What is it that causes the dream-like magic of ships and boats?  Not all are attracted to the same craft, but somewhere, somebody had a dream, and so a ship was born, a legend launched.

The scope of the dreams can be infinite.  They vary from a runabout on the river to Betty Cook’s sleek and snarling racer, which she takes to sea in 3 to 7 foot waves and travels at close to 100 miles per hour.  For this effort, she has collected the off shore racing title twice in the last decade along with a number of broken bones.   Betty is a grandmother and is the driver of her boat.

As we move and change the angle of this spectrum, we have those who dream of the beauty of the sailing vessel as Montague Dawson has done.  Dawson is one of the greatest of seascape artists and his series of paintings of the clipper ships, some 50 paintings in all (see below) are beautiful beyond mere words.  These paintings have helped a number of generations view what many naval architects consider the most stunning ships to ever slip down the launching ways.  From here, we move through a whole succession of craft even to the purely functional.  Nevertheless, each was somebody’s dream.  Around the perimeter of these dreams are the ships that turned out to be the "freaks".

Dawson: Night Mist  Dawson: Crescent Moon
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The first and foremost of these freaks was John Ericsson’s Monitor.  Because it won a draw with the CSS Virginia in the battle of Hampton Roads and thus saved the Potomac fleet from complete disaster, we tend to forget that it was a freak.  It was built in 90 days, sent into battle without any trials, and almost killed its crew with coal gas fumes on its way to the Chesapeake from New York. Consequently, it had to be towed any distance greater than 20 miles, it was unseaworthy, and in truth, sunk the second time she went to sea. Why she did not sink the first time at sea was, we are sure, asked many times by its foes. Its place in history, however, cannot be usurped by any recitation of its liabilities.

The second freak was the articulated Connector.  This was a ship built in 1863 that was made up of floating sections that locked together with gigantic hinges.  It was to operate as a collier carrying coal from Newcastle to London.  The design idea was that upon arriving in London each one of seven sections would be left at a different dock so that turnaround time could be drastically reduced.

The trial trip was scheduled for a day on the Thames when this normally choppy bay was as calm as a millpond.  The trials were a huge success. Unfortunately, this was a trial run; the next was for the money.  Somebody, however, forgot that the sea not only exerts an up and down motion but also sideways pressure.  Thus, when this unusual boat hit the first sea all the hinges tore loose and the sections floated off on their own. The sections were collected but they never sailed again except for the short trip to the wreckers yard.

For our next illustration we must travel to the Russia of 1873 and the round (yes you are reading correctly, a round) battleship.  The ship was designed to give a stable platform for “firing guns”.  It had many of the faults of the Monitor, mentioned above, including a very low freeboard, and it pounded and leaked horribly in even the smallest of seas.  Its designers also found that when the current was behind her, she became completely unmanageable, turning in 360-degree circles since the rudder could not get any purchase.

The Admiral Popov, for that was her name, even had a sister ship built exactly like her.  The reason that these freaks were built was that they were so stable that the Czar never was seasick when he was aboard either one.  But then, he didn’t have to take one into action never knowing when it would turn into a carousel.

Our last freak was designed by no less an authority than Sir Henry Bessemer, a man famous for his process of making steel, which is still used to this day.  In 1875, he designed the Bessemer, (click to read more) which had a normal hull for cross channel crossings but with the entire super-structure gimbaled.  When the hull rolled or pitched an engineer in charge could compensated by opening and closing steam valves to huge plungers and thus keep the passengers on an even keel.

Yes, you guessed it.  Bessemer was also subject to seasickness.  Unfortunately, the waves came faster than the engineer or the machinery could react.  Consequently, the pitch and roll was augmented rather than neutralized.  So ended another dream in failure.

Or did it?

From all of these "freaks" we learned our lessons well.

bulletThe Monitor gave us steel ships and a revolving turret.

bulletThe “Povo” gave us the broad beamed battleship with its stable gun platform.

bulletThe Connector gave us the long pusher type articulated barge trains so much
a part of our river and lake transportation system today.

bulletThe Bessemer gave us the germ of an idea that is now the basis of the big ship
stabilizers of today.

Ah, Man’s dreams!  Do not take them lightly.  At the proper time, with improving technology, the failed of yesterday could become the success of tomorrow.

For the above facts, we are deeply indebted to Peter Kemp and his fine book “The History of Ships” published by Orbis, London, England.

Admiral Popov   Monitor Deck   Bessemer
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Ye Olde Editor


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