On this Day:

On June 20, 1819, The SS Savannah reached Cork in Ireland after a 29 day and 11 hour voyage from Savannah, Georgia to become the 1st steamship to cross the Atlantic or any other ocean. There was only one problem – the crossing was done mostly under sail.

Since Savannah crossed the Atlantic mainly under sail power some sources contend that the first transatlantic steamship was the SS Royal William, crossing in 1833. It used sail only during boiler maintenance. Another claimant is the British-built Dutch-owned Curaçao, which used steam power for several days when crossing the Atlantic both ways in 1827.


Savannah’s owners made every effort to secure passengers and freight for their initial voyage, but no-one was willing to risk lives or property aboard such a novel vessel. On May 19, a late advertisement appeared in the local paper announcing the date of departure as May 20. In the event, Savannah’s departure was delayed for two days after one of her crew returned to the vessel in a highly inebriated state, fell off the gangplank and drowned. In spite of this delay however, still no passengers came forward, and the ship would make her historic voyage purely in an experimental capacity.

The voyage

After leaving Savannah Harbor on May 22 and lingering at Tybee Lighthouse for several hours, Savannah commenced her historic voyage at 5 a.m. on Monday May 24, 1819, under both steam and sail bound for Liverpool, England. At around 8 a.m. the same day, the paddlewheels were stowed for the first time and the ship proceeded under sail. Several days later, on May 29, the schooner Contract spied a vessel “with volumes of smoke issuing”, and assuming it was a ship on fire, pursued it for several hours but was unable to catch up. Contract’s skipper eventually concluded the smoking vessel must be a steamboat crossing for Europe, exciting his admiration as “a proud monument of Yankee skill and enterprise”.

On June 2, Savannah, sailing at a speed of 9 or 10 knots, passed the sailing ship Pluto. After being informed by Captain Rogers that his novel vessel was functioning “remarkably well”, the crew of Pluto gave Savannah three cheers, as “the happiest effort of mechanical genius that ever sailed the western sea.” Savannah’s next recorded encounter was not until June 19, off the coast of Ireland with the cutter HMS Kite, which made the same mistake as Contract three weeks earlier and chased the steamship for several hours believing it to be a sailing vessel on fire. Unable to catch the ship, Kite eventually fired several warning shots, and Captain Rogers brought his vessel to a halt, whereupon Kite caught up and its commander asked permission to inspect the ship. Permission was granted, and the British sailors are said to have been “much gratified” by the satisfaction of their curiosity.

On June 18, Savannah was becalmed off Cork after running out of fuel for her engine, but by June 20, the ship had made her way to Liverpool. Hundreds of boats came out to greet the unusual vessel, including a British sloop-of-war, an officer from whom hailed Savannah’s sailing master Stevens Rogers, who happened to be on deck. The New London Gazette of Connecticut later reported the encounter in the following terms:

The officer of the boat asked [Rogers], “Where is your master?” to which he gave the laconic reply, “I have no master, sir”. “Where’s your captain then?” “He’s below; do you wish to see him?” “I do, sir.” The captain, who was then below, on being called, asked what he wanted, to which he answered, “Why do you wear that penant, sir?” “Because my country allows me to, sir.” “My commander thinks it was done to insult him, and if you don’t take it down he will send a force to do it.” Captain Rogers then exclaimed to the engineer, “Get the hot-water engine ready.” Although there was no such machine on board the vessel, it had the desired effect, and John Bull was glad to paddle off as fast as possible.

On approaching the city, Savannah was cheered by crowds thronging the piers and the roofs of houses. The ship made anchor at 6 p.m. The voyage had lasted 29 days and 11 hours, during which time the vessel had employed her engine for a total of 80 hours, about 11% of the time (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

What do British sea monsters usually eat?

Why fish and ships, of course!

Second, a Song:

Hydrofoil “sailing” ships achieve speeds that the sail and steamships of old could only dream of. Courtesy of CNET and YouTube.com, we present the “World’s Most Advanced Hydrofoil Boats Fly Above Water”

“With razor-sharp hydrofoil catamarans that help them hit speeds of 60 miles an hour, the athletes of SailGP are pushing the limits of physics and human endurance. Claire Reilly goes out on the water to see the race in action.”

We hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.” – George William Curtis

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2022 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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