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Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 49

He grimaced and shook his head with a chuckle.

“If I’d known about the inner circle then, I might’ve thought about coming up with another design, but the truth is, the ones based on the Writ are about as good a fit to allowable technology as anything Owl could’ve come up with. And at least that way I didn’t have to worry about getting anything past Paitryk. The old Paitryk, I mean.”

He shrugged.

“Anyway, because of the lock size we chose, our barges are a hundred and forty feet long and forty-five feet in the beam with a draft of about six and a half feet and around fifteen or sixteen feet depth of hold, which lets them carry a hell of a lot more than your typical mainland boat. Within limits, of course. They’re basically just big, square boxes with round ends, when you come down to it We did slightly redesign the sterns for the powered barges, but not enough to change their volume so anyone would notice, so each of them can carry about ninety-five thousand cubic feet of cargo. That comes to around twenty-three hundred tons of coal per barge, which we figured was pretty much the ceiling for animal-drawn loads, even with tow roads as wide as the ones we used. Takes a four-dragon team to move the unpowered ones, and it also just about doubles their draft to twelve feet, which is as deep as you want to go in even one of our canals. The steam-powered boats are a little less than that because of the weight the engine and boilers and the fuel take up, but still . . . .”

His pen stopped scratching and he looked down at his notes.

“All right, here’re the fast-and-dirty numbers. A cubic inch of armor steel weighs about a quarter of a pound. Figuring three-inch side armor over a length of a hundred and forty feet and a height of ten feet — we might need a little less height than that; that’s the freeboard unladed, and by the time you put armor and guns aboard — oh, and you’d need to throw in a gundeck to mount the damned things on, too, you know — you’re bound to deepen the draft a little, so –”

He cut himself off with another grimace.

“Sorry. The point is that you’d need about one-point-six million cubic inches to armor the sides and ends of a box that size. Call it four hundred thousand pounds or around two hundred tons.”

“But that’s only the sides and ends,” Merlin pointed out. “You’d need to armor the top, too. They’re bound to take plunging fire from a river bluff somewhere. For that matter, we know Thirsk is already starting to produce his own version of Alfryd’s ‘angle guns.'”

“You don’t want much, do you?” Howsmyn demanded sarcastically. “You do realize we can’t armor the top as thickly as the sides, right? The roof of the box is going to be about twice the area of its sides. That’d be a lot of weight, especially that high up in the ship, where it’s not going to do stability any favors.”

“The roof would be more likely to take glancing hits or hits from fairly light shells,” Merlin countered. “What if you dropped it to, say, one-inch thickness?”

“Great,” Howsmyn grumbled, and started scribbling again. A short while later he sat back with a grunt.

“I’m assuming no taper in the casemate sides or ends here, which is probably wrong. I’m sure we’d want to slope at least the sides for a better ballistic coefficient and to improve stability, which should narrow the ‘roof’ quite a lot, but at this point I’d rather overestimate than underestimate. At any rate, using those numbers I come up with around a bit over another hundred and thirteen tons. Call it three hundred and fourteen for the entire armor weight, just to be on the safe side. And, of course, none of that allows for cutting out gunports. That would reduce the total armor requirement at least some . . . although I suppose you’d want shutters for the gunports?”

“I don’t know,” Merlin said in a thoughtful tone. “Probably. But, you know, the numbers are actually better than I thought they’d be. If you have fifteen hundred tons of three-inch armor already fabricated, you could armor four of them, couldn’t you? Maybe even five, if you’re right about the taper reducing the width of the casemate roof.”

“Except that none of that one-inch armor exists yet, of course,” Howsmyn observed in a pleasant but pointed tone, and Merlin chuckled.

“True, but I bet you could produce another four or five hundred tons of armor that thin pretty quickly, couldn’t you?”

“Faster than three-inch, anyway,” Howsmyn agreed. “The quenching process wouldn’t take as long, for one thing. I don’t know how much time we’d save total, but you could probably figure we’d be able to turn it out in — oh, I don’t know. A month if we made it a category one priority? Something like that, anyway.”

“And how long would it take you to haul four of your barges out of the water and armor them?”

“Probably about a month . . . .” Howsmyn said slowly.

“Then I think this might be very worth considering,” Merlin said in a serious tone. “Especially given how critical water transport and river lines are going to be in Siddarmark.”

“Maybe. But they’re going to be pushing the limit on any mainland canal, Merlin. They can probably — probably — get through most of the newer ones, but they sure as hell won’t get through all of them. And they were never designed for open water,” Howsmyn protested.

“With that low a freeboard, they’d be useless in a seaway,” Merlin agreed. “But we’re talking about brown water, not blue. Ten feet would be plenty for inland work — or in most harbors, for that matter.”

“Sure, but first you have to get them to the mainland in the first place.” Howsmyn shook his head. “I’m not the sailor you or Cayleb are, but it occurs to me that something that small and shallow draft would be a pain in the arse under typical ocean conditions!”

“Worse as a sail boat than a steamer,” Merlin replied. “And there are ways we could work around a lot of the problems. Garboards or leeboards to give the hulls more effective depth, for example, like we used on the landing craft we took to Corisande and the ones Dustyn is running up for Siddarmark. As for size, they’re not that much shorter or narrower than most war galleons. They are smaller, and they’re a lot shallower draft, with only about half as much freeboard, which means the hulls are nowhere nearly as deep, so they’ve got a lower displacement. But, again, that’s not a big problem for a steamer with leeboards. And since they were designed originally to carry coal, I’m pretty sure we could load them up with enough fuel for the voyage, especially if we wait to mount the guns till we get them to Siddarmark and only put a passage crew aboard them for the trip itself. And they’re good for — what? Twelve knots?”

“A little better than that, actually,” Howsmyn said. “In fact, the operational boats are ridiculously overpowered for canal work — they were propulsion experiments, and we’ve had them up to over fourteen knots on the lake. The ones we’re building now’ll have a maximum speed of no more than ten knots. Even the operational ones probably wouldn’t be able to make that kind of speed at sea, though. Not more than twelve or thirteen, tops, I’d think.”

“Even twelve would let them make the trip to Siddar City in only about six or seven five-days, though. Still a lot better than a galleon can do. Especially since they wouldn’t have to worry about calms or beating to windward.”

“True,” Howsmyn agreed. He sat rubbing his chin thoughtfully for several seconds, then sighed.

“All right. Much as I hate to do this, knowing what will happen if I do, I have to concede it’s at least theoretically possible. So should I go ahead and start shredding my production schedules right now, or shall we wait and pretend you actually intend to leave the decision up to Cayleb and Sharleyan?”

“What a perfectly dreadful thing to say!” Merlin told him austerely. “I am deeply affronted by the very suggestion. Now that you and I have discussed the feasibility, I will, of course, present the possibility to the two of them. It would be most unbecoming for us to presume to reorder their established priorities without their having had due time to consider all of the pros and cons of the suggestion.”

“But I should go ahead and start planning for it right now, right?” Howsmyn asked with a grin.

“Well, of course you should. Good manners are good manners, but we can’t let them get in the way of efficiency, now can we?”