Originally a small capstan-like fitting, but on a horizontal shaft, in the fore part of a small vessel by which it rode to its anchor. It was also used sometimes for weighing an anchor if this could be done without recourse to the capstan. Like the old-time capstan, windlasses were fitted with bars to be worked by manpower, and had a pawl and ratchet gear to provide rotary motion to the spindle on which the windlass was mounted from an up and down motion of the bars.
A windlass still sometimes takes the place in smaller vessels of the capstan and allied cable-holders of a larger ship. Powered by electricity, the motor drives a warping drum at each end of the horizontal shaft with, inboard of the drums, a pair of gypsies for working the chain cables of the bower anchors.
Subjects: Maritime History.