Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 48

“We’re allocating that fuel in addition to the coal for her normal steaming radius, Your Grace. Our calculations indicate that one of the new ships ought to be good for about five thousand miles at twelve knots under steam alone. Assuming average weather conditions, she’ll probably be able to maintain sixteen knots under sail and steam combined at an economical rate of fuel consumption. With the propeller raised, she should still be able to maintain between six to ten knots under sail alone — possibly as much as fourteen or fifteen in blowing conditions, given her size and ability to carry more sail than anything smaller. Her maximum speed under steam is actually going to be almost twenty knots, but her endurance at that speed will drop catastrophically.”

Several of the faces around that table looked stunned, perhaps even incredulous, at those numbers. Of course, twenty Safeholdian knots was also twenty miles per hour, not the twenty-three miles per hour twenty knots would have been back on a planet called Earth. Still, it was an unheard-of speed for any ship.

“In addition to being the biggest and the fastest ships in the world,” Olyvyr continued, “they’re going to be the toughest. We began our original plans for them before Ehdwyrd’s artificers came up with steam engines, when we would’ve had to power them by sail alone. That also means we started on them before he began experimenting with nickel steel and hardening plate faces with his new quenching procedures, as well. At that point, we’d estimated it would take at least twelve inches of cast iron armor to stop one of Ahlfryd’s projected ten-inch rifles firing solid wrought iron shot at short range. Ehdwyrd’s ‘face-hardened’ plate is much tougher than that; we should be able to use as little as eight inches, probably even less. Our current calculations are that three inches of Howsmynized Nickel plate will stop anything the Navy of God has, even at point blank range, but we’re going to go ahead and design to defeat our own guns, so we’ll use six inches and back it with twelve inches of teak to help damp the shock of impacting shot.

“For the riverine vessels, we’d probably go with something more like three-inch armor and backing of six inches. I’d prefer thicker, but that probably won’t be practical on their displacement — we’ll know better once we actually start looking at them — and we’re already set up to produce three-inch plate, since Ehdwyrd chose that thickness to perfect his new techniques and he’s actually got several hundred tons of it sitting at the Delthak Works right now. Actually, what I’m more worried about is the thinner backing. The new plate’s no where near as brittle as iron, so we’re not as concerned about its shattering under the impact, but the cushioning effect should help prevent the securing bolts from shearing.

“I assume any river vessels will be armed with existing guns, at least in the interim. Assuming the projected weights for the new guns hold up, the ocean ironclads should have twelve eight-inch in each broadside and a pair of ten-inch on pivot mounts, one each forward and aft, all of them behind armor. The masts and rigging will be vulnerable, of course, but these ships are designed to move and fight under steam, so the loss of a mast or two won’t be a major handicap in battle. Since we don’t have a design for the riverboats yet, I can’t estimate building times on them, but I estimate we can launch the first blue-water ship between six months and a year from the day we lay her down. And under the circumstances,” he sat back in his chair with an expression of profound satisfaction, “I don’t think Zhaspahr Clyntahn will like her one bit.”

“No, they aren’t,” Cayleb agreed, and his expression had hardened. It was his turn to look around at the others, his brown eyes grim. “And just in case the bastard doesn’t get the message on his own, Sharleyan and I have decided what we’re going to name the first three ships.” The others looked at him, and he smiled coldly. “We thought we’d begin with the King Haarahld VII, the Gwylym Manthyr, and the Lainsair Svairsmahn.” The eyes around that table turned as hard as his own, glittering with approval. “If he doesn’t quite grasp what we intend to do with them from the first three names,” Cayleb continued, “I’m sure he’ll get the point when we sail them and a dozen more just like them clear up Hsing-wu’s Passage to Temple Bay and start putting the troops ashore.”

* * * * * * * * * *


Ehdwyrd Howsmyn lowered his glass as the deep voice spoke in his ear plug. The ironmaster was alone in the study of his Tellesberg townhouse, the last of his daily correspondence spread across the desk before him, and it was very late. Rain battered the roof and cascaded in torrents from the eaves and wind and rain ruled the night outside his windows, lit by an occasional flash of lighting and rumble of thunder, but inside those windows was an oasis of comfort, so quiet between thunder grumbles he could head the crisp ticking of the clock in one corner. The light of sea dragon oil lamps gleamed on the frames of paintings, polished the deep-toned leather of hundreds of book spines with a burnished glow, and pooled golden in the Chisholmian whiskey as he set the glass on his blotter beside one of the neat stacks of paper. There were quite a few of those stacks. He seldom had much time to spend in the luxurious townhouse these days, and even when he did, the correspondence followed him wherever he went.

“Merlin?” He cocked an eyebrow in mild surprise. He’d left the day’s final conference with the seijin less than five hours ago. “Has something come up?”

“More a matter of something occurring to me that I should’ve thought of five-days ago,” Merlin replied, and Howsmyn heard a note of genuine chagrin in his voice.

“Which would be what, exactly?” the Charisian inquired.

“Ironclads. To be specific, river ironclads.”

“What about them?”

“When you were all discussing them this morning as I stood ominously guarding the door, my brain was on autopilot. In fact, I was actually using the time to review some of the take from the SNARCs rather than concentrating on what all of you were saying.”

“I’m crushed to learn our conversation was insufficiently scintillating to hold you riveted to our every word,” Howsmyn said dryly, and Merlin chuckled over the com.

“I’ve discovered the lot of you are all grown up — or close enough I can trust you to talk things over without me, anyway. Besides, we’d already discussed everything I knew was going to come up, so I figured you could play without adult supervision this once.”

“You have a true gift for flattering my ego, don’t you?”

“If I told you and the others how good you really are, you’d all be impossible to live with. That wasn’t the reason I commed, though.”

“So what was the reason?”

“Exactly how much of that three-inch armor plate do you actually have?”

“Um. I’d have to check the inventories to be sure. A fair amount, though. Probably close to fourteen or fifteen hundred tons, I suppose. Might be a little more or a little less. Frankly, I haven’t worried too much about the actual quantities, since there wasn’t any rush. It’s too thin for those five thousand-tonners Dustyn’s come up with, for one thing, and I know we don’t have anywhere near enough to cover them even if we wanted to use multiple layers to build up the needed thickness. And Dustyn hasn’t even started the design on the riverboats. For that matter, we won’t be starting construction on any of them until one of the other foundries is ready to start casting the frame members. Why?”

“Because I’ve got another question for you, to go with the first one. How much of it would it take to armor one of your steam-powered river barges?”

Howsmyn blinked.

“I don’t know,” he said slowly. “I never thought about it.”

“Neither had I, until this evening,” Merlin told him. “I’ve been thinking all along in terms of purpose-built ironclads, and going at it this way, we’d have all the wooden hull worries Dustyn was talking about But those barges are pretty damned heavily framed, given what you wanted them for in the first place. I’m willing to bet they’d hold up at least as well — probably better — than the steamboats the Americans converted into ironclads on the Mississippi in the American Civil War. And unlike Dustyn’s designs, they already exist. All we’d have to do would be slap the armor on them.”

“I think it’d be a little more complicated than that,” Howsmyn said dryly. “I don’t really know about your ‘Mississippi’ conversions — I take it that was a river back on Old Earth? — but I’m willing to bet they hit the odd little problem along the way. On the other hand, you have a point about the fact that the barges already exist.”

He pulled out a blank sheet of paper, slid his abacus in front of him, and began jotting numbers.

“They’re a bit bigger than the standard mainland river barges, you know,” he said as his pen scratched and abacus beads clicked busily. “We don’t have anywhere near the dependency on barge traffic they do, and we haven’t got anywhere near the same number of canals. A lot of their canals are over five or six hundred years old, though, and making any major changes in them would be an incredible pain, so they worry a lot more about barge interchangeability than we do. The newer canals mostly have bigger locks to let them use bigger barges for purely local traffic, but one of the really old trunk lines — like the Langhorne — can’t accept ‘outsized’ barges. Since barge owners never know when they’re going to have to use one of the lines with smaller locks, they tend to build small unless it’s for purely local use, like the wheat trade out of Tarikah via the Hildermoss and the New Northland Canal. That limits their really long-haul barges to about a hundred and twenty-five feet. We didn’t have to worry about fitting through something like the Langhorne, though, so we just stole the plans for the New Northland’s locks when we built the Delthak canal.”