Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
First Part-Sieur Clubin
Book III. Durande and Deruchette.
V. The "Devil Boat"
"LETHIERRY'S GALLEY" was not masted with a view to sailing well; a fact which was not a defect; it is, indeed, one of the laws of naval construction. Besides. her motive power being steam, her sails were only accessory. A paddle steamboat, moreover, is almost insensible to sails. The new steam-vessel was too short, round, and thickset. She had too much bow, and too great a breadth of quarter. The daring of inventors had not yet reached the point of making a steam-vessel light; Lethierry's boat had some of the defects of Gilliatt's Dutch sloop. She pitched very little, but she rolled a good deal. Her paddle-boxes; were too high. She had too much beam for her length. The massive machinery encumbered her, and to make her capable of carrying a heavy cargo, her constructors had raised her bulwarks to an unusual height, giving to the vessel the defects of old seventyfours, a bastard model which would have to be cut down to render them really seaworthy or fit to go into action. Being short, she ought to have been able to veer quickly-the time employed in a manoeuvre of that kind being in proportion to the length of the vessel-but her weight deprived her of the advantage of her shortness. Her midship-frame was too broad-a fact which retarded her; the resistance of the sea being proportioned to the largest section below the water-line, and to the square of the speed. Her prow was vertical, which would not be regarded as a fault at the present day, but at the period this portion of the construction was invariably sloped at an angle of forty-five degrees. All the curving lines of the hull agreed well together. The rudder was the old-fashioned bar-rudder, not the wheeled one of the present time. Two skiffs, a species of you-yous, were suspended to the davits. The vessel had four anchors: the sheet anchor, the second or working anchor, and two bower anchors. These four anchors, slung by chains, were moved, according to the occasion, by the great capstan of the poop, or by the small capstan at the prow. At that period the pump windlass had not superseded the intermitting efforts of the old handspike. Having only two bower-anchors, one on the starboard and the other on the larboard side, the vessel could not move conveniently in certain winds, though she could aid herself at such times with the second anchor. Her speed was six knots an hour. When lying-to she rode well. Take her as she was, "Lethierry's Galley" was a good sea-boat; but people felt that in moments of danger from reefs or water-spouts she would be hardly manageable. Unhappily her build made her roll about on the waves, with a perpetual creaking like that of a new shoe.
She was, above all, a merchandise boat, and, like all ships built more for commerce than for fighting, was constructed exclusively with a view to stowage. She carried few passengers. The transport of cattle rendered stowage difficult and very peculiar. Vessels carried bullocks at that time in the hold, which was a complication of the difficulty. At the present day they are stowed on the fore-deck. The paddle-boxes of Lethierry's "Devil Boat" were painted white, the hull, down to the water-line, red, and all the rest of the vessel black, according to the somewhat ugly fashion of this century. When empty she drew seven feet of water, and when laden fourteen.
With regard to the engine, it was of considerable power. To speak exactly, its power was equal to that of one horse to every three tons burden, which is almost equal to that of a tug-boat. The paddles were well placed, a little in advance of the centre of gravity of the vessel. The maximum pressure of the engine was equal to two atmospheres. It consumed a great deal of coal, although it was constructed on the condensation and expansion principles. For that period the engine seemed, and indeed was, admirable. It had been constructed in France, at the works at Bercy. Mess Lethierry had roughly sketched it: the engineer who had constructed it in accordance with his diagram was dead, so that the engine was unique, and probably could not have been replaced. The designer still lived, but the constructor was no more.
The engine had cost forty thousand francs.
Lethierry had himself constructed the "Devil Boat" upon the great covered stocks by the side of the first tower between St. Peter's Port and St. Sampson. He had been to Breme to buy the wood. All his skill as a ship-wright was exhausted in its construction; his ingenuity might be seen in the planks, the seams of which were straight and even, and covered with sarangousti, an Indian mastic, better than resin. The sheathing was well beaten. To remedy the roundness of the hull, Lethierry had fitted out a boom at the bowsprit, which allowed him to add a false spritsail to the regular one. On the day of the launch he cried aloud, "At last I am afloat!" The vessel was successful, in fact, as the reader has already learnt.
Either by chance or design she had been launched on the 14th of July, the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille. On that day, mounted upon the bridge between the two paddle-boxes, looked Lethierry upon the sea, and exclaimed, "It is your turn now! The Parisians took the Bastille, now science takes the sea."
Lethierry's boat made the voyage from Guernsey to St. Malo once a week. She started on the Tuesday morning, and returned on the Friday evening, in time for the Saturday market. She was a stronger craft than any of the largest coasting-sloops in all the Archipelago, and her capacity being in proportion to her dimensions, one of her voyages was equal to four voyages of an ordinary boat in the same trade; hence they were very profitable. The reputation of a vessel depends on its stowage, and Lethierry was an admirable stower of cargo. When he was no longer able to work himself, he trained up a sailor to undertake this duty. At the end of two years, the steamboat brought in a clear seven hundred and fifty pounds sterling a year, or eighteen thousand francs. The pound sterling of Guernsey is worth twenty-four francs only, that of England twenty-five and that of Jersey twenty-six These differences are less unimportant than they seem: the banks, at all events, know how to turn them to advantage.