108 Garfield Avenue, Madison, New Jersey 07940
October's bright blue weather had nothing to compare with that brilliant day in September. Tall white clouds drifted out across Fishers Island Sound and the wind and sun combined to coat the Mystic River with sparkling wavelet jewels as I walked out onto the pier where SABINO was moored. No ship is ever quiet and still. There is always some movement. I could hear the squeak of her brass sheathed rubbing strake against the piling as the morning breeze off the river stirred her at the pier. Two deck hands were scrubbing down her decks in anticipation of the arrival of the day's passengers.
Thus was to be my introduction to the last of the coal burning coastal steamers that had played such a part in the development along the Main Coast beginning around 1840. Many were larger than SABINO and perhaps a few smaller too, but the fact remains that here is one of the finest examples of that coastal trade and best of all, she still brings back fond memories of those simpler days as she goes about her runs on the Mystic River. For, it is here at the Mystic Seaport that SABINO is preserved and still leads an active life in daily cruises under steam during the active season from early spring to late fall.
Probably many a school child can tell you that on August 17, 1807, Robert Fulton's Clermont . . . actually the NORTH RIVER . . . made its maiden voyage from New York to Albany on the Hudson River much to the consternation and awe of the rustics along the up-river shoreline. Lacking today's instant communications, they surely thought, according to accounts at the time, that some sea monster belching smoke had found its way into the river. This little paddle steamer was to be the first coastal steamer. It was followed by the innaugural ocean steamer, the SAVANNAH, in 1819. This crossing to Liverpool from Savannah, Georgia, was more of a token beginning since the vessel used its sails for most of the voyage and kept her paddle wheel safely folded.
Although the development of paddle wheel propelled ships continued for a number of years, the age of steam at sea really was technically ready when the Swedish engineer, John Ericsson, introduced the screw propeller. The first iron hull, screw propeller, ocean going vessel built in America was the BANGOR, built in 1884 at Wilmington, Delaware, by Betts & Hollingsworth Company for the Bangor Steam Navigation Company. This vessel of 212 net tons burthen entered the coast-wise trade as the Bangor Packet from Boston around Cape Ann and across the Gulf of Maine and up Penobscot Bay. In later years she was replaced by other vessels and finally was used by some South American rebels and eventually was a prize of war to the Venezuelan government.
Maine's long coastline with watery fingers reaching far inland and with many off-shore islands was a natural setting for the development of small steam powered vessels that were completely independent of wind and tide in narrow waterways or in trips with cargo to the islands. The G. W. Blunt White Library at the Seaport has shelves bulging with books and monographs on this era.
There was the GOLDEN ROD built in 1893 at Brewer, Maine, for the Penobscot Bay trade. She was 71 gross tons in a hull 75 feet long by 15 foot beam and was powered by a 50 horsepower steam reciprocating engine driving a screw propeller. Then there was the VINAL HAVEN built in Searsport in 1892 for service to the off-shore island of the same name. She was larger at 100 foot length and with a 135 horsepower engine.
Another packet with an interesting past was the CATHERINE. She was built in 1893 in Bath, Maine, for the Rockland & Blue Hill Steamboat Company for the run from Bath to Boothbay Harbor. This 100 foot by 18 foot 161-ton vessel powered with a 130 horsepower compound engine later was named NAHANT for the Boston-Nahant run, but eventually ended her days as the ferry boat in New York Harbor running from the Battery to the Statue of Liberty. What a fitting finale for a gallant lady in the land of the free.
I had arrived a long time ahead of the first passenger to be expected. In fact, Captain Chapman had not yet come aboard. However, the scrub brush detail assured me that I was welcome and so I stepped aboard by climbing over the port side rail. Now the other side of the vessel is the gangway of ceremony. Had I entered the ship via the starboard side I surely would have felt obliged to salute the Officer of the Watch . . . then a sneaker shod college student. . . and turned to salute that enormous flag snapping in the breeze at the stern. As it was I merely tumbled aboard uncermoniously, camera bag and all, and immediately made my way to the engine room.
Steamboat SABINO rounds Lighthouse Point astern of the Joseph Conrad as seen from the deck of the two masted schooner L. A. Dunton.
This last symbol of early coal fired coastal vessels, SS SABINO, was built in East Boothbay, Maine, in 1908 by the firm of H. Irving Adams and, until 1922, carried the name, TOURIST. She is 57' 3' in length on a beam of 22' 3' and draws 6' 4' of water. The 22' breadth is a bit misleading since around 1922, sponsons were added for increased stability for service in exposed waters, thus her 'beam' is really like 15'. Her registered tonnage is 24 gross, 9 net. .. more about tonnage later. She was originally built with a fire tube boiler of the Scotch Marine type, probably, though the records are not completely clear on this for around 1940 she was fitted with an Almy watertube boiler. Her engine, however, is the original compound engine built by Paine Engine in Noak, Connecticut, when the ship was built. We will want to get into the familiar details of her coal fired steam propulsions plant for those that cherish old steam power. However, since we are 'going to sea' under steam, perhaps it would be wise to clear up some nautical terms that might not be as familiar as steam terms.
Length, breadth and draft or depth of water necessary to float the vessel are somewhat self-explanatory. On the other hand, tons is not as obvious, especially when the modifier of gross or net is added. In simple terms, gross tons is the total cubic volume of the vessel occupied by cargo, passenger, crew and machinery expressed in cubic feet. One ton is taken as being 100 cubic feet of space. Since these are long tons or 2240 pound tons, then we can say that the space density is 22.40 pounds per cubic foot. If we deduct crew, fuel and machinery space and divide by 100 we will have 'net' tons. Now water weighs about 64 pounds per cubic foot so these 'space' type tons do not give any measure of just how much the vessel weighs fully loaded. Let us take SABINO's dimensions of 57 x 15.3 x 6.3 which gives us 5494 cubic feet... if SABINO was a block of wood floating in the water. But, she is not. She has fine lines beneath the water and we can use a term used by marine architects to denote this difference, block coefficient. Lets' say she is only 80% like a block and so she displaces 4395 cubic feet of 64 pound seawater. Thus she is 126 tons dead weight. . . DWT. .. quite different from her registered 24 gross tons. Passenger and small cargo vessels are usually rated in gross or 'space' tons whereas large bulk carriers such as tankers use DWT ratings.
For comparison, I looked up the dimensions of the ESSO BAYONNE. She is 17,000 DWT but only 7,000 gross tons. The displacement figure is more meaningful for a tanker.
By this time I was in the tiny engine room writing down the nameplate data from the Almy Water Tube boiler which hydro tests at 225 psig for a 150 psig working pressure. That was easy to find. Not so for the engine. I crawled all over that engine looking for a nameplate. Then I straightened up to be looking into a smiling face topped with tousled hair and complete silence. 'Oh,' I said, 'I suppose that you would like to go to work down here.' There was hardly room for both of us. 'No,' he said, 'Take your time. It's a Paine engine.' 'No, there is no nameplate.' With that I crawled up out of the 'engine room' and let Engineer, Bernie O'Brian light off the kindling wood in the fire box so steam would be ready for departure at 10:30. Soon he was shoveling in some Pocohantas coal which is about the only type that he can burn and meet EPA standards. This $100 per ton fuel is the finest bituminous anywhere; 2% moisture, 20% volitile, 70.3% fixed carbon, 7.7% ash proximate analysis and only 0.7% sulfur chemical analysis. You fellows that have to fire Illinois No. 6 from the Herric seam ... eat your heart out!
Getting a picture of the Paine engine was most difficult since there is very little space around the engine. However, Naval Architect Robert C. Allyn has made a sketch that shows that principal parts of SABINO's engine. The lettered legend points out the parts of interest. In the photograph, however, there are several items of interest. The throttle valve is the hand-wheel angle valve in the insulated steam line. Just at the top of the cylinders is a valve in this steam line and a line curving around the low pressure cylinder head. This is a by-pass direct to the condenser and is used during start-up of the boiler to prevent raising the safety valves. In very much larger vessels this line is used during maneuvering when the load on the boiler is so variable that it is difficult to maintain constant pressure. The cylinder drain cocks are the globe valves in the corners of the picture. These drain into the condensing system also. As can be seen from the cycle diagram, this is a completely closed cycle. The only make up water from a tank in the bow of the vessel is that made necessary by any leakage and the blowing of the whistle. The exhaust from the low pressure cylinder passes first through a feed water heater where approximately 10% of the flow is condensed. The remainder passes to the condenser which is simply some pipes on the outside of the hull along side of the keel where the cool seawater condenses the steam back to water. A duplex reciprocating air pump brings the condensate into a hot-well. This is a three compartment tank with sponge-like material to absorb any cylinder oil in one compartment, then sediment drops out in a second. The end compartment contains the condensate ready to be picked up by the duplex reciprocating boiler feed pump. Feed water than passes through the feed heater on its way to the boiler.
There is no super heater in the boiler so quality is probably around 98%. At normal pressure of 125 psig the steam is about 1175 Btu/pound. Instrumentation is not in the extreme so it is a bit of guess work on my part, but I figure that with auxiliary pumps and the main engine the boiler is required to put out about 1300 pounds per hour at cruising speed. Combustion control on this natural draft boiler consists of the Engineer's manual operation of ash pit and fire doors. So, with such a wide range of excess air, trying to figure out fuel consumption is only an approximation. Looks to me like her coal bunkers need to supply at maximum rate about 130 pounds per hour.
BOILER-CASING REMOVED SABINO's boiler was built by Almy Water Tube Boiler Company in 1940 to replace the original fire tube unit.
It might be interesting to see just how, in a rough cut manner, the engine got to be sized at 75 horsepower. Calculating the force necessary to push a boat through the water at a specified speed is a very complex thing. The resistance is made up of several components including (1) that portion that makes the waves as the boat moves, (2) a force of the friction of the water passing along the hull, (3) another to move a weight of water equal to that of the boat and (4) wind resistance. A man by the name of Ayres put it all together in an equation that says that the effective horsepower is equal to the displacement in tons to the 0.64 power... if that had been 0.5 it would be square root... times the velocity in knots cubed (multiplied by itself two times) and the whole thing divided by a factor that runs around 450 for a vessel in the SABINO class. We said earlier that her displacement was 126 tons. Just a moment while I get my Sears Roebuck assembled in Mexico calculator, and do that 0.64 power. Answer 22. She was intended to run around 10 knots ... 10 nautical miles per hour. How do I know? Well, from the fact that her length is 57 feet at the water line. She shouldn't be driven much faster than a speed equal to the square root of the water line length which is 7.5 without the friction and displacement components, which go up at a very fast rate with increases in speed, making the horsepower excessive. So, all of this figures out at 49 horsepower at the propeller. The propulsion efficiency is probably around 65%. There you have it, 75 horsepower at the engine coupling.
Now, before the Society of Naval Architects, the ASME and the Gold Seal Engineers have me drawn and quartered let me say that there is a good bit of coincidence of numbers in the foregoing. However, I feel that I have taken the reader, who incidently isn't sitting for his license, step by step through the reasoning that has to be negotiated before the keel of any vessel is ever laid.
By this time Bernie had 125 pounds showing on the big brass bulkhead mounted pressure gauge. He had been warming up the engine by letting it run with the docking lines holding us to the pier. When he was satisfied everything was ready he passed the word to the bridge. Now, SABINO is a 'bell boat.' That is, communications between bridge and engine room is by means of two bells. One is an enormous thing like a fire gong in a firehouse. The other is a jingle bell that sounds as if someone had opened the door to a country store. The deck hands had cast off the lines and Captain Chapman rang down for slow ahead. This is one stroke on the gongone bell. When we approached Dunton Wharf to pick up passengers he rang one bell meaning stop engine. To check his approach speed and since ships don't have brakes he asked for slow astern by sounding two strokes on the big gong and Bernie had the quadrant in reverse and the throttle open a turn or two in a flash. Then one stroke on the bell to stop the engine. At any time that the slow ahead or slow astern is to be increased then the bridge gives a pull on the lanyard attached to the jingle bell and the engine room steps it up a bit. If still not enough, another jingle. If it is too much then one bell to signal stop and immediately another bell to signal ahead and now you know the mystery of all that clatter of bells going on in the engine room. Really quite functional.
If all else fails, there is a speaking tube of about one inch brass pipe between bridge and engine room. There is a stopper in each end which in reality is a whistle. Just pull out the stopper on your end and blow hard to sound the whistle on the other end. They remove their stopper and speak into the tube with such admonitions as, 'Engine room! What are you doing, burning old rags?' as the 'old man' gets a bit of soot on his white shirt.
This wasn't the only ship's engine room that I had ever been in, but it was nearly the smallest. I think that the ESSO JAMESTOWN, 37,000 DWT, was the largest and during sea trials off the Virginia Capes was a very confusing place. But, it certainly had to be one in which I could feel a one to one relationship with the machinery. That old compound reciprocating engine ran as smoothly as any engine could possibly be expected to run. And, that little down east packet was as neat as a pin'Bristol fashion' is the nautical term for it.
At the period of SABINO's beginnings was the period in our national development when our greatest asset, our growing middle class, began to make itself known. That was the beginning of the end of the period when only the very, very rich could own a pleasure boat, one which was powered by a single cylinder steam engine as was the steam launch NELLIE built in 1872. By 1904 when the private launch LILLIAN RUSSEL was powered by the then newly developed naphtha engine capable of about 2 horsepower a man of means could afford one. But, soon Yankee ingenuity and a developing market saw the development of the marine gas engine such as the two cylinder 1913 Palmer Brothers which really was two 'one lungers' bolted together. Others were in the market place too, Kermath, Universal and Lathrop, to name a few, some of which are still in the business. That was the beginning of the period when the working man could own a boat with a motor.
When SS SAVANNAH I crossed the Atlantic it used coal as fuel. When SS SAVANNAH II made the same voyage in our times it was with nuclear fuel in her steam plant. I wonder how many more years it will be before the Sears Catalog has a nuclear powered outboard motor? Possible? Perhaps. When the BANGOR Packet was built we didn't even know about the atom and its power. The first SAVANNAH threw its ashes overboard. Waste fuel from SAVANNAH II contains a metal, plutonium, created from uranium within the reactor, never before known on earth. It is not likely that we will use nuclear fuel in small engines in the near future due to radiation problems, but it is entirely conceivable that we will use some derived fuel safely in the future. The impossible simply takes a little longer.
Late the next day I stood on the Morgan Wharf to get a last glimpse of SABINO. Overnight the wind had gone into the nor'east and the weather was cool and misty. I wanted to get just one more action picture of her in the stream as she steamed past. What a sight, looking through the view finder, there she was with house pennant streaming from the forepeak staff and that enormous American flag at the stern. Click went the shutter to catch the moment. As I took the camera from my eye, Captain Chap man stepped from the wheelhouse to wave, 'So long.' I hope that he heard me when I called back, 'Thanks for everything,' as the last of the coal burning steamboats disappeared around Lighthouse Point and into the mist.