Large seagoing vessel. The Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, and Vikings used ships extensively for trade, exploration, and warfare. European voyages of exploration began in the 14th century, greatly aided by the invention of the compass; most of the great European voyages of discovery were made between 1450 and 1550. In the 15th century Britain's Royal Navy was first formed, but in the 16th to 19th centuries Spanish and Dutch fleets dominated the shipping lanes of both the Atlantic and Pacific.
The ultimate sailing ships, the fast US and British tea clippers, were built in the 19th century. Also in the 19th century, iron was first used for some shipbuilding instead of wood. Piston-engined ships of the late 19th century were followed from the early 20th century by ships propelled by the more efficient compound engine and by steam turbines.
Origins The earliest vessels were rafts or dug-out canoes, many of which have been found in Britain, and date from prehistoric times. The Greeks and Phoenicians built wooden ships, propelled by oar or sail. The Romans and Carthaginians built war galleys equipped with rams and several tiers of rowers. The double-ended oak ships of the Vikings were built for rough seas.
The invention of the stern rudder during the 12th century, together with the developments made in sailing during the Crusades, enabled the use of sails to almost completely supersede that of oars. Following the invention of the compass, and with it the possibilities of exploration, the development of sailing ships advanced quickly during the 14th and 15th centuries. Henry VIII dedicated the Great Harry, the first double-decked English warship, in 1514.
In the 16th century, ships were short and high-sterned, and despite Pett's three-decker in the 17th century, English ships did not compare favourably with the Spanish and Dutch ships until the early 19th century.
The development of British shipping The increase in British overseas trade and the growth of the British Empire during the 18th century, together with the effects of the Navigation Acts (which required that all British trade be carried in British ships), stimulated the British shipping industry, which eventually was to become the greatest in the world. In the 1840s iron began replacing wood in shipbuilding, pioneered by English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel's ship Great Britain in 1843. Throughout the 19th century, improvements were made in warships, including the evolution of the elliptical stern. However, increased rivalry between US and British owners for the Chinese and Indian tea trade led to improvements also being made to merchant vessels.
The first clipper, the Ann McKim, was built in Baltimore, USA, in 1833, and Britain soon adopted this type of fast-sailing ship. One of the finest of the tea clippers, the Sir Launcelot, was built in 1865 and marked the highest development of the sailing ship. The US ship Champion of the Seas was one of the fastest of its time, averaging speeds of 20 knots.
During the 19th century steam replaced sail as the means of motive power. Early steamers depended partly on sails for auxiliary power. In 1802 the paddle-wheel steamer Charlotte Dundas, constructed by William Symington, was launched on the Forth and Clyde Canal, Scotland. However, the effort was halted amid fears that the wash produced by the paddle would damage the canal banks. In 1812 the Comet, built in Scotland in 1804 by Bell, Napier, and Robertson, was launched. This ship, which had a paddle on each side, was a commercial success, and two others were built for service from Glasgow. From this time the steamship-building industry rapidly developed on the banks of the Clyde.
The first steamship to cross the Atlantic was the US Savannaḩao, a sailing ship that also had engines and paddlewheels, which crossed from Savannah, Georgia, to Liverpool in 29 days in 1819 (although the engines were only used for a total of about 85 hours during the voyage). Britain's entry into the transatlantic efforts began in 1838 with Brunel's Great Western paddle-steamer, which completed the journey from Bristol to New York in 15 days – three days faster than a clipper and half the time taken by a sailing ship.
The first great iron steamship, Rainbow, was launched in 1838. In the following year, English engineer Francis Pettit Smith designed the Archimedes, the first steamer to use a screw propeller, followed quickly by Brunel's Great Britain, which crossed from Liverpool to New York in 14 and a half days in 1845. After 1856 the invention of the Bessemer converter (a cheap process for manufacturing steel) allowed the further development of the steamship.
In 1862 the Cunard Company obtained permission to fit mail steamers with propellers, which suffered less from the rolling of the ship, and the paddle-wheel was relegated to comparatively smooth water. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, together with the simultaneous introduction of the compound engine, raised steamships to superiority over sailing ships. In 1902 the turbine engine was employed on passenger steamers on the Clyde, and in 1905 was applied to the transatlantic service. This was followed by the introduction of the internal combustion engine.
The Blue Riband of the Atlantic In the early years of the 20th century magnificent ships were built, including the Cunard ship Mauretania, the ill-fated Lusitania (sunk by a German U-boat in World War I), and the 50,000 ton Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. The trophy for the fastest Atlantic crossing, the ‘Blue Riband’, has been held by many passenger liners, including the Mauretania (1909–29), the Queen Mary (1936, 1938–52), and the United States (1952–89). By 1939 Britain still had the largest merchant fleet in the world. The Queen Mary was completed in 1934 and the Queen Elizabeth in 1938. However, the world shipbuilding industry suffered from overproduction in the 1930s, and British shipbuilding declined, leading to the Jarrow Crusade in 1936, a protest at the high level of unemployment following the closure of the town's shipyard.
Tankers Following World War II, when reconstruction and industrial development created a great demand for oil, the tanker was developed to carry supplies to the areas of consumption. The shipyards of the world were flooded with orders for tankers; due to economic demands, the size of the tankers became increasingly large. The Suez Canal crisis in 1956, with its disruption of the free flow of the world's oil supplies, focused attention on the possibility of working giant tankers over the Cape route. The prolonged closure of the Suez Canal after 1967 and the great increase in oil consumption led to the development of the very large tanker, or ‘supertanker’.
Later hovercraft and hydrofoil boats were developed for specialized purposes, particularly as short-distance ferries; for example, the catamarans operated from 1991 to 2005 by Hoverspeed, which crossed the English Channel from Dover to Calais in 35 minutes, cruising at a speed of 35 knots (84.5 kph/52.5 mph). Sailing ships in automated form for cargo purposes were developed in the early 1990s.
Industrial Revolution: engineers
Effects of transport revolution
Hellsmouth Diving and Shipwreck site
Monsters of the Sea – The Great Ocean Liners of Time
Titanic's Lost Sister
container ship at Southampton Docks
modern sailing ship
World War II shipwreck
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