concrete ships
October 13, 2005 1:49 AM   Subscribe

Concrete Ships Toward the end of the First World War, and during the Second World War, the United States commisioned the construction of experimental concrete ships.
posted by dhruva (25 comments total)
I was in Cape May this summer. I saw the Atlantus and I have to say it was spectacularly underwhelming. The history is really cool. The sight isn't.
posted by srboisvert at 1:56 AM on October 13, 2005

Thanks srboisvert. I had a vague recollection of seeing the wreck of a concrete ship somewhere in NJ when I was a kid. Seeing your photo brought the memory back in full.

A concrete ship. Madness.
posted by three blind mice at 2:08 AM on October 13, 2005

Well that April Fool got a little out of hand, didn't it?
posted by NinjaPirate at 2:15 AM on October 13, 2005

The students in the building next door to mine build the darn things every year and race in them.

So, it's not implausible.
posted by rockabilly_pete at 2:21 AM on October 13, 2005

pykrete is neat stuff, there are still sometimes ideas to use it for cruise ships,
posted by CeruleanZero at 2:26 AM on October 13, 2005

There is a wreck of a concrete ship in Galveston Bay, Galveston, Texas, named the S.S. Selma.

As rockabilly_pete points out, the use of concrete for shipbuilding comes up among engineering classes with great regularity, part out of the seemingly contradictory statement "build a boat out of concrete."

A quick search turns up quite a few websites out there dedicated to the serious pursuit of this...
posted by aldus_manutius at 3:57 AM on October 13, 2005

Until a few years ago, there was a concrete catamaran sailboat moored at the pier in Newburyport, MA. I believe it sank in a northeaster.

Then there are concrete canoes.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:01 AM on October 13, 2005

Ahem. I have a distinct memory of helping build a concrete sailing ship as a youngster.

It's a strong and relatively light building material that can be easily shaped into almost any form.

But hey, don't let that get in the way of your "stones don't float" mindset.
posted by spazzm at 4:03 AM on October 13, 2005

Floating is easy. Flexing is problematic.
posted by srboisvert at 4:40 AM on October 13, 2005

I thought that this post might be about the concrete battleship.
posted by Tullius at 5:28 AM on October 13, 2005

Indeed, just cruising around that site I came upon this:

"Tragically, on October 30, 1920, the Cape Fear collided with another ship, the City of Atlanta and "shattered as if a teacup was hit." She sank in three minutes and took 19 of her crewmen with her."

Flexing is the hard part.
posted by OmieWise at 5:29 AM on October 13, 2005

Concrete submarines are also quite interesting. Heinz Lipschutz's U-Plane idea from the late 1920's is seeing renewed interest with Russian research into "C-Subs". New flexible concrete designs could also enhance the ability for these C-subs to deal with pressure at depths other subs cannot reach.
posted by longbaugh at 5:58 AM on October 13, 2005

Concrete sailboats are actually quite common. When I was working up the BC coast as a dockmaster I nearly bought a 14 foot sailboat with a concrete hull. Kinda sorry I didn't.
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:30 AM on October 13, 2005

Interesting, thanks!
posted by carter at 7:38 AM on October 13, 2005

Better the government build a battleship out of concrete than an entire war out of bullshit.
posted by maxsparber at 9:06 AM on October 13, 2005

The term for this in boat building is ferro-cement. It was a trend in backyard boat building a few decades back. Not as weird as it seems at first.
posted by Mr T at 9:49 AM on October 13, 2005

But bullshit is the most flexible substance there is!
posted by fleacircus at 10:03 AM on October 13, 2005

renewed interest with Russian research into "C-Subs"

Russian subs seem to sink to the bottom quite efficiently already, one has to wonder why they wish to screw with perfection?
posted by RevGreg at 12:14 PM on October 13, 2005

ferro-cement boats have lots of advantages. They are easy and quick to build without a lot of special tools or skills or materials. They are cheap to build. They are easy to maintain. They are nearly industructable.
posted by stbalbach at 1:31 PM on October 13, 2005

RevGreg - The Russians were the first nation to develop supercavitation and their latest innovations in fighter plane technology are easily up to the standard of US front-line aircraft. Cold War assumptions about Russian technology sell short some of the most intelligent engineers the world has seen. I will have to say that the training of the Russian navy however is not anywhere close to the standards of the west and unfortunately has a poor safety record. It never helped that Putin turned down assistance from western sources in the most recent incidents to withhold secrets from prying eyes. Oh, and it's always worth noting that the US Navy's submarine safety record isn't exactly hot shit either.
posted by longbaugh at 1:32 PM on October 13, 2005

I'll put the USN's submarine safety record up against the Russian/Soviet Union's navy's any day of the week, though. Particularly with respect to reactor safety aboard nuke boats.

I was wondering when somebody was going to mention submarines. The problem seems to be the plasticity of concrete relative to traditional submarine-hull materials, usually steel (but sometimes titanium). I've noticed this subject of concrete submarines previously discussed on sci.military.naval, with the usual derision from actual submariners. Apparently, getting a concrete submarine to dive to a specified depth wouldn't be as much of an issue as getting it to surface afterward.
posted by alumshubby at 2:00 PM on October 13, 2005

Read the popularmechanics link I posted above alumshubby - it's kind of a vectored-thrust concept from my reading -

"Conventional submarines float until they take on water. C-subs will stay afloat by using four electric turbine pumps to propel water downward. The swiveling nozzles that direct this flow also will enable the C-sub to move"

Think an underwater Harrier jump-jet. I'll certainly not argue about the Russian navy's safety record but this was down to training and the time spent at sea, my point was that no navy is accident free and that RevGreg's post was not only slightly disrespectful to the dead but also not entirely correct.
posted by longbaugh at 2:13 PM on October 13, 2005

longbaugh, I not only (re)read it, I read the dead-trees edition back in 1998, and I've posted and read posts about it on USENET back in the day -- that's why I provided the link. It's a collection of neat ideas on paper, but I'd hate like hell to be a crew member on that thing.

Going to sea in what amounts to a hollow rock is actually a well-proven idea. Concrete ships carried cargo during both world wars. College kids hold an annual concrete canoe race. And you'll find concrete barges, houseboats and sailboats in scores of marinas.

"Well-proven"? All the cited examples travel on the surface and don't have to deal with the changes in depth -- and pressure -- that submarine hulls do. Despite what the article says, I'd want to see some experimentation with unmanned hulls before somebody actually tries submerging in one. Steel hulls necessarily compress as a submarine goes deeper. If a concrete hull can't compress uniformly, it could crack and shatter instead.

And...vertical-launch torpedo tubes? Better have a whole bunch of 'em, like in the drawing, because you won't reload them other than at the pier. You really don't want to shoot at targets up above you on the surface unless you're on a suicide mission. And when you shoot one, you're performing the acoustic equivalent of taping a "KICK ME" sign to your own back. A supercavitating Shkval will have a tremendous acoustic signature pointing straight back at its point of origin, which the launching submarine can't easily egress without making additional noise, and which can be detected at many times the range of the weapon itself, throwing away the submarine's stealth.
posted by alumshubby at 2:52 PM on October 13, 2005

Gotta go with alumshubby on the submarine topic.

But concrete ships are a better idea than the Lead Zepplin project. Heh. *rimshot*

....yeah uh, actually I like the material science behind the new Zepplins.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:07 PM on October 13, 2005

Apparently, getting a concrete submarine to dive to a specified depth wouldn't be as much of an issue as getting it to surface afterward.

You would bring up the hard part ...

As for floating devices, don't forget concrete docks and floating bridges, which can use concrete pontoons. Some semi-submersible oil rigs -- like the Thunder Horse rig, which was pictured listing after Hurricane Dennis -- use concrete pontoons. In these types of structures there is redundancy.
posted by dhartung at 11:40 PM on October 13, 2005

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