Category Archives: ships

Monturiol Inventor, Writer, Publisher, Activist, and Submariner

Narcis Monturiol

Narcis Monturiol

Narcis Monturiol, born 28 Sept 1819, died 6 Sept 1885. Now, on to the man, he graduated law school but never practiced law. He became a writer and publisher, inventor and politician. He was a socialist who wanted to create a utopian community where people could live together, “each according to his ability, each according to his needs.” He also produced Spain’s first communist newspaper. In 1848, one of his publications was suppressed by the government and he was forced into exile in France. When he was allowed back in the country his publishing activities were greatly curtailed. By 1868 he was a member of the Assembly. Just a few of his other inventions included a machine for making cigarettes, a method for preserving meat, and a rapid-firing cannon, as well as a continuous printer.

One of his most remarkable inventions was the Ictineo. A submarine he hoped would help coral divers and save lives. Considering Ictineo I was finished and performed its first dive in September of 1859, it was a pretty remarkable submarine. Monturiol studied all of the available materials and the work of other submarine inventors before designing his submarine. He sought assistance from the government, when he was turned down he went to the people of Spain. More than 300,000 pesetas came in from the people of Spain and Cuba to help him build his submarine.

The submarine handled great, but the speed was disappointing. Like so many submarines designed in the 19th century it was powered by manpower. The submarine successfully completed more than 50 dives before a cargo ship ran into it while it was tied up at its berth. On 2 October 1864 Ictineo II was launched.

The submarine had a double hull with ballast tanks in between the hulls. The submarine’s pitch could be controlled with a weight on a rail that ran the length of the submarine enabling the submarine to hover. This was a feature that submarines would not have again for almost 100 years. The shape, like modern submarines, was that of a fish so that it would move through the water better. He developed his own method of navigating and used calcium hydroxide to remove carbon dioxide from the air.

Monturiol performed many experiments to find a better propulsion system for his submarine. He came up with a chemical process that produced enough heat to run a small steam engine which almost doubled his speed to 4.5 knots (5.2 mph – 8.3km/h). His chemical process produced oxygen as a byproduct.

Source of image: Ictineo II replica at the harbour of Barcelona taken on October 2003 Author: Flemming Mahler Larsen

Source of image: Ictineo II replica at the harbour of Barcelona taken on October 2003
Author: Flemming Mahler Larsen

Unfortunately, by the time Ictineo II was finished and tested Monturiol was bankrupt. His submarine was sold at auction to cover his debts. The Spanish government taxed ships, so the new owner broke up the ship and sold it for scrap.

Many of Monturiol’s innovations were not seen in submarines again until the twentieth century. And Ictineo II was the first submarine designed and built that could operate without the need of oxygen from the surface. A capability the Germans experimented with during World War Two, but which was not fully realized until the nuclear powered submarines of the second half of the 20th century. The United States submarine USS Nautilus SSN-571 was the first nuclear powered ship in the world when it went into service in the late 1950s.

There were many men around the world during the 19th century who were working hard to build a viable submarine. Most had little or no help and used the materials they already had. Some of the would be inventors never realized their dream of building a submarine. Of the one who did, some died in their craft, others successful and a few even acquired fame (at least locally) for their underwater craft.

Unfortunately, very little is known of the majority of these 19th century submarines. The only ones that are still in existence are the ones which sank and were recovered much later. The designs and drawings for these 19th century wonders have been lost to time for the most part. Often only a few sketches or a newspaper article is all that remains. Even fewer photographs have survived.

That adventurous spirit still survives though. There are men and women who are determined to build their own miniature submarines to this day, and they share their knowledge, ideas, results, and photos in online groups and chats set up for armature submarine designer/builders. Once someone is “bitten by the bug” it is an addiction that won’t go away.

Original: Drawing from Author, 1858. Photograph is my own work. The author of this photo did not include his name. If you know who the author is, please contact us so we may give him/her credit.

Original: Drawing from Author, 1858. Photograph is my own work.
The author of this photo did not include his name. If you know who the author is, please contact us so we may give him/her credit.


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A Seasoned Salt: Part 3

At the end of the war with England, John Paul found himself a naval officer without a ship. The Congress decided the country did not need naval ships in peace time. This was when John Paul accepted a commission as an admiral in the Russian Navy, on the condition that he was allowed to keep his US citizenship and position in the United States Navy.

In the Russian Navy John Paul was made an admiral and was quite successful against the Turks in the Black Sea. Successful enough that several officers spent more time trying to destroy John Paul than they did the Turks. They were partially successful in that John Paul was recalled to Moscow and faced charges of rape, but the charges were eventually dropped. He was awarded the Order of St. Anne, and left a month later an embittered man.

John Paul returned to Paris, where he lived out the rest of his life. On his death his body was escorted by a small group of servants, friends, and family to a small cemetery used by the French royal family. Over the years the cemetery was sold and used for a variety of purposes.

One hundred fifteen years later the United States Ambassador to France made it a one-man mission to find the grave of John Paul. After six months of dedicated work he was successful. The body of John Paul was sent back to the United States aboard the USS Brooklyn, three other United States cruisers and a squadron of French Naval vessels. On approaching the coastline of the United States the fleet was joined by seven battleships of the United States Navy. The body was temporarily interred at Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy until his permanent tomb could be finished. In 1913, his body was interred in its final resting place at the Naval Academy Chapel in a vault under the altar.

The name that John Paul chose when he left British service was Jones. And that is the name by which he is known in the United States, John Paul Jones, the father of the United States Navy. His ship the Poor Richard, you have probably her of his ship under its French name, the Bonhomme Richard.

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A Seasoned Salt: Part 1

Today I want to tell you about a young man born in Scotland where his father was a gardener. He was born John Paul and his older brother was William. William set out for Virginia to make his fortune. When John was a teenager he took to the sea. John joined the merchant fleet and worked hard; becoming a first mate by the time he was 18. When he was 20, he said aboard a ship named John.

During this voyage aboard the John, the Captain and ranking mate both became sick and died at sea. Twenty year old John Paul brought the ship and its cargo safely into port. Impressed and grateful to the young man, the owners made John Paul the captain of the John and gave his ten percent of the cargo as a reward.

During his second voyage he had a carpenter flogged. This incident lead to a charge of unnecessarily cruel punishment the charges were dismissed, but not before harm had been done to John Paul’s reputation. However, the carpenter died several weeks later. The carpenter’s family being politically connected in Scotland, Paul was brought up on charges and imprisoned. The cause of death was not related to the flogging and eventually Paul was released on bail.

Next, John Paul was in command of a ship headed to Tobago in the Caribbean. During this voyage there was an attempted mutiny and Paul killed one of the mutineers, a man named Blackton, with his sword. In the mean time his brother William had died in Fredericksburg, Virginia without a family of his own. So, John Paul decided to change his name and go to Virginia and settle his brother’s estate. He was not wanted for any crimes, but with the political influence of Blackton’s family he felt it was a good idea to change his name and home.

Shortly after settling his brother’s estate, John left for Philadelphia to join the navy. With help of a respected officer in the army and political connections, John was able to obtain a commission as a first lieutenant in the navy.

In “A Seasoned Salt: Part Two” we will look at the naval exploits of our young first lieutenant.

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Titanic, 100 Years Worth of Breaking Up Theories.

First, we will look at the accepted version of Titanic’s sinking, and its evolution.

In 1912, it was believed the Titanic went down in one piece with the stern rising 90 degrees in the air, pausing, and then sinking beneath the waters; as most survivors claimed.

On 1 September 1985, the wreck of the Titanic was found by Dr. Robert Ballard. The wreck was found in two pieces the bow section almost 2,000 feet from the stern. The bow is relatively intact, but the stern looks like it was the victim of an explosion. This proved the ship did not sink intact, but broke up on the surface then sank.

The decks of the Titanic on the bow section at the break were collapsed down upon themselves. The explanation was, “Yeah, that must have happened when the Titanic hit the ocean floor. It hit with such force it collapsed those decks.” The reason for the stern section being in such bad shape? The experts could not explain it and did not know what happened to the stern.

From 1985 until 2008, this was the accepted theory, with slight modifications over the years.

Then in 2008, the book “Titanic’s Last Secrets,” came out. This book is about the research and Titanic exploration of the renowned wreck divers, shipwreck historians, and explorers Richie Kohler and John Chatterton (Deep Sea Detectives series on History Channel). They found two pieces of the double bottom of Titanic. They had the steel examined by experts. The conclusion? The steel would have been so brittle at the 30 degrees water temperature when Titanic sank that the keel would have only supported the stern rising to between 7 and 11 degrees before breaking. At this colder temperature the steel would not bend and stretch, it would fracture and break clean as if cut by a knife. So, now the new mainstream theory was the Titanic stern did not rise between 45 degrees and 90 degrees (as most survivors claimed), but only to about 11 degrees.

I didn’t buy it, I didn’t buy it in 1985. For one thing, if the force was so great to collapse thick heavy decks on the bow, what about those flimsy deckhouses? I looked at the ocean currents in the area at that time, and how long the stern remained on the surface after the bow disappeared. The two halves should have been a lot further than 2,000 feet apart if the accepted theory of the sinking were correct. I believed the ship broke on the surface, but not into separate halves. With the bow filled with water it would have been pulling on the stern, and the air-filled stern would have been more buoyant and resisted the bow. If the stern pivoted on the broken, but still attached section (like a hinge), it could indeed rise between 45 and 90 degrees into the air as the bow sank even deeper in the water. The stern needed something of weight beneath the water to allow it to rise straight into the air. Take an empty glass, turn it upside down and stand it on water in a water-filled sink. When you let go the glass falls over it cannot stand. The stern should not have been able to stand without the bow attached to it. There had to be a way of explaining what ALL of the witnesses saw and what the scientists discovered. I thought my 1985 theory was it.

I studied the published work of Kohler’s and Chatterton’s experts, and realized they did not take into account the temperature of the decks inside the Titanic, decks that were made from the same steel (though at a different thickness) as the keel and hull plates.

The wealthy women survivors testified to giving their coats and shawls to the handful of survivors from Titanic’s engineering department. These men were dressed in very thin clothing. The Titanic’s engine room was very hot, and the boiler rooms (where the steam was made) could reach temperatures over one hundred degrees. The decks in those areas would not be at freezing temperatures, they would not be brittle but, would stretch and bend instead of fracturing and breaking.

The night Titanic sank, the bow filled with water going lower and lower into the water raising the stern into the air. At an angle between 7 and 11 degrees, two sections of the Titanic’s double bottom broke free from the ship. The weight that had been borne by the keel was now transferred to Titanic’s interior decks and bulkheads (floors and walls), and they collapsed under the weight, pancaking down on each other above where the double bottom broke away. The stern settled back on an even keel and then began to rise into the air, as witnesses stated.


As more air escaped the stern, eventually the bow pulled the stern under. At a point, most likely less than 1,000 feet, the stern would have gone deep enough that the sea pressure would have exceeded the strength of the stern. At this point, the stern imploded separating the two halves of Titanic. The few remaining air pockets and the effects of the implosion would slow the stern down in its decent enough to land on the ocean floor 1,970 feet from the bow.

No evidence or witnesses discounted, the laws of science taken into account.

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Back To Titanic

In the last two years I have made three new posts on Titanic.

One was sharing a paper Titanic model made by the husband of a fellow writer. The second was some new Titanic news (yes I know, a little unbelievable but it was). And the third was an article on newlyweds on the Titanic. I made the decision a long time ago to stop writing about Titanic, there are too many projects in my in-box (including articles on other ships). But my staff and some of the readers have been asking me for another Titanic and Olympic article.

So, on 13 April 2014, we will publish another article in the “Titanic and Olympic: How to tell them apart in photographs” series.

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