to the chain locker which is only accessible through an on-deck scuttle. There is no other access to these areas. There was also a telephone talker who relayed bridge commands to the anchor windlass control station.

With a little knowledge of the physical arrangement and the organization as background the story of the lost anchor can now be told.

In the late summer of 1961 the ESCANABA was on her second Reserve Cruise. The ship left New Bedford and went to the Staten Island, New York, Coast Guard Base to pick up the Reserves. 50 or 60 came on board and the ship sailed for St. Georges, Bermuda. At the time the Coast Guard maintained a mid atlantic Search and Rescue vessel on standby in Bermuda. If dock space was not available the cutter would ride a large mooring buoy in the middle of the harbor. The ship was scheduled to stay there a week and do double duty.

On the second day the ship slipped her mooring and proceeded to sea for drills and exercises. Some of the Reserves were assigned to telephone talker duties. Others were being slotted in to perform their watch mate's duties.

It was a clear hot day and the seas were relatively calm. Much of the day was spent at General Quarters. By late afternoon the crew was tired when drills were secured. The Captain decided to anchor off of the harbor entrance in a spot called "Five Fathom Hole." He wanted to finish up the drills the next day with an early start.

The anchor detail was set, the ship edged towards her anchorage, the anchor was let go, and it went... and went... and went... until the last link came up from the chain locker, with the bitter end flailing, passed through the hawse pipe and dropped into the water.

One bower anchor was left. It was dropped routinely, the pawl put into place, the chain stopped off, and the anchor set.

The Damage Control Officer was piped to the bridge. When he arrived he found the Captain very morose and wondering what he was going to tell the District. His fourth stripe probably went out the hawse pipe too. The Exec was flustered and trying to determine who to blame. The Reserve Officers were trying to figure out how to get out of sight. The Ops Officer, First Lieutenant and the Damage Control Officer discussed how to get the anchor back. Never was their more gloom and doom on such a nice day. It was too late to do anything more that day. Calmer heads prevailed and the officers and crew retired to supper.

At day break the lifeboat was lowered and a search was undertaken to locate the lost anchor. After an hour or so it was found strung out on the bottom in a lot more than 30 feet of water. It was more like 200 feet of very clear water.

A hook line was assembled and the small boat crew instructed to drag it along the bottom to hook the chain. They were able to get it within an hour, they set a small buoy to hold the line and mark the position and returned to the ship.

The 255's had no boom or rigging to hoist the chain back to the ship. After heads were put together it was decided to hoist anchor and proceed to a where the buoy was. The plan was then to pull the line up through the hawse pipe using the anchor windlass. Allegedly when the chain was at the waters edge a heavier hawser would be used to get it up through the hawse pipe, threaded unto the windlass and then hoisted back on to the ship.

This plan failed when the chain was pulled out of the water and the bight was too large to get through the hawse pipe. It was late morning by this time. Another plan was formulated. The second windlass was to be used and the chain was to be walked bight by bight until the bitter end was found, fastened to and then pulled up through the hawse pipe. It was felt that once the chain's bitter end was on deck it could be stopped off until enough chain was on board to thread it around the anchor windlass and hoisted aboard.

Things continued to go wrong, the ESCANABA was no buoy tender nor did it have any experienced buoy tender people on deck. The chain was walked ever so slowly and by mid afternoon the bitter end should have been near the water's edge. Well it wasn't! The chain had been walked the wrong way and was being walked towards the anchor. At the rate things were going it would be the following week before the anchor would be on board. The frustration level continued to mount. The stage was set for a beautiful hanging and what a beautiful hanging there would be.

One of the enlisted men on the bridge suggested calling the Navy which had a facility at Hamilton on the other end of the island for assistance. "Horror's No" was the first reaction! Reality finally set in and the Navy was called and a diver requested. Within an hour a Navy small boat with a couple of divers aboard chugged out to the ship. To make a long story short, after the anchor chain was released for reasons of diver safety, they took a line down to the anchor chain, found the bitter end, hooked it up, brought the other end of the line to the surface where it was threaded through the hawse pipe, the line and chain ultimately winched aboard, connected, and hoisted routinely.

By the time the anchor was aboard it was near sunset. The crew was ordered into their whites to enter the harbor. Everybody was at attention when the ship began going through the gap into the harbor. About this time the seaman who had been in the chain locker all day crawled up through the scuttle. He was covered with sweat, rust, dirt, etc. The Exec spied him and ordered him placed on report for being on deck out of uniform. So ended the day!

Here is how the anchor was lost. Because of it's infrequency of use mechanical problems had arisen on the first Reserve Cruise. The Port anchor had problems with it's anchor windlass and brake. In order to drop the anchor it had to be "jumped." This was done by getting slack on deck behind the stopper. With the pawl lifted the stopper shackle would be released and the anchor would fall freely for a foot or two jerking the chain in and then run out without simply hanging in the air. On the day of arrival into St. George the only Damage Controlman not on the anchor detail and his watch mate worked on the equipment, freed it up and accidentally got some grease on to the brake drum. He didn't tell anybody what he did. On the next day when the anchor was dropped the Damage Control Officer recommended using the Starboard anchor to the bridge. The Reserve telephone talkers on either end transposed Starboard to Port. Much to the chagrin of the anchor detail the Port anchor was ordered dropped. It was set up to jump it. When the anchor was let go it continued to let go until it had run out. The brake wouldn't stop the chain and it was unsafe to go ahead of the spray shield and drop the pawl. Fortunately everybody was out of the way when the bitter end flailed through. It could have been a tragedy. Five fathom hole was found to be over thirty fathoms if the "Navi-guesser" was right.

The Captain got a letter of commendation for his efforts in recovering the anchor. He got his fourth stripe the following year. The Reserves went home. The seaman from the chain locker was given a Captain's Mast for being out of uniform and justice was served again.

 

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