Recently, having just clicked on a YouTube video, I was reading the comments below it. The top comment said something like, “If you’re watching this video, you’re probably procrastinating.”

Very accurate… I was probably eight levels deep, down the “Up next” smorgasbord. I’m not sure what powers the algorithm that fuels the suggestions that populate my curated list of suggestions, but it’s gotten pretty good at knowing me. Good bot.

So I somehow wound up watching videos of “anchor fails”. This is where a ship (the bigger the better!) is trying to drop their anchor, and they make a hot mess out of it.

I’ve learned a lot… I used to have the misconception that it’s the anchor that holds the ship in place, but it’s just as much the weight of the chain, a lot of which lays on the bottom as well. The anchor prevents the chain from moving, and the weight of the chain prevents the ship from moving. It answers the question I never quite understood… if the anchor is “anchored” to the bottom, how do they ever dislodge it when they want to leave?

The answer is… they simply lift it. If you imagine trying to claw wet sand at the beach… dig your hand in, and try to claw along the ground… it’s hard. But lift it straight up, no problem. The anchor doesn’t move laterally very easily, for the same reason… but lifts up no problem.

And… especially on the huge ships, the anchor weighs a lot. As does the chain. The mechanism to unspool it is huge… and is manually operated by some guys who operate the brake. The idea is to let the chain out… slowly, but not so slowly that you’re there forever. And certainly not so quickly that it gets going too fast because, like a runaway nuclear reaction, once it gets out of hand, there’s nothing to do but step back and watch the impending catastrophe… and when the brakes fail or the guys screw up and that chain is unspooling faster and faster… and now there are sparks… and now there is fire, and it’s so deafeningly loud that you can’t even hear the sailors screaming… well, you know what comes next.

There are colour codes on those chains, white markings every 15 fathoms (90 feet). At some point, they turn yellow… the warning shot. You really should be stopping by yellow. And, at the very end, something you should never see, is the red link… the danger shot. It’s also called the bitter end (ahhh, that’s where it comes from) and it’s weak, because it’s meant to break… because either it snaps and you lose the anchor… or you literally rip a hole in the ship as the entire anchor infrastructure makes its way through the hull, on its way down to the bottom of the ocean. Yes… go to YouTube and search for “anchor fails” – you’re welcome.

It got me thinking… somewhere in all of those disasters, there’s that tipping point beyond which now things are not recoverable. It’s impossible to really know. The guy opened the brake just a tiny bit too much… the anchor started dropping just a little too quickly… and suddenly, the whole situation is out of control.

In case you need some help with the symbolism… COVID-19 is the anchor, B.C. is the ship…. and we – you and me – we’re all in charge of the brake. And if we don’t operate it carefully, thoughtfully, kindly, calmly and safely… well, you see what can happen.

I mean it… I’m not just… you know… yanking your chain.

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