News from 1899 Launch of Oceanic II

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Mark Baber

The Times, 14 January 1899

There will be launched to-day a steamship which will exceed in length
all vessels that have preceded it in the history of maritime commerce.
The Oceanic has been built by Messrs. Harland and Wolff, of Belfast, for
the White Star Line. She is a twin-screw, steel-built ship, 705ft. 6in,
over all and 685ft. between perpendiculars. Her moulded breadth is
68ft., to which may be added about 4in. for skin plating to give the
extreme breadth. Her depth is 49ft. to the upper deck, but above this
there are the promenade and boat decks. The draught of the ship when
loaded will be 32ft. 6in., and her light draught when she is completed
will be 22ft.,whilst her draught at launching will be 14ft. 4in. The
weight of this enormous ship and her cargo, stores, fittings, &c., will
be 28,500 tons. That is what is known as the load displacement tonnage;
the gross tonnage will be 17,040 tons, and the net registered tonnage
7,930 tons. The vessel will carry 410 first-class passengers, 300
second-class passengers, and 1,000 third-class passengers. With the
ship's company of 304 all told the grand total of 2,104 persons on board
will be reached.

In recording the advent of another great steamship one's thoughts
naturally revert to the Great Eastern; and this is the first time since
that vessel was built that it has been possible to speak of a new
steamer as "the largest ever constructed." It will be therefore
interesting to give some particulars of the older ship for the purpose
of comparison. Her length on the upper deck was 692ft., whilst between
perpendiculars it was 680ft.; she was, therefore, 13 1/2ft. shorter than
the Oceanic. In regard to breadth, the Great Eastern far exceeded the
new White Star boat, being 83ft.on the beam, and, therefore, 15ft. the
wider of the two.The depth of the Great Eastern was 58ft., but that
measurement is from her keel to her highest deck, whilst above the upper
deck of the White Star ship there are a promenade deck and a boat deck.
The displacement of the Great Eastern is generally given as 22,500 tons,
but we have been unable to find out to what draught this corresponded.
It is said, however, that the weight of the ship and engines at the time
of launching was 12,000 tons; the weight of iron in the hull is put down
at 8,000 tons, and the capacity for coal and cargo is stated at 18,000
tons. If we add the weight of ship and engines to the latter figure we
get a displacement of 30,000 tons, which is somewhat greater than that
of the Oceanic. A naval architect considering the figures as to length,
breadth, and depth alone would expect to find a far greater disparity
between the two ships, for the excess of length of the Oceanic over that
of the Great Eastern is trifling when considered in connexion with the
great excess of beam of the older vessel. The explanation of the
apparent discrepancy would be at once apparent to any one examining the
Oceanic as she now lies on the stocks at Belfast, and comparing her with
the drawings of the Great Eastern. Scott-Russell, who was responsible
for the shape of the Great Eastern, was, as is well known, completely
imbued with the advantages of a hollow bow and fine ends. Mr. Pirrie,
the head of the firm that has built the Oceanic, holds opposite views.
He believes in long ships of moderate beam, and in place of the long
hollow bow carries the main body of the ship well forward and well aft.
The Oceanic, too, has a very square midship section, whilst the Great
Eastern had the rising floor and rounded bilge of the period.

The steamer that most nearly compares in size with the two vessels
already mentioned is the German-built and German-owned Kaiser Wilhelm
der Grosse. She is 625ft. long, 66ft. broad, and 43ft. deep. Two vessels
next again in size are the Cunard steamers Campania and Lucania built at
Fairfield on the Clyde. They are practically sister ships. The Campania
is 600ft. long, 65ft. wide, and 41ft. 6in. deep. The Teutonic and
Majestic, the two White Star vessels which were previously the longest
afloat, were 565ft. long, 57ft. 6in. wide, and 42ft. deep. The Oceanic's
weight as she lies on the stocks is, approximately, 11,000 tons. It is,
as we have seen, a thousand tons short of the weight of the Great
Eastern with machinery, but the weight of iron alone in the hull of the
older ship was but 8,000 tons. The Oceanic will be launched with only
her propellers and propeller shafts in place, but these will not add any
very considerable increase to the total weight. It is difficult to
arrive at a definite conclusion as to the respective weights of the
hulls of the two ships, but it would appear on the figures quoted that
the Oceanic is the heavier, in spite of her smaller breadth. However
this may be, there is no doubt that the Oceanic is a wonderfully
stanch-built ship, features having been introduced into her structure
which are of quite an unusual character, simply to give additional
stiffness. She has seven decks in all---viz., a boat deck, promenade
deck, upper deck, middle deck, lower deck, orlop deck, and lower orlop
deck. The last mentioned is only worked in the forward part of the
vessel, and does not extend to the after part. The boat deck, also, does
not run the whole length of the ship, but only over the middle portion.
All these decks, however, are steel plated throughout, and there are
five of them that extend throughout the length of the ship.

The interior of a modern steamship in her launching condition is neither
a very interesting nor a very attractive object, excepting, of course,
to the naval architect, and then only if she has incorporated in her
design some novelties of construction. The latter the Oceanic
undoubtedly has, and we will confine our attention chiefly to them.
Strength and rigidity are the features to which Mr. Ismay, representing
the purchasers, and Mr. Pirrie, representing the builders of the ship,
have chiefly turned their attention in settling the elements of design.
One of the chief means by which Messrs. Harland and Wolff have ensured
these features has been by a very extensive use of the system of
hydraulic riveting. Of course this is no new thing in ship construction,
but its application has been mostly confined to certain parts of vessels
on account of the great weight involved in producing a hydraulic riveter
long enough in the "gap" to reach the greater part of the work. For
boiler riveting hydraulic machines are almost wholly used by the largest
and best firms of engineers, but to manipulate a fixed riveter into the
jaws of which the boiler shell can be lowered by means of a powerful
permanent crane is a very different thing from traversing these massive
riveters from end to end of the 700-foot ship. In order, however, to
carry out Mr. Pirrie's designs it was absolutely essential that
hydraulic riveting should be adopted. In the first place, nothing but
steel rivets were to be used, and these, as is well known, are harder to
close than iron rivets. Beyond this, however, the exceptional doubling
of the plating, to which further reference will be made, and the special
form of keel, also to be described, necessitated the use of very long
rivets, and this in turn demanded that they should be of large diameter.
The difficult problem of transporting the riveting machines was solved
in a very heroic manner. What was practically a mammoth travelling crane
was ordered by Messrs. Harland and Wolff. It consisted of a steel frame,
or gantry, which was to span the ship as she was built, and was to be
capable of traversing itself from end to end. For the latter purpose a
railway of altogether exceptional construction was laid down. It
consists of two double-rail tracks, each solidly built of masonry and
running each side of the ways on which the ship was to be built; there
were two lines of rails 7in. wide in each track. The construction of the
gantry may be described as follows:---There are, first, two pairs of
lattice-work columns, or four in all, each pair forming one of the side
standards of the whole machine. The two columns of each pair were
connected together by suitable horizontal girders, which, of course,
were in line with the rails on which the machine runs and therefore in
the same fore and aft line as the ship itself. Connecting the
side-standards were two horizontal lattice-work girders which formed the
support for three travelling cranes. The span thus formed afforded a
height in the clear of 98ft., the width between the vertical standards
being 95ft. It will be seen, therefore, that there was ample room for
even so gigantic a ship as the Oceanic to be built beneath this gantry,
which, it need hardly be said, is the largest structure of its kind ever
yet produced. In addition to carrying the riveting machines the gantry
has also been used for hoisting material during the construction of the
ship, and it must be remembered that in working on the upper parts of a
vessel steel plates, angles, beams, &c., weighing several tons have to
be hoisted to a height exceeding that of even a high building. To
provide for this there are four jib cranes placed at the four corners of
the structure, and each one will lift a weight of four tons. In addition
there are three hydraulic cranes on the cross girders. These are
generally used for the portable riveting machines, the latter being also
operated by means of hydraulic lifts. The whole of this large piece of
mechanism is supported on the rails before mentioned by means of 24
steel wheels, 12 on each side of the ship, and by means of hydraulic
machinery it can be traversed, as stated, from end to end of the slip so
as to command any part of a ship under construction.

The Oceanic has the cellular double bottom which is now almost universal
in all large passenger ships as well as in war vessels. In the present
case, however, this raft-like structure extends from end to end of the
vessel, going right up into the fore and after peaks. The keel design is
somewhat unusual. There is, first of all, an outside keel consisting of
a flat bar of steel, built up in suitable lengths. It is 18 1/2in. wide
and nearly 4in. deep. Above this is a horizontal "plate" keel---that is
to say, what would be the port and the starboard garboard strakes with
ordinary bar keels are formed of plates that extend along the middle
line of the bottom of the ship. These plates are 53in. wide and 30ft.
long; they are 1 3/8in. thick. Above this plate keel, and therefore, of
course, on the inside of the ship, is the inner vertical keel, or
keelson. It is 5ft. in vertical extension over the greater part of the
ship's length, but is increased to 7ft. under the machinery compartment.
This inner keel or middle line keelson, together with the plate keel,
takes the shape therefore of an inverted [unreproducible figure which
looks like an inverted capital "T"] forms what may be described as the
backbone of the ship. The bar keel and the plate keel are attached to
the inner vertical keel by means of angle bars riveted on to the latter,
the three being fastened together by steel rivets 1 1/4 in. in diameter
and 7in. long. It is to close these in a thoroughly efficient manner
that the exceptional hydraulic machinery has been installed, but
hydraulic riveting is used for the whole of the cellular structure of
the double bottom for the doubled plating and the other parts to which
reference will be made.

It has been said that the midship section of the Oceanic is
approximately square, there being no more than 2ft. rise of floor. This
section is carried far forward and aft without any great variation in
form, and thus the middle part of the vessel may be roughly likened to
en enormous box girder. In order to get the full advantage of this very
strong form of structure the corners of the girder have been
additionally strengthened, the strake of plating which adjoins the upper
deck, as also the strake next but one below it, being doubled throughout
the greater part of the length of the ship. The upper deck plates at the
sides,or what are known as the upper deck stringers, are also of two
thicknesses of plating. The corresponding corners at the bottom of the
girder---that is to say the bilges---are also double plated, and the
strength here is increased by two long bilge keels, 18in. deep, which
run through the greater length of the vessel. In this way a section is
obtained which affords great strength and stiffness in both the vertical
and the horizontal planes. This doubling of the plating could hardly
have been obtained without the aid of hydraulic riveting---in fact the
expedient would have been of doubtful utility if attempts had been made
to secure it by hand riveting. In a design of this nature it is
desirable that the doubled plates should be pressed together with great
force, so as to prevent their sliding on each other as the ship works,
thus bringing a sheering action upon the rivets. With hand riveting, the
stem of a rivet may be stretched as it cools, and thus the plates come a
little apart. The hydraulic machine, however, holds the plates together
with immense force until the rivets are cold and their full tensile
resistance is thus reached. The difference between intermittent blows
and steady pressure in this respect will be at once apparent.

The rudder is of new design and consists of four steel castings and a
steel forging. There is no framework of the usual kind, with wooden
filling-in pieces plated over, but each casting consists of a solid
section of the rudder, and has formed on it flanges by which the parts
are attached to each other with bolts. The forging referred to is the
top section, which is formed in one with the rudder stock. The weight of
this rudder alone is 53 tons. The two propellers have gun-metal bosses,
to each of which are bolted three manganese bronze blades. The diameter
of the propellers is 22ft. 3in. The supports for the propeller shaft are
of somewhat unusual construction. The ordinary method of carrying twin
screws is by means of brackets or arms extending from the side of the
ship and meeting together to form an angle, at which the boss supporting
the propeller shaft is placed. These arms are a considerable element of
resistance in the propulsion of a vessel of fine lines. In the Oceanic,
as in some former vessels built by Messrs. Harland and Wolff, the skin
plating in the run of the ship is bent out so as to envelop the
propeller shaft right up to the point where it joins the boss of the
propeller. In this way no brackets are to be seen, and, though there may
be some additional skin surface exposed to the friction of the water,
the resistance is said to be less and the structure is enormously
strengthened. The need for this will be recognized when it is said that
at the stern of the vessel a steel frame of no less than 65 tons has to
be worked in to support the propellers. In addition there are the
rudder, the propellers themselves, and the shafting. It may be added
that there are two pairs of bosses or bearings supporting the propeller
shafts---that is to say, each shaft has two bearings built firmly into
the structure of the ship. There are many other features of additional
strength given to this vessel which might be described if space
permitted; perhaps, however, the statement of her launching weight given
will be considered sufficient evidence that nothing has been sacrificed
to economy of material in securing strength and stiffness. The latter is
a most important feature in these days of high-powered ships propelled
by quick working engines. Nothing is more trying to the nerves of
passengers---and even seamen suffer---than the vibration set up by
powerful, quickly rotating engines in weakly built ships.

The Oceanic will be propelled by two pairs of three-stage compound
inverted four-crank engines. The diameter of the cylinders will
be---high pressure 47 1/2in., intermediate pressure 79in., and two
low-pressure cylinders of 93in. The stroke will be 72in. So far as can
be judged by an inspection in their present state of completion there
are no special features about these engines calling for remark at the
present time, except that the disposition of the cylinders is somewhat
unusual, resembling that adopted by Messrs. Yarrow, Schliek, and Tweedy
in their system of balancing, which is now so largely used in order to
prevent vibration due to the motion of working parts in engines on
steamships. This subject is one to which, we understand, Messrs. Harland
and Wolf have given considerable attention for some time past, and the
present arrangement is the result of their investigations. The matter is
one, however, which would be more appropriately referred to on the trial
trip of the vessel. This will probably take place some time in the
summer. The auxiliary machinery---that for electric light, ventilation,
and other purposes---could hardly be described at present, and we
believe the details are not all fully worked out. It would, however, be
premature to speak on these points at present. There are 15 boilers of
the ordinary return-tube type, the largest being 16ft. 6in. in diameter;
the steam pressure will be 192lb. to the square inch. The cabin
arrangements are of an unusually elaborate nature, to judge by models
which have been erected as examples to work from. On the question of
speed the builders prefer to be reticent. The Oceanic has not engine
power enough to promise that she will "break the record," to adopt a
phrase which has found its way from the racing path to the annals of
steam navigation. Although the model of the ship is one calculated to
give speed---a fact proved by the performance of former White Star
vessels---the engines are scarcely big enough to exert the enormous
power required for the excessive speed now attained by the fastest
vessel crossing the Atlantic. Probably the Oceanic will not be very far
behind the record,but it is unwise to prophesy before one is sure. The
ship has been designed so that she may, leaving Liverpool on Wednesday
afternoon, arrive in New York at 8 o'clock on the following Wednesday
morning. To get there a little earlier would not be of much advantage,
as the passengers would have to sleep on board on Tuesday night in any
case,whether the ship were at anchor or on the ocean. To make the
Oceanic the champion of the Atlantic would need an enormous addition to
the machinery; for in steam navigation it is the last increment of speed
that entails the greatest addition to power; thus to progress say from
17 to 18 knots may need an addition of but 10 or 15 per cent. of the
power exerted, but to advance from 21 to 22 knots might need an increase
of 30 or even 40 per cent. of power, and, of course, a corresponding
space to be occupied by machinery, coal, stores, &c. It is not this,
however, that has so much influenced the owners and designers in
producing a vessel which is, in these days of high steaming, of moderate
speed for her length. The chief aim of Mr. Ismay has been to provide a
comfortable ship, and in order to secure this end absence of vibration
is absolutely necessary. The rigid structure of the hull, moderate
power, and balanced engines have been adopted chiefly with this view.
The Oceanic is also designed to be a punctual ship; for her large size
and special shape will result in heavy seas having little effect on her,
whilst the moderate power will not make it necessary to slow down in
stormy weather.

The launch, which takes place to-day, is of great interest to
shipbuilders, a large number of whom have been invited to witness the
operations from all parts of the kingdom. Special precautions have been
taken to ensure safety, for the enormous moving weight of 11,000 tons
will travel at a maximum speed of about nine knots over the ways. The
sliding ways are 520ft. long and 4ft. 6in. broad, and have a mean
inclination of half-an-inch to the foot. Mr. A. M. Carlisle, the manager
of the yard, has devised a new method of releasing the ship for the
launch. The usual plan is to have "side daggers," which are composed of
large pieces of timber that act as struts between the fixed and sliding
ways. These are knocked away by a falling weight, thus allowing the
sliding ways and the cradle, which carry the ship, to glide on the fixed
ways, the whole passing into the water. In place of these daggers Mr.
Carlisle has placed a massive steel trigger in a recess in the fixed
ways. To actuate this there is a powerful hydraulic cylinder, so that
simply by opening a valve the ship can be released when the time


Mark Baber

The Times, 16 January 1899

BELFAST, Jan. 15
Yesterday forenoon what may be called a very remarkable undertaking in
marine construction was consummated by the launch from the great
shipbuilding yards of Messrs. Harland and Wolff, at Queen's Island, of
the huge steamer Oceanic, which is destined to form a memorable addition
to the fine fleet of the White Star Line. For weeks---it might be said
for months---past the event of yesterday has been looked forward to with
keen expectation, and this is not to be wondered at, since it was known
that the construction of the Oceanic marked a new era in shipbuilding,
the great vessel being the largest in the world and considerably
exceeding in her dimensions the Teutonic (built, like all the White Star
steamers, in the same yard), the Campania, the Kaiser Wilhelm der
Grosse, and the Great Eastern herself. The proportions of the vessel,
which was fully described in The Times of Saturday, are certainly
gigantic, and the launch of such a huge vessel surely justified the deep
interest taken in the event, not merely locally, but in shipping and
shipbuilding circles throughout the kingdom.

Locally, enthusiasm had indeed been gradually rising to a high pitch.
The people of Belfast and of Ulster feel almost a personal pride in this
latest achievement at the great shipbuilding yards at Queen's Island,
whence so many famous vessels have come. From an early hour in the
morning thousands of spectators, afloat or in vehicles of various types,
made their way from all parts of the city to the scene of the launch.
The morning was bright, though chilly, and the quays, with their throngs
of persons moving steadily toward the centre of attraction, presented an
animated spectacle. The arrangements for the comfort of those who
attended to witness the launch were of the most admirable description. A
grand stand capable of accommodating about 5,000 persons had been
erected on the Victoria Wharf, which is close to the slips and which
afforded an excellent view of the huge but graceful vessel. All the
staging poles had been removed, so that an unobstructed view was given
of the Oceanic, over which floated the Union Jack, the Stars and
Stripes, and the flags of the White Star Company. Admission to the
stand, which bad been plotted off into blocks, was by numbered tickets,
and by the liberality of Messrs. Harland and Wolff and Messrs. Isrnay,
Imrie, and Co., of the White Star Line, 1,000 tickets had been placed at
the disposal of the Royal Hospital committee, and had all been sold at a
price of 10s. each. The members of the firm of Messrs. Harland and
Wolff, Mr. George [sic] Wolff, M.P., Mr. W. J. Pirrie, Mr. W. H. Wilson, and
Mr. A. M. Carlisle, the general manager, were naturally much in evidence
in connexion with the preliminaries, and among those present to witness
the launch may be mentioned Mrs. Pirrie, Mr. Thomas H. Ismay (chairman
of the White Star Line) and Mrs. Ismay, Mr. J. Bruce Ismay, Mr. James
Ismay, and Mr. W. S. Graves (of Ismay, Imrie, and Co., managing owners),
Mr. H. A. Sanderson (general manager of the White Star Line), Captain
Hewitt and Mr. Horsburgh (superintendents of the White Star Line), the
Duke and Duchess of Abercorn, Lady Alexandra Hamilton, the Marquis and
Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, Lady Hermione Blackwood, the Marquis
and Marchioness of Londonderry and Lady Helen Stewart, Lord and Lady
O'Neill, the Earl of Shrewsbury, Lord lngestre, the Earl of Ava, the
Earl of Shaftesbury, the Earl and Countess Annesley, Viscount
Massereene, Lord and Lady Langford, Lord and Lady Clonbrocek and the
Hon. Miss Dillon, Lord Crichton, the Marquis of Hertford, the Lord Mayor
of Belfast (Sir James Henderson), Sir James Musgrave (chairman of the
Harbour Board), Sir William Ewart, Sir J. H. Haslett, M.P., Sir Daniel
Dixon, the Bishop of Ossory, Colonel McCalmont, M.P., Mr. Thomas
Sinclair, Colonel Sharman Crawford, and Colonel Saunderson, M.P. In
addition to the grand stand and enclosure, every favourable point in the
vicinity on both sides of the river was densely packed with spectators.
The spars and rigging of vessels, the quays, the roofs of sheds, had,
subject to the prudent arrangements of the Harbour Commissioners, their
thick clusters of sightseers, and it is estimated that at 11 o'clock
there were on the Antrim side of the harbour alone not less than 50,000

About 21 minutes past 11 the signalling gun was fired from Messrs.
Harland and Wolff's yard, in accordance with the harbour regulations,
and the various steam tugs steamed immediately into the positions
allotted to them. Some three minutes later two more shots were fired,
and about 27 minutes past 11 the gun fired two final shots, every one in
the yard stood clear, and the vessel began to move into the water. There
was breathless suspense on the grand stand while the steam whistles of
scores of craft in the river and lough welcomed the Oceanic, and as the
bow got clear of the slips and the cables were paid out the cheers of
thousands rent the air and hats and handkerchiefs were waved
enthusiastically. The powerful cables did their work well and the
Oceanic was pulled up within two lengths of herself, lying a object of
universal admiration opposite the grand stand. The launch had, in fact,
been carried out most successfully and smoothly, justifying splendidly
the arrangements which had been the special care of Mr. A. M. Carlisle,
the general manager. Owing to the vast size and weight of the Oceanic,
the arrangements were upon a novel plan. Instead of the common method of
securing the running way and lying way by side daggers or centre
daggers, the usual timbers were replaced by steel castings, placed in
position about 440ft. from the stern, and in the centre of each an iron
trigger was fitted. Underneath was a hydraulic cylinder, whose
piston-rod held the trigger in an upright position in a groove in the
running way. When the moment of launching came the pressure on the
cylinders was relieved, the triggers canted over, and with the
resistance thus removed the great ship slid into the water. Three extra
pair of anchors, with their coils hanging in festoons on the ship's
sides, now were called upon to do their work. Just at the moment when
the huge mass plunged from the ways, a man with a hatchet cut the rope
that held the first one to the bow. It fell into the water, and as soon
as its cable had been paid-out the cutting operation was performed on
the rope that bound the second anchor, which then also sank by degrees.
The same process followed with the third anchor, and the huge ship
rushing down might have appeared to the thousands of interested
spectators beyond control; but the cables of the anchors, instead of
being paid out smoothly and uniformly, had to snap their supports at the
points of the festoons and these checks soon stopped the great headway
on the vessel. The whole method of launching was, in fact, most
ingenious and, as the event proved, most successful. After the launch
the yards were thrown open for inspection, and the majority of those
present availed themselves of the opportunity. The Oceanic was
afterwards towed round to the Alexandra Dock, where the masts will be
shipped and other work done before the machinery is placed in her.

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