The Floating Islands

Today, a floating city; tomorrow, a floating island. No other word is spacious enough for the gigantic ships now coming into existence.

Next midsummer the largest ship in the World will be ploughing the Atlantic under the flag of the White Star
Line. This vessel, the Olympic, launched at Belfast two months ago, and her sister-ship, the Titanic, which is expected to take the water a few months hence, will each have the enormous tonnage of 45,000. They will be 882 ft. long and 92 ft. broad, and will be propelled at 21 knots by the combination of reciprocating engines and turbines already employed in the Laurentic. These two great ships together will cost about £3,000,000, which is also believed to be something like the cost of the smaller but faster Mauretania and Lusitania.

The Germans do not intend to let us have "the biggest ship in the world" for more than a couple of years. Several months ago there was laid down at Stettin the keel of a ship which Is to have a tonnage of about 50,000, a length of 881 ft., and a breadth of nearly 100 ft. These, at any rate, are the figures officially published by her owners, the Hamburg-Amerika Line. Her speed is expected to be about 22 knots, and she will cost about $2,000,000. She is to be ready for traffic in 1913.

The German challenge had hardly been made before it was taken up here by the Cunard Line. All that can be definitely stated now is that Messrs. John Brown and Co. have received an order to build a great new Cunarder. It has been stated unofficially that she is to have a tonnage of 50,000, a length of 885 ft., a breadth of 95½ ft., and a speed of 23 knots. It is very doubtful whether these figures will prove correct. If the Cunard authorities have made np their minds to beat the Hamburg-Amerika, as is probably the case, they are not likely to rest content with a 50,000-tonner. It will surprise no one who follows the progress of shipbuilding if the new Cunarder finally appears in the lists with a tonnage of 55,000, and some venture a guess of 60,000, or nearly double the size of the Mauretania.

The duel is bound to become more and more interesting, as its difficulty increases. The question now exercising the maritime mind is—How much greater can ships become?

So far as speed is concerned, competition has come to an end, with the Cunarders left in undisputed possession of the prize. It is possible to get higher speed than 26 knots, but only at a price no one is willing to pay. The cost of running the Lusitania and Mauretania, with their coal consumption of 1,990 tons a day, is terrific. Even with the great Government subsidy to set against the loss, it seems doubtful whether these boats pay. At any rate, the company's shareholders have had no dividend for two years past. The Hamburg-Amerika Line declares that it will never again spend money—though it seems to have plenty —in building "record-breakers." Nor does any other company show the slightest intention to enter for the championship.

Only an offer of extraordinary subsidies by an ambitious Government or a revolution in maritime engineering is likely to modify this thrifty resolve of the shipowners; and neither event is believed to be imminent. The attempt to get more power out of a given quantity of coal is not making very much progress. Can any better result be expected from oil? Shipowners are Just now closely watching the German experiments in this direction. What they would like to see is an internal combustion engine producing the same results from ordinary heavy oil as are now produced by petrol in a motorcar. There is an internal combustion engine using heavy oil—the Diesel, to which reference was made in our Engineering Supplement last week—and the Hamburg-Amerika Line, having employed it for some time in a small cargo boat, is now installing it in two larger steamers. Each of these boats will be propelled by Diesel engines developing 3,990 horse-power; but they are only asked to give a speed of 12 knots or so. A Mauretania, to attain a speed of 26 knots, requires something like 70,090 horse-power; and there is no sign yet of a Diesel or any other internal combustion engine of anything like that efficiency which could possibly be installed except on dry land, where considerations of weight and bulk are unimportant.

There are engineers of the highest rank who hope to see the internal combustion system one day applied to the turbine; but that day has not begun to dawn. Meanwhile the stubborn fact remains unshaken that a ship can be driven through the sea at 20 knots only by burning 1,900 tons of coal a day—and exceptionally fine coal, too.

So much for limitations of speed. But is there no limit to be placed on the size of these floating islands? Perhaps not, in theory. In practice, the chief difficulty they will have to meet is a very serious one—the inadequacy of their terminal ports. The approach to New York is safe enough for a Mauretania loaded to a draught of 34 ft.; but a vessel half as large again, like the German boat now on the stocks or the projected Cunarder, will draw a good deal more than that if fully loaded, and she will not want to waste any cargo space that she can fill.

On this side of the sea, in spite of all the dredging in and off the Mersey, no ship drawing more than 30 ft. can yet venture up to the Liverpool landing-stage at low water; and the Olympic and Titanic will not be able to enter their terminal port, Southampton, drawing more than 34 ft., even when the latest dredging scheme has been carried out.

An astonishing increase of luxury has accompanied the increase of size and quite outpaced the increase of speed. For all three, of course, the passenger has to pay. There are many who feel no poorer for spending a thousand dollars than for spending a sixpence. It is sufficiently clear, I trust, that I am here chiefly thinking of Americans. Exactly what percentage of the ocean-crossing public is American it might be hard to discover; but it is quite certain that the amount the Americans spend in the crack liners they patronize is out of all proportion to their number. There are also a great many well-to-do people, British as well as American, who distinctly feel the necessity of regulating their expenditure according to their income when on shore, but when travelling insist on a much higher scale of luxury than they would dream of at home. It is not unnatural. You find the same thing happening in all classes of society. Many an artisan will spend a most surprising sum on his annual holiday. To him one crowded week of glorious life at the seaside seems worth—at any rate while it lasts—a cycle of dull domesticity in a London first-floor back.

To attract and satisfy these willing spenders (I do not allude to the artisan), and to stimulate willingness in the unwilling, the shrewd steamship manager goes to great lengths and is plainly prepared to go further still. I am authoritatively informed that the Olympic will consume on her round trip of three weeks about 25,000 lbs. of Poultry, 2,500 head of game, 35,000 eggs, 5,500 lbs. of butter, 1,500 gallons of fresh milk, 49,000 oranges, 2,000 lbs. of hothouse grapes, 1,500 quarts of ice-cream, 15,000 bottles of beer, 500 bottles of spirits, and 7,500 cigars, not to mention commonplace victuals like meat and flour. But these figures scarcely help us to realize the fell frequency of feeding-time on board ship, or the lavish variety of the bill of fare concocted by the unresting ingenuity of the chef. Special cooks are carried for special classes of the travelling community. Jews can have Kosher meat if they wish, though first-class passengers of this persuasion rarely express any such desire. The principles of vegetarians and fruitarians are equally respected. "If you don't see what you want please ask for it." Passengers are encouraged to order at any meal whatever dishes they think they will like at the next meal. By cultivating this practice the anthorities hope to lessen the enormous waste that is inevitable when enough of everything has to be got ready on the chance of every one wanting it.

The orchestra in the balcony; the rich decorations and upholstery; the lounges, drawing rooms, smoking rooms, libraries, cafés, and even restaurants for those who object to a table d'hôte; the lifts; the daily papers, on which the Cunard spends £4,000 a year for wireless telegrams alone; the Turkish baths—but are not all these things written in the gorgeous pamphlets of the various lines, doubtless by the littérateurs who superintend the "publicity department"?

There is to be a swimming bath in the Olympic; and when the swimmers have ceased to swim this may presumably be nsed as a lake for a motor-boat regatta of miniature Olympics. There is also to be a gymnasium. This Is very good. There Is a fatal tendency on board ship not only to eat more, bnt to exercise less than on land. Many passengers who in a small and inconsiderately active ship would begin the voyage with seasickness and end it in superb health, nowadays escape any diminution of appetite at the beginning, but feel distinctly out of sorts at the end. The gymnasium idea might be extended in its application. If the Olympic's plans are not too far advanced, why not lay down a cinder-path (there can be no lack of cinders) around the floating island on one of the upper decks, and a tan riding track on another? A palm court is already promised, and stables might be attached, where the horses could be fittingly housed.

The more attractive a steamer becomes, the more reluctant will the passengers be to leave it. Perhaps that is one of the ideas prompting the increase of floating luxury. Make the voyage supremely enjoyable, and the passenger will be inclined to resent rather than desire the excessive speed which brings his enjoyment to a premature end. The owners of floating hotels probably know what they are about when they provide for a larger and larger number of people who want luxury and are able to pay for it.

That number, however, is necessarily limited, and the time cannot be very far off when the limit will be reached if the accommodation for luxurious travellers goes on increasing at its present rate. On the other hand, the number of those who can afford a moderate fare is enormous, and a very small proportion of them, especially on this side, yet dream of crossing the
Atlantic. In total, quite a large number of these people come over every year from America. Some of them are native Americans simply bent on "seeing Europe." Others are natives of Europe who have gone out as emigrants and saved up enough money to come home on a visit. A single line brought over 7,000 members of an "Irish Home-going Association" in the United States this year. This movement is increasing, partly because the steamship accommodation for people of moderate means has vastly improved. They would not travel at all if they had to do it in the only style within their means a few years ago.

Our own people here are slower to move than the Americans and Canadians; but when they have been convinced that a trip across the Atlantic and back is really feasible for them, at a price they can afford and in circumstances neither destructive to comfort nor mortifying to self-respect, they may be expected to seize the opportunity in very large numbers. They would go not only to "get there" and to see a little of the New World, but for the sake of the voyage itself. They would require no more, and could even do with less, than is now given in the second-class of the best liners—and this second-class traffic is growing steadily, without interfering with the first—but the seaward attraction would be powerfully reinforced if they could be offered, such as it was, the best class of accommodation in the ship. A considerable extension of the winter holiday system might be expected even in England, if it were easier than it is for people of moderate means to escape to more genial shores, without running the gauntlet of winter storms in a small and painfully susceptible ship.


Encyclopedia Titanica (2008) The Floating Islands (The Living Age, Saturday 18th February 1911, ref: #8032, published 14 August 2008, generated 3rd July 2020 10:55:21 AM); URL :