Grappling Anchor Physical Object

Accession Number
Alternate object names
Grapnel Hook;Grappling Hook
Creation Date
circa 1620
A wrought-iron grapnel anchor from the Santa Margarita site is of typical form, having a plain tapering shank surmounted by a ring finial and terminating in five flukes and palms.

Seventeenth century Spanish shipwreck salvagers commonly utilized grapnel anchors. These multi-fluked, iron devices were towed through the water and across the sea-bottom, in the hope that they would snag on sunken wreckage. Divers could then swim down using lines attached to the anchors to recover cargo.


77 cm W x 178 cm L , Item (Overall)

178.0 by 77.0 cm.

Exhibition Label
Case/ Object Caption (2023): 

Grapnel anchor
Wrought Iron (c.1550)
Gift of Shell Youngwall

This grapnel anchor was found on the wreck site of the Santa Margarita. With its multiple flukes, such anchors were easy to set but difficult to retrieve. However, it was typical equipment aboard a salvage vessel, where the crew could drag it along the ocean floor, hoping it would snag on sunken wreckage. A diver then would follow the anchor rope down to make sure the anchor had caught in wreckage, not just rocks.

While the crew of each galleon included a diver who would be expected to make underwater repairs to the ship’s hull, salvage divers were specialists. Usually they were Indigenous pearl fishermen, accustomed to holding their breath under water for five minutes or more while gathering pearls in deep waters off the coast of Venezuela. The Spanish enslaved them and exploited their skills to recover valuables from shipwrecks.