Sailor Speak of the Week – Windlass

Anchor windlass aboard the sailing vessel Balclutha. The vertical shaft leads up to the capstan which manually powers the windlass.

Definition

Noun

  • A device for hoisting an anchor.

Origin

Probably earlier than the 17th century. Earlier spelling was windelas. From Middle English, windas, of the same meaning.

Comments

Early windlasses were mounted aft and used to control the backstays. I’ve always heard that the difference between a windlass and a capstan is that in a windlass, the drum is mounted horizontally, whereas the capstan is mounted vertically. As seen in the above picture, the capstan can be directly connected to the windlass, although not all vessels have capstans.

References

Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic Seaport.

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