‘Sailing Reinvented’: Ship With Wheels On A Pathway To Doom!

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Credits: Inge Wallumrød/ Pexels
  • Bazin’s ship could advance twice as fast as another conventional one with equivalent power.
  • The chronicle published in Nature allows us to know exactly what the boat was like: 280 tons of displacement, 39 meters in length and a beam of 11.5 m. 
  • The ship even carried out a test in Le Havre, but what had such good results and promised so much on paper did not work in practice.

It is what ideas have. There are stellar ones. And there are starred ones. At the end of the 19th century, Ernest Bazin, otherwise a brilliant French inventor recognized thanks to his technical contributions to underwater exploration or patents such as that of a motor, an electric plow or a vegetable cutter, had an idea of ​​the latter: those that are born starry. Or, given the case, doomed to shipwreck miserably.

Ships with wheels

In the 1890s, Bazin, an old man with extensive experience at sea behind him and who had such important distinctions as the French Legion of Honor or the Portuguese Order of Christ, decided to launch himself into a challenge worthy of his talent: rethinking the boats. 

His objective was neither more nor less than to “rethink” his traditional design in search of greater efficiency.

With such a purpose in mind, he decided to implement an apparently unbelievable proposal: design ships with wheels, large discs located in pairs on both sides of the hull, just as if it were a water car. 

It might sound wild, but what Bazin was looking for was a more efficient way of moving and one that would give ships greater speed.

Minimize Friction

“The principle on which the ship is based is the substitution of the ordinary sliding movement of the hull through the water by the rolling of the great wheels in order to minimize friction“, picks up an article that Nature dedicated in 1897 to the invention of the French engineer. 

Thanks to its design – the British magazine picked up – it was expected that Bazin’s ship could advance twice as fast as another conventional one with equivalent power.

“Bazin’s objective has been to increase speed by suppressing the friction of the water against the ship when it is forced to advance,” says another article, from 1896, published in the Kingston Gleaner and collected by Maritime Heritage. 

“To do this, he has replaced the hull of a ship by a kind of platform supported on the water by revolving wheels of a lenticular shape”.

Patent filing

Bazin couldn’t get enough of doing calculations locked in his office, so in 1892 he filed a patent and some time later he took his ideas from paper to shipyards. 

The result was a ship that took its own name, the Enerst Bazin, built in Saint-Denis thanks to the backing of a limited company incorporated in 1893, the Naviere-express-rouler-Bazin, and which it was finally launched in 1986.

Shortly after, the ship was moved through the waters of the Seine to Rouen so that its creators could add the engines and the rest of the machinery necessary for their next challenge: an experimental trip through the English Channel.

Boat features

The chronicle published in Nature allows us to know exactly what the boat was like: 280 tons of displacement, 39 meters in length and a beam of 11.5 m. 

“The frame and hull are supported by six 32-foot, 10-inch hollow spoke wheels. [unos 10 m] in diameter, of which approximately a third will be submerged”, the article abounds, detailing that the engines, cargo and cabins were located on a frame and the axles of the wheels.

“The machines are built to develop a power of 750 horsepower, of which 550 will be used for the propeller and 200 to drive the three pairs of wheels. With this power, an ordinary steamer of similar tonnage would not exceed 18 or 19 knots.” The Bazin is expected to reach double of this speed”.

Improved plans fails

The ship even carried out a test in Le Havre, but what had such good results and promised so much on paper did not work in practice.

That peculiar design by Ernest Bazin had achieved fame inside and outside France, but neither the design nor the wheels responded as he expected. 

His architect died not long after, in January 1898, with no margin to see the improved plans for a four-pair-disc liner translated into practice on which, it is said, he had been working until shortly before his death. 

His experiment might not come to fruition, but over the next few decades the concept of the “rolling boat” would continue to inspire other inventors, such as Frederick Knapp, a Canadian lawyer who designed a peculiar roller-shaped ship. 

The outcome was not very different from that suffered by Bazin’s ship and hers, but her story is material for another article.

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Source: Ruetir