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Down to the Sea in Ships

Jeffrey Syken

Since time immemorial, the sea has called to mankind to meet its challenge. As such, floating craft of all kind, from simple rafts to floating cities, have made crossing the great water barriers of the earth possible. In fact, in the biblical story of the flood, Noah built the ark with divine guidance. So it was that the ark was given a length-to-width ratio of six-to-one exactly the same proportion used to design the famous Missouri-class battleships of WWII. What worked for Noah could and would work for the United States Navy.

The material first (and still) used by humanity was wood the most abundant, available, workable and strongest for shipbuilding purposes. Cultures around the world adapted wood from trees of many species to create a strong keel (the backbone of a wooden ship), cut and shaped ribs (to form a framework for the hull) and used planks to cover the sides and deck. Materials such as Oakum and tar were then used to make the hull and deck watertight. During the Jin Dynasty in China (ca. 1000 A.D.), watertight bulkheads replaced simple ribs allowing for trans-oceanic seafaring a technology that can still be found on the most modern ship.

By the late 19th Century, two technologies would come together to change the face of the ancient art of shipbuilding. The first was steam power and the other was steel. No longer would the mariner be dependent on the wind for propulsion; the screw-type propeller and the Parsons Steam Turbine (1884) would drive the largest ships at ever increasing horsepower and speeds. Steel, having the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any building material, proved its adaptability to be cut, shaped and formed into boats/ships of all kinds. From fishing trawlers to mighty Dreadnoughts, the strength of steel and power of steam has met the challenge of the sea in the service of mankind.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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