News from 1922: Olympic Makes 2781 Knots

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Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The "Friday" referred to in this article was 21 July. In offering this article, I offer no opinion---although I suspect that others will---as to the accuracy of the report.

The New York Times, 23 July 1922

Steamship Olympic Makes New Record,
Reaching 27.81 Knots for Several Hours

SOUTHAMPTON, July 22 (Associated Press)-The White Star liner Olympic, on its voyage from New York to Cherbourg, maintained for several hours a speed of 27.81 knots, which is a world's record for a passenger liner.

The best previous record was that made by the Mauretania on her voyage from New York to Cherbourg last April, when for several hours she maintained a speed of 27.5 knots.
The burst of speed made by the Olympic on Friday, according to a cable dispatch received yesterday at the office of the International Mercantile Marine Company, 1 Broadway, was from Lands End, Cornwall, across the English Channel to Cherbourg, a distance of about 190 miles. The weather was fine and the sea smooth, according to the master of the liner, Captain A. E. S. Hamilton, R. N. R., who succeeded Captain Sir Bertram Hayes, D. S. O., when the latter went to the Majestic.

Since the Olympic was converted into an oil burner, two years ago, she has improved in her speed steadily, and her chief engineer, J. D. Thearle, had been confident that he would get the liner up to 26 knots. Her best previous speed was 23.53 knots. She arrived at Cherbourg at 5:30 P. M. Friday.

The Olympic's new record exceeds the best speed made by the Majestic on her maiden voyage, which was an average of 27.10 for five hours. When Captain Hambleton took the ship over from Captain Sir Bertram Hayes he said jokingly that he was going to make a new record with her and it has been done.

The record for the Atlantic is 26.06 knots average from New York to Queenstown. From New York to Cherbourg the record is 25.14 knots for the voyage.

Jul 9, 2000
Easley South Carolina
I'd love to hear what Mark Chirnside has to say about this cute little gem. He's done some pretty intensive research into the Olympics career. My bet is that they got "creative" with the way they figured the numbers in a fashion that wasn't technically a lie, but which had very little to do with reality.
Oct 28, 2000
A few thoughts not backed up by any significant research...

The Olympic class needed to hold almost 23 knots continuously to make a 5-day passage from Queenstown to New York. Reasonably, that would call for a ship designed to sustain about 25 knots so that the engines would be running at no more than 90% of their full output most of the time.

However, if White Star wanted a 4.5 day crossing, the ship would have needed to maintain a bit over 25 knots. That would mean a designed maximum sustained speed of about 27.6 knots. Does that number look suspiciously like the newspaper account?

Why shave a half day off the trip? Perhaps the reason was to give first and second class passengers a free night's stay in New York. Upon arising, they could join their land transportation without the need of shifting their baggage twice, once to a hotel for a night and then again to the train station. Savvy travelers would quickly catch on to the savings and convenience of the "White Star hotel" and that might have resulted in increased bookings. If this was the plan, it would not have been announced until after all three ships were on the circuit--which never occurred.

Perhaps getting the "hand-bombed" coal furnaces to produce enough steam to make 25.7 knots was beyond human muscles. However, pumping oil into a burner is another matter. That may explain why the ship was able to show its designed maximum speed only after conversion from coal to oil.

Sustaining 27.5 knots with a steam plant requires heating a lot of water. That's one reason why the ships required so many boilers. The square footage of fire grate area plays a key role in providing the needed heat. Does anyone know if the fire grate area was increased when Olympic went to oil? or, did it remain the same?

For what it is worth...using the standard formula of 1.34 x SQRT waterline length, the Olympics had a theoretical maximum hull speed of about 40 knots. Of course, that does not count the wind resistance of those four big funnels.

-- David G. Brown
Mar 3, 1998
<font color="#000066">Does anyone know if the fire grate area was increased when Olympic went to oil? or, did it remain the same?

I think they threw it away during the conversion.

Jan 5, 2001
Hi Mike!

It is an interesting story. I posted my thoughts briefly on the Titanic Mailing List a few days ago but something technical went wrong since it's not on the archive's listing. Suffice to say, I think it is an exaggeration -- 27.82 knots. There was a complicated 1935 story relating to Olympic, her speed, her race with Mauretania, and her supposed Blue Ribband victory. Forgive me being a bit coy about that -- but feel free to e-mail me privately.

With regard to the article itself, there are some inaccuracies. For instance, Olympic's previous best speed was not 23.5 knots. Possibly it was after her oil conversion, yet her pre-war record certainly, and her 1920 performance possibly, exceeded that speed by some degree.

For those who believe what they read in newspapers, we should remember Captain Walter Parker: 'you only have to will her to do something, and she responds.'

Hi Captain David, Parks!

Does anyone know if the fire grate area was increased when Olympic went to oil? or, did it remain the same?

Olympic's overall heating surface declined slightly in the 1913 refitting. Her grate surface at this time was 3,430 compared to Titanic's 3,466 (from memory Britannic's was higher, as was her heating surface). In the 1920 refitting the boilers remained of the same specification in general terms compared to 1913. The Shipbuilder, Engineering and the Board of Trade papers that I have briefly been able to glance at this morning do not indicate any change at that time. Due to the oil conversion there were concerns about the fire potential; and so the Board of Trade put the ship on their confidential list to keep an eye on her. (These interesting papers record an excellent condition of cleanliness in the boiler rooms throughout the ship's career, along with a good performance.) However, if I remember rightly when I saw Aquitania's specification book, that called for a surface area of 138,000 sq. ft. -- somewhat less than Olympic's reduced 1913 measurement. For interest, Britannic's was 151,000 sq. ft. -- which makes me more susceptible [sic?] to claims of 24 knots in her case.

Best regards,

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