Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Voyage of The (not so) Good Ship Columbus

From Amusing Planet, October 2019:

Disposable Ships 
Before the Industrial Revolution, the British shipbuilding industry was completely dependent on the countries around the Baltic Sea for timber and for other materials such as masts, tar and pitch needed to build ships. As a strong maritime nation, this frightful dependence on other countries for raw materials not only undermined Britain’s defense, it also worsened the growing trade deficit Britain had with the entire Baltic region. Only a small percentage of Britain’s demand for timber was fulfilled by the American colonies despite the nearly inexhaustible supply of wood in New England. This was because of the vast distance that separated the two nations, which made importing timber from across the Atlantic uneconomical.

In the early 18th century, the British government launched a number of initiatives in order to encourage the use of colonial timber over that from the Baltic. This included bounties from North American producers and rules forbidding the export of colonial timber to anywhere other than England. These policies had little effect on import. Baltic timber continued to dominate the British market, used by both the navy and the merchant fleets, because American timber was still three times as expensive as timber from the Baltic.
During the Napoleonic Wars, French military successes and blockade of the Baltic cast doubts about the continuance of timber supplies from the Baltic, and Britain once again looked towards its former American colonies. By a series of acts in 1809 and 1810, Britain made Baltic timber more and more expensive by imposing an ever-increasing duty on timber imports, while colonial timber only paid a nominal fee. The duty system resulted in the rapid development of the American timber trade, and by the end of 1809, American timber imports to Britain more than tripled from what it was two years ago. By 1812, American timber represented over 60 percent of Britain's total timber imports.

The lucrative tariff system, however, was only a wartime measure, and after peace returned to Europe there was much debate whether the system should continue. In 1821, the duty on European timber was reduced and for the first time a duty was imposed on American timber. The new system still left American producers with an overwhelming advantage, and timber imports actually increased. Prices of timber rose, wages improved and everybody rushed to the timber business.

In the midst of this frenzied activity, two Glasgow shipbuilders, Charles and John Wood, in search for quick profit, devised a technique to import large quantities of timber. Their plan involved building a huge vessel, many times larger than the largest vessel in operation, which was to be packed to capacity with timer and sailed across the Atlantic. On arrival, the huge cargo was to be unloaded and the vessel itself dismantled and the timbers sold. That way the importers could reap big profit, first from the sale of the large cargo, and second, by evading the duty on timber of the vessel itself.
Columbus ship
In 1824, Charles Wood left for Quebec to supervise the construction of the first disposable ship, Columbus. In size, she was immense—300 feet long, 50 feet wide and 22 feet tall. She weighted an astounding 3,690 tons, more than ten times the tonnage of the average vessel operating in the timber trade. The ship was built as cheaply as possible. The hull was made from thick pieces of undressed, squared timber which was not caulked at the seams so that she could be taken apart easily without damaging the timber. The bottom was wider than the deck, and the vessel looked ungainly and crude. In the words of a Times correspondent, “the Columbus was an immense mass of timber knocked together for the purpose of commerce, without any regard to beauty and little attention to the principle of naval architecture.”

Columbus’s journey across the Atlantic was far from uneventful, as can be expected from a sea-unworthy vessel as such. Because of her uncaulked seams, the ship sprang hundreds of leaks as soon as she touched water....MORE
Speaking of having your military realize they are completely dependent on foreign suppliers for critical materials:
Reuters, December 19, 2019
Exclusive: Pentagon to stockpile rare earth magnets for missiles, fighter jets
Uh, mean they hadn't been doing that all along?
Are you saying that the U.S. military was depending on just-in-time inventory from China?
Say what?