Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 47
“But –” Ironhill began, only to close his mouth again as Cayleb raised his hand.
“I understand both viewpoints, Ahlvyno, and I’m sympathetic to both. Unfortunately, the best we can manage in this case is a compromise no one’s going to like. We’ll talk about it — let Ehdwyrd, Ahlfryd, Domynyk, and Sir Dustyn discuss exactly how they need to balance expansion and present output — and do our very best to meet those numbers, but we have to continue to expand. I hate to say it, but even if we lose more — or all — of Siddarmark, we’ll still survive and still have a chance to win in the end as long as we can maintain and increase our qualitative edge. But however good our quality, we have to be able to produce it in sufficient quantity, as well. So if it’s a choice between cutting current production to the bone over the next year or so, whatever problems that causes in Siddarmark, and not having the capacity we need two years from now, we’re going to have to opt for the future.”
Ironhill looked worried, but he recognized an unpalatable reality — and a final decision — when he saw them, and he nodded in understanding.
“All right,” Cayleb continued, turning back to Olyvyr and Howsmyn. “I think one place we’re going to have to make some hard choices is by reducing the number of new ships.” He shrugged his shoulders unhappily. “God knows we need as many as we can get, but at the moment we have effective superiority over every remaining ship the other side has, and we are going to have to shift emphasis to supporting land operations. So instead of a dozen, I want you to plan on only six, Sir Dustyn. At the same time, though, I want you and Captain Saigyl to begin thinking about ironclad riverboats.” He showed his teeth. “With any luck at all, we’re going to need them even more than we need the oceangoing variety.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” Olyvyr replied. “No one saw Siddarmark coming, so we haven’t really considered it yet, but we’ll begin immediately. And while I hate postponing the blue-water ships, the idea of building a smaller group first has a certain appeal. It might not hurt to see how well our first experiments work out before we commit to building vast numbers of seagoing ships.”
“I’m glad you think so . . . even if I can’t quite escape the feeling that you’re looking hard for a bright side to look upon.”
“If you have to do it anyway, Your Majesty, you might as well see the upside as well as the downside.”
“That’s true enough,” Sharleyan agreed. “Although, personally, I think your ‘first experiments’ are going to turn out quite well, Sir Dustyn.”
“I hope so, and I actually believe you’re right, Your Grace . . . assuming Doctor Mahklyn’s newfangled numbers work out as well as everyone keeps assuming they will.” Olyvyr grimaced, and Sharleyan nodded gravely, although the truth was that Olyvyr had been initiated into the inner circle almost a year ago. He’d been using Rozhyr Mahklyn’s new formulas to calculate displacement and sail area even before that, and he’d been like a little boy in a toy store ever since he got access to Owl and started calculating things like stability, metacentric heights, prismatic coefficients, and a hundred other things which had always been rule-of-thumb — at best — before. He still had to do quite a lot of those calculations himself (or have Owl do that for him) rather than allowing his assistants to perform them, since the formulas — and concepts — hadn’t been officially “invented” yet, but he and Mahklyn were working hard to introduce the ideas. Within another year or so, at the outside, Charisian shipbuilders outside his own office would be starting to apply all those even more “newfangled” theories and rules, as well.
“In the end,” he continued, looking around the table, “and even before we started worrying about Ehdwyrd’s output numbers, it became obvious to Fhranklyn and me that we were going to have to go with composite construction, at least for the first blue-water class.” He twitched his shoulders. “It would simplify things enormously to go directly to all-iron construction, but we simply don’t have the output. So, we’ll be using cast-iron framing and deck beams, wooden planking, and steel plate from the Delthak Works for armor. Iron frames will give us enormously better longitudinal strength than we’ve ever had before, which is critical for the weights incorporated into these designs, and there are several other foundries here in Old Charis which can produce them while we leave the more complex aspects to Ehdwyrd’s artificers. Of course, I’m sure some of your captains are going to scream at the notion of ironwork, Domynyk,” he said, looking across the table at Rock Point. “In fact, I’m positive at least one of them is going to point out ‘But I can’t repair an iron deck beam at sea the way I could one made out of wood!'”
“Oh, I’m sure your number’s off, Dustyn.” Rock Point waved one hand dismissively. “I’ll be astonished if I hear that from less than a dozen of them!”
A laugh circled the table, and Olyvyr shook his head with a smile. Then he sobered.
“The river ironclads we can probably build with wooden frames if we have to, although it would help a lot to use iron framing for them, as well. They’d have to be a lot smaller, too, which is going to mean a lot of compromises. In particular, it’ll probably mean thinner armor, but they should be facing primarily field artillery or light naval guns, which will help a lot.
“The blue-water ships, on the other hand, are going to be the largest vessels ever built,” he said, looking around the table. “According to Doctor Mahklyn’s numbers, they’re going to come out at over five thousand tons displacement, not burden — better than three times our biggest war galleon. They’re going to be three hundred feet long, and they’ll draw around twenty-eight feet at normal load, which is the main reason Fhranklyn and Commander Malkaihy are already working with Ehdwyrd’s artificers on steam-powered dredges — we’re going to need them for some of our more critical ship channels as soon as we build anything bigger than this. The sheer weight and size of a rudder sized to something that big is going to pose problems, too. I’m not at all sure it could be handled using raw muscle power, so we’ve put quite a bit of effort into coming up with a hydraulic-assistance system for it. It’s going to require at least one small steam engine permanently on line to power it, but the fuel requirements for that engine will be very low, and there are other places where having steam available on that scale would be very useful. For one thing, in raising and lowering the screw. And we’ve designed the system so it can be disengaged in an emergency, although at that point you’re going to need at least eight to ten men on the wheel. That’s why the thing’s going to have a triple wheel — so they can all find a place to get a grip.”
Many of the heads around the table nodded at that. Even with the efficiency Howsmyn had been able to engineer into his “first-generation” steam engines, providing the internal fuel capacity for a steamship to obtain the kind of cruising distances required by the Imperial Charisian Navy would be difficult. It was over eight thousand miles from Tellesberg to Siddar City, for example, and that was far from the longest voyage a Charisian warship was likely to face, nor did it even consider the need to remain on station for extended periods, which was why the first generation of Charisian armored warships would be fully rigged for sail, as well. The truth was that they probably could have designed solely for steam power, but only at the cost of establishing chains of coaling stations along critical shipping lanes and in forward deployment areas. That would be far from impossible for them to do on an internal basis, for the separated islands of the Charisian Empire itself, but it would certainly be expensive, and they couldn’t afford to assume it would be equally feasible elsewhere.
“It would simplify things a great deal if we could leave the screw permanently in place,” Olyvyr continued, “but the more efficient it is for moving water, the greater the drag when it isn’t revolving. Fortunately, once Fhranklyn came up with a notion for indexing the shaft and locking it in place, it turned out to be a lot simpler than I expected to design a moving cradle to unlock the screw and raise it into the above water well.” He snorted. “Mind you, it would’ve been a lot harder if we hadn’t decided to go with hydraulic power for the rudder. Since we were doing that anyway, it only made sense to apply power to raising and lowering the screw, as well.” He shrugged, then grinned almost impishly. “I think we could still’ve done it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had required three or four hundred seamen — probably complaining at the top of their lungs the entire time — to do the same thing by muscle power.”
“Then I’d say it’s a good thing you didn’t do that, Sir Dustyn,” Sharleyan said with a smile. “I gather from what you’re saying that the amount of fuel required for this . . . auxiliary engine, I suppose we should call it, won’t have any significant impact on the designed cruising radius?”