Crossword Genius

Is the toady to study vessel retreating? (7)


I believe the answer is:


I'm a little stuck... Click here to teach me more about this clue!

'is' is the definition.
Although both the answer and definition are verbs in their -s form, I can't understand how one could define the other.

'toady to study vessel retreating?' is the wordplay.
I cannot really understand how this works, but
'to' is within the answer.
This explanation may well be incorrect...

'the' is the link.

Can you help me to learn more?

(Other definitions for kowtows that I've seen before include "cringes" , "Bows obsequiously" , "Try to gain favour by cringing or flattering" , "Grovels" .)

I've seen this clue in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Want a hint initially instead of a full solution? Install my app