- To get underway in a hurry.
Probably the 17th century.
Nowadays, the phrase has entered common usage and is generally used to denote a cowardly retreat. However, the phrase originally had the literal meaning of cutting the anchor cables or the gaskets to make sail and get the vessel underway quickly.
Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport Museum.