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When eighteenth century mariners referred to ‘bits’ they generally meant frames made of timber used to fasten cables and ropes.

There were several bits on a ship. The largest and most important were the large bits in the fore part of a ship, which were used to secure the ship’s cables when it rode at anchor.

These bits were made of two very strong lengths of timber slotted in an upright position through square holes cut through several decks. The timbers were securely bolted to the ship’s beams.

Most war ships had two pairs of bits for controlling the anchor cables.

The upper arms of the bits often stood two metres above the lower deck, over which the ship’s cable passed. Other timbers were attached to the arms to ensure that the cable could be passed around the bits, allowing it to be easily tightened or slackened as required.

Unless a cable was passed around a bit it there was nothing to stop it being pulled out when the ship rode at anchor during a storm or in a strong current.

As well as bits for securing cable, eighteenth century sailing vessels used smaller bits for fastening topsail sheets, and the ropes by which the lower corners of the topsails were extended.

An illustration of bits as they were typically constructed in Cook’s day can be found in the South Sea edition of William Falconer’s Dictionary of the Marine


Prepared by: Turnbull, P.
Created: 15 October 2001
Modified: 1 December 2001

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000075

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