CABLE (from Late Lat. capulum, a halter, from capere, to take hold of), a large rope or chain, used generally with ships, but often employed for other purposes; the term “cable” is also used by analogy in minor varieties of similar engineering or other attachments, and in the case of “electric cables” for the submarine wires (see Telegraph) by which telegraphic messages are transmitted.[1]

The cable by which a ship rides at her anchor is now made of iron; prior to 1811 only hempen cables were supplied to ships of the British navy, a first-rate’s complement on the East Indian station being eleven; the largest was 25 in. (equal to 21/4 in. iron cable) and weighed 6 tons. In 1811, iron cables were supplied to stationary ships; their superiority over hempen ones was manifest, as they were less liable to foul or to be cut by rocks, or to be injured by enemy’s shot. Iron cables are also handier and cleaner, an offensive odour being exhaled from dirty hempen cables, when unbent and stowed inboard. The first patent for iron cables was by Phillip White in 1634; twisted links were suggested in 1813 by Captain Brown (who afterwards, in conjunction with Brown, Lenox & Co., planned the Brighton chain pier in 1823); and studs were introduced in 1816. Hempen cables are not now supplied to ships, having been superseded by steel wire hawsers. The length of a hempen cable is 101 fathoms, and a cable’s length, as a standard of measurement, usually placed on charts, is assumed to be 100 fathoms or 600 ft. The sizes, number and lengths of cables supplied to ships of the British navy are given in the official publication, the Ship’s Establishment; cables for merchant ships are regulated by Lloyds, and are tested according to the Anchors and Chain Cables Act 1899.

In manufacturing chain cables, the bars are cut to the required length of link, at an angle for forming the welds and, after heating, are bent by machinery to the form of a link and welded by smiths, each link being inserted in the previous one before welding. Cables of less than 11/4 in. are welded at the crown, there not being sufficient room for a side weld; experience has shown that the latter method is preferable and it is employed in making larger sized cables. In 1898 steel studs were introduced instead of cast iron ones, the latter having a tendency to work loose, but the practice is not universal. After testing, the licensed tester must place on every five fathoms of cable a distinctive mark which also indicates the testing establishments; the stamp or die employed must be approved by the Board of Trade. The iron used in the construction, also the testing, of mooring chains and cables for the London Trinity House Corporation are subject to more stringent regulations.

Fig. 1.—Stud-link Chain.

Cables for the British navy and mercantile marine are supplied in 121/2 fathom and 15 fathom lengths respectively, connected together by “joining shackles”, D (fig. 1). Each length is “marked” by pieces of iron wire being twisted round the studs of the links; the wire is placed on the first studs on each side of the first shackle, on the second studs on each side of the second shackle, and so on; thus the number of lengths of cable out is clearly indicated. For instance, if the wire is on the sixth studs on each side of the shackle, it indicates that six lengths or 75 fathoms of cable are out. In joining the lengths together, the round end of the shackle is placed towards the anchor. The end links of each length (C.C.) are made without studs, in order to take the shackle; but as studs increase the strength of a link, in a studless or open link the iron is of greater diameter. The next links (B.B.) have to be enlarged, in order to take the increased size of the links C.C. In the joining shackle (D), the pin is oval, its greater diameter being in the direction of the strain. The pin of a shackle, which attaches the cable to the anchor (called an “anchor shackle”, to distinguish it from a joining shackle) projects and is secured by a forelock; but since any projection in a joining shackle would be liable to be injured when the cable is running out or when passing around a capstan, the pins are made as shown at D, and are secured by a small pin d. This small pin is kept from coming out by being made a little short, and lead pellets are driven in at either end to fill up the holes in the shackle, which are made with a groove, so that as the pellets are driven in they expand or dovetail, keeping the small pin in its place.[2]

Fig. 2.—Mooring Swivel.

The cables are stowed in chain lockers, the inboard ends being secured by a “slip” (in the mercantile marine the cable is often shackled or lashed to the kelson); the slip prevents the cable’s inner end from passing overboard, and also enables the cable to be “slipped”, or let go, in case of necessity. In the British navy, swivel pieces are fitted in the first and last lengths of cable, to avoid and, if required, to take out turns in a cable, caused by a ship swinging round when at anchor. With a ship moored with two anchors, the cables are secured to a mooring swivel (fig. 2), which prevents a “foul hawse”, i.e. the cables being entwined round each other. When mooring, unmooring, and as may be necessary, cables are temporarily secured by “slips” shackled to eye or ring bolts in the deck (see Anchor). The cable is hove up by either a capstan or windlass (see Capstan) actuated by steam, electricity or manual power. Ships in the British navy usually ride by the compressor, the cable holder being used for checking the cable running out. When a ship has been given the necessary cable, the cable holder is eased up and the compressor “bowsed to”; in a heavy sea, a turn, or if necessary two turns, are taken round the “bitts,” a strong iron structure placed between the hawse and navel (“deck”) pipes. A single turn of cable is often taken round the bitts when anchoring in deep water. Small vessels of the mercantile marine ride by turns around the windlass; in larger or more modern vessels fitted with a steam windlass, the friction brakes take the strain, aided when required by the bitts, compressor or controller in bad weather.  (J. W. D.) 

  1. The word “cable” is a various reading for “camel” in the Biblical phrase, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” of Matt. xix. 24, Mark x. 25, and Luke xviii. 25, mentioned as early as Cyril of Alexandria (5th cent.); and it was adopted by Sir John Cheke and other 16th century and later English writers. The reading κάμιλος for κάμηλος is found in several late cursive MSS. Cheyne, in the Ency. Biblica, ascribes it to a non-Semitic scribe, and regards κάμηλος as correct. (See under Camel.)
  2. The dimensions marked in the figure are those for 1-in. chains, and signify so many diameters of the iron of the common links; thus forming a scale for all sizes.