Today is National Maritime Day in the United States of America and I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all our friends and readers in the US a very happy day!
On May 22nd 1819 the steamship The Savannah set sail from Savannah, Georgia, on the first successful trans-Atlantic voyage partially made under steam propulsion. Although originally she had been laid down as a sailing vessel, The Savannah was also outfitted with a steam engine and paddlewheels. The engine was used sparingly on the voyage - The crossing took a total of 648 hours and all but 85 of those saw the ship using her sails rather than her engines.
However, in the days when such crossings were made exclusively under sail, the appearance of The Savannah off the coast of Ireland caused some consternation. Seen from a distance with smoke pouring from her funnel, she was assumed to be on fire and the revenue vessel Kite was despatched to her rescue. The officers on Kite were astonished at the way The Savannah steamed away from them after they had rushed to assist what they thought was a ship in distress!
The News of the Nation later commented that “Visionary Yankee ingenuity has stolen a march on British Empire sea leadership and at the same time has blazed the way toward a new means of travel between the Eastern and Western hemisphere.” The British weren’t going to give up, however! The first crossing under steam power alone was made in 1838 when two British steamship companies sent rival ships to New York within a few days of each other. These days hopping across "The Pond" is a much quicker business and the world feels a smaller place. It is extraordinary to think, though, that the first partially steam powered trans-Atlantic crossing took place during the Regency period!