Like all new things, much prognostication of failure has been indulged in with regard to this vessel. It is sufficient that she is the largest vessel in the world, for people to find out all the shortcomings possible. But there is one thing, which if she accomplishes, will make up for all possible failures of another kind. If she accomplishes the great fact of enabling bad sailors to cross the ocean without being sea-sick, she will revolutionise sea transit, increasing the amount of travellers in the same proportion as modern railways compared with the old stage coaches.
Seasickness is induced by the upheaving of the diaphragm in proportion as the rising and falling of the waves converts the vessel into a moving lever, uplifting stem and stern alternately. Yet strange to say, there are people to be found who maintain that the larger the vessel the more she will pitch and roll. They forget that a large log is undisturbed by the ripple on a sheet of water, while a small toy vessel is incessantly moving and tossing, taking every angle of the ripple in its departure from the horizontal line.
The question is only one of proportion. If the waves be large, the vessel must be much larger, to prevent any disturbance. But the objectors persist in regarding the waves as solid ridges upon which this long vessel is to rock, forgetting that the weight of the vessel will sink into these ridges till the displacement is sufficient to support her. She will make a straight horizontal course through the waves, while their crests and valleys undulate alongside. If seven hundred feet of length be not enough to accomplish this, we must go to a thousand, till we have “ruled the waves” straight.
But if she does not pitch she will roll, say the objectors. Possibly, but still it will only prove that she is not large enough. Her size has been calculated from the datum how to carry coal enough to India and back without supplies on the passage. It is only incidentally that her sea-sickness-avoiding capability comes about, and if she be not perfect under the extreme violence of the waves, the next ship will require to be bigger, that is all.
But it is only in the South Atlantic where the heavy waves occur. The waves of the Bay of Biscay and North Atlantic are quick and short, those of the South comparatively slower and longer. If her speed be anything near what is talked about she will not roll. Slow movement is essential to rolling.
The next question is, Will she be fast? We don’t know. Her great size renders calculation difficult. It is a new circumstance. Speed is to a great extent a question of fuel. She must be very fast to satisfy the expectations of her projectors; but whether she is so or not, a few days, a few hours now will decide. But even if she be not fast, even if her speed is less than that of other vessels, still if she be free from sea-sickness she will monopolise the great bulk of the passengers. They will wait for her time going and returning. And with regard to the allegation that her capacity for cargo would make a glut, the probability is that she would prevent the occurrence of gluts by keeping down the competition of smaller vessels, and making supply a matter of regularity instead of uncertainty.
But supposing all that can be imagined of these defects, inferior speed, and unfittingness for transport of goods, there is yet the use never yet supplied — if only she be free from sea-sickness.
There is a considerable number of persons to whom the sea is a luxury, if not a necessity. There are numerous keepers of yachts, and many more who would keep yachts if their means were sufficient. There is a large class of persons who visit Madeira, and a much larger class who would visit it if possessing money enough — people who need pure air for purposes of health. There is a large class of people who, born and possessing property in England, cannot yet endure the extreme vicissitudes of the English climate. If these persons could live upon the sea they would, instead of living in houses upon the sea-shore with all the disadvantages of impure air.
What are the present drawbacks to dwelling on the sea? Nausea, unquiet movement, limited provisions, unpleasant contiguity, absence of society and land enjoyments, want of exercise, risk of fire, risk of drowning, expense.
Assuming the capital embarked to be 500,000 /., 10 per cent. for interest and renewals would be 50,000 /. a-year, therefore 250 families could live here at a rental of 200 /. a-year each, say 1000 persons at 50 /. each, as a floating hotel. For people dwelling on the sea, and not using it as a mere road, no great speed would be needed, and probably one-fourth of the estimated fuel would suffice. The screw might serve without the paddles. With regard to nutriment, the cost would be less at sea than on shore, from the absence of duties and the facility of preservation, and all the operations of domestic service would be reduced in cost. There is no reason why families should not live altogether in private, if desiring it.
The vessel might make a continuous voyage up the Mediterranean and to other warm climates in the winter season of England, and to the North Sea and the coast of Norway in the hot months of summer. The Sea Kings would resume their ancient dominion, making the salt water their home with their wives and families, and with none to make them afraid.
There is no doubt that iron houses on the sea can be built as cheap as brick or stone houses on the land, and as many land expenses are thereby avoided, sea-travelling may be obtained by persons of moderate income, as a means of health, to whom at present it is a costly luxury instead of a cheap necessity. All the conveniences of home, and medical attendance, might exist, instead of the absence of all comfort so frequently experienced in strange countries.
I am not supposing this is to be a necessary result of the Great Eastern, but merely showing that she has a value and uses quite independent of ordinary vessels, that should preclude her from being a loss to the shareholders. But if she be not fast, and not to be made fast, and be free from nausea completely, other and greater ships will be built that will eclipse her; and she would not be a discouragement to other great and valuable speculations if her owners find out a new use for her. Railway engineers and contractors, who have accumulated money, have largely contributed to build her; and probably no country in the world — save England — could have produced her. She is a growth of brains and hands, that time is ripe for as a new investment for capital; and she is emphatically a vessel of Peace.
W. Bridges Adams.