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Saturday, 9 February 2013

Curious craft

I will visit, at some future time, the fears people had of the sea, which mainly involved drowning and sharks. This excerpt covers novel marine craft, and it is taken from an unpublished ms called The Shark Suit, the Shoe Gun and the Short Shanked Sheep: it is a study of unusual inventions. many of them designed to allay fears.  You can get a better taste of it here.

The other main fear of the sea did not usually bring death, though it commonly made landsmen wish they were dead. It was mal de mer, or sea sickness. The pitching, the rolling and the yawing of a small ship on a wide sea all played havoc with the victim's inner sense of balance, located inside the skull in semi-circular canals that were associated with the ears.

The conflict between what the eyes saw and the ears sensed, combined with ship smells that assorted the nose, all helped to rob people of their equanimity and their dinner. For many 19th century Britons, even a crossing of the Channel could be too much, forcing them to be more and more insular, trapped on their little island until somebody made a bridge, a tunnel or an aircraft that might carry them safely to the Continent.  Imagine how people felt, sailing from Europe to America or Australia.
From Scientific American.

Sailors actually had a way of cancelling out the confusing motions, an invention called gimbals. Typically, compasses were mounted on gimbals, sets of two rings, one inside the other and free to rotate on two axes at right angles to each other. The idea was that any bottom-heavy object would respond to gravity and maintain a level, just like this stove, which has one set of hinges to the left of D, the other set near A.
It was obviously only going to be a matter of time before somebody came up with the idea of a gimballed saloon, inside a ship, where passengers might ride safely and serenely. Enter Mr. (later Sir Henry) Bessemer, engineer and ingenious inventor.

The ship was to be 350 feet long with a beam of 45 feet, carrying a saloon 70 feet long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet high, as well as carrying a promenade deck. Rather than relying on gravity, an engineer was to watch a spirit level and operate a double-handed lever, controlling hydraulics to maintain the saloon's trim.

The great length of the vessel was to reduce any pitching effect caused by waves, because the length was enough to command several waves at any one time. Extra stability would come from quadruple paddle-wheels and the low freeboard (maritime jargon for not being very high).

The manual hydraulics worked well in a model, and again in a trial version that he set up in his London garden. This larger version was 20 feet (six metres) on a side, with a "hull" sitting in a brick-edged pit. After the ship demolished a Calais pier when it went out of control on the maiden voyage in May 1875, the shareholders lost confidence, and the ship was scrapped in 1879. This was without the stabiliser system having been tested, because on that journey, the saloon was firmly fixed in place. This was because the whole design was inherently unstable, and may have turned over, under the effect of the huge forces that would have been needed.

The saloon portion survived, until March, 1944, serving as a classroom in a horticultural college, when it was largely destroyed by German bombs. Bessemer was knighted in 1879, the year that the hull was scrapped, and we have to wonder if there was any connection, since Queen Victoria refused to travel great distances by boat because she suffered so badly from sea sickness.

From the Pella Advertiser, Pella, Iowa,
17 July, 1897.  Thanks Sue W.
The Queen's problems were well-known to a loyal Canadian son of the British Empire, an inventive lawyer called Frederick A. Knapp of Toronto. His solution the Queen's problem was to be a roller boat that would roll across the waves, impervious to them.

The finished version was to be 800 feet (250 metres) long and 200 feet (60 metres) in diameter. Two steam locomotive engines would provide the power that was to send this hurtling from one side of the Atlantic to the other in just 10 hours, according to reports at the time.

Forget paddle wheels! This invention
had two water-wheels, one each side,
turned by the ship's motion and
working the pumps on the ship.
From Popular Science.
This claimed time got Knapp's roller-boat (implying a terrifying speed of 300 mph, 500 km/h) was probably an error.  The top speed is given elsewhere as 60 mph (100 km/h), which would give a crossing-time of more like 50 hours. In reality, the 110 foot (33 metre) test model never went faster than 6 mph (10 km/h) in trials.

Picture a giant rolling pin with fins, rotating at 25 rpm, containing two locomotive engines (one at each end), a terrified court and a hopefully sedated sovereign, rolling over the seas, perhaps at 500 km/h, more probably at 100 km/h, but still appearing out of nowhere, flattening fishing smacks, wiping out whales, and crushing any icebergs foolish enough to stand in its way.

Looking at the illustration, one might be forgiven for wondering quite how the vessel was steered, and how the helmsman was able to see.  The design called for two cylinders, one inside the other. The outside one rolled and used fins to drive the "vessel" forward. Knapp had a variety of plans: one was a ship able to carry 4 million bushels of grain.

Scientific American.
Another planned use was as a troop carrier that could deliver 30,000 troops and hundreds of tons of equipment, but all that ever got built was a small model that crossed the St Lawrence at low speed, and missing a channel, became stranded on soft mud, where it was surrounded by snow and ice.

In the end, the trial craft was hauled off and moored, then it broke loose in 1907, and eventually, it was buried in landfill in 1927.

At least this last one was never going to sail across the oceans, I hope.

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