Warp Speed

We’re used to the kind of warp speed they have in sci-fi movies: faster than light, dodging asteroids and scary space critters along the way.

And then there’s now, when most of us haven’t moved at more than walking speed (dodging the kitchen table and chairs, maybe) in days or weeks. The information firehose is still going full blast, but it’s harder to keep up the frenetic illusion of keeping pace.

There’s another definition of warp, though — much older, much slower, and applied to real ships rather than space ones.

In the days of sail, movement naturally depended on wind. Sometimes the wind wouldn’t blow, of course, and some of those times, ships had to move some distance anyway.

One technique was called warping, whereby some members of the crew would put an anchor in a longboat, row it ahead as far as they could, and drop it. The rest of the crew would then turn the capstan to pull the ship forward against the anchor until the chain was up-and-down and the anchor could be retrieved and rowed ahead again if necessary.

You can imagine the sweating and straining and cursing that must have accompanied this operation.

Clearly, no one could cross the ocean this way, but that was never the point. What it could do was get a ship and crew some relatively short distance when it really counted: into harbor, out of danger, off of some obstruction.

And the same sort of short-range, effortful, but important momentum might be available to us now if we can get an anchor out ahead, hook onto something solid, and then pull forward until we can do it again.

If and when need be, how will you get the anchor out, what will it hold, and how will you put your shoulder to the capstan and warp ahead?