I should have made the topic of this meditation explicit yesterday. What effect would the absence of fossil fuels have on major sectors of our society? Some people think society would collapse other people think it would mutate. I think it would slow down but not change much. So I started thinking about the transportation sector. Yesterday the topic was walking, and today’s topic is water transport. It maybe academic but walking may have happened after swimming. That is the true upright bipedal walking. Some monkeys love to swim and swimming is the original transportation system. Going back to our talks about Abraham Lincoln. Two of the most important events in Abe’s life were boat rides. The first barge he took to New Orleans got stuck on the dam at New Salem and the people there helped him get the boat free. When his family decided to move to a farm in Southern Illinois he paddled to New Salem to start his adult life. Finally he took another barge to New Orleans where he bought his first horse. Now this next “history” believes that travel by boat started much later in man’s evolution than I do. I believe that boating could be as old as 20,000 or 40,000 years old. Nonetheless it is a good discussion of the sequence.
As man overcame the boundaries of land travel, his curiosity about the world around him increased. To his aid, man had developed a means of traveling on water even before he had domesticated the horse. The origin of the dugout boat is one of history’s great mysteries. Historians are unable to pinpoint when or where the very first water vessel was set afloat, and even speculate that it might have been purely an accident the first time. But, however it happened, the addition of the boat changed the face of transportation. Boats allowed man to, for the first time ever, cross bodies of water without getting wet.
Over time, the simple boat evolved to include a large square of cloth mounted on a central pole. This cloth, called a sail, would turn the boat into a sail-propelled ship. This new addition gave man the ability to use waterways as a means of swift travel from one place to another, and even to travel against the current of rivers. However, the evolution of water travel didn’t stop with the sail. Ships would eventually take on a sleekness as they increased in size. Before long, they would add oars and rudders, then deck covers. By Greek and Roman times, ships had grown clunky shipboard towers, as well, which developed, over time, into the Medieval stern- and forecastles. By the late Medieval era, these castles were built solid, as a part of the ship’s basic structure. Then, by the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration which followed, ships had gained tiers of rigging and sails, becoming sleek and speedy.
Then, in the 1800s, ships began to shed their sails on the rivers once again. The advent of automation was changing transportation forever. The very first automation in ships was the cumbersome paddlewheel. Due to their bulky form and inability to turn easily, paddlewheel boats were confined to river travel, where they would experience calmer currents and need less manueverablity.
After the paddlewheel came the steamship. These vessels used coal or wood, burned to heat water, which in turn created the steam pressure used to work the pistons which moved the ship. The steamship was to enjoy a long and trusted run on both rivers and seas. Then, in 1912, the first diesel-powered ship, the Danish Selandia, was launched. That diesel engine design was to become the industrial and military standard until after World War II.
Then, in 1958, the first nuclear powered ship was launched. However, nuclear power was soon discarded by industry as too expensive and risky, though it would continue to find use in the military community.
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