Monturiol's Dream

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A real submarine in 1867?

Previously I wrote about the amazing Ictineo II, the worlds first true submarine.

I am currently reading a fascinating book "Munturiol's Dream" by Mathew Stewart, published in 2004.

The book covers the life of this extraordinary man NarcĂ­s Monturiol.  A social revolutionary in turbulent 19th century Spain.  He lept at any chance to try to create a utopia. He was a staunch non-Marxist Communist and participated actively in many revolts and social actions, mostly in Barcelona, that hotbed of republican/utopian unrest in Spain.

What I find most fascinating was that Monturiol was NOT an engineer, he was trained as a lawyer and spent most of his time as a revolutionary publicist. His various journals, pamphlets, and news papers were popular amongst Barcelona's teeming thousands and he was regularly shut down by the authorities as a result. He was several times forced to go into exile in the countryside to avoid arrest.

So how did this revolutionary/utopian end up creating the marvelous machine that was the Ictineo II?

She was steam powered, made of wood, capable of diving to more than 100', with a mechanism for scrubbing carbon dioxide and whose engine generated oxygen for the crew!

Jules Verne's fictional Nautilus couldn't even do that, she had to surface to replenish her air supply.

A truly remarkable machine.

 Mathew Stewart's book chronicles how Monturiol, while in exile on the coast, observed coral divers working to harvest the brilliant coral that grows there. This was an incredibly dangerous job and resulted in many drownings. The divers simply held their breath and held a heavy rock to sink to the sea floor.

He had a dream in which a technological solution would be found to help these people in their dangerous business. In part he figured that if he could show that technological progress could help the poor coral divers without destroying anything, that his dream of a technological and scientific based Utopia could be shown to be feasible.

But he was not an engineer or scientist, he was a writer!

So he set about solving the problem by becoming a self taught engineer. He learned the latest physics, chemistry, materials science, fabrication techniques, everything needed. He conducted experiments and recorded his results. In short he became the classic "Mad Scientist" beavering away on his own to develop a contraption that others thought impossible to achieve.

Chronically short of money, he found surprising support amongst his fellow Utopians and managed to bring his designs to fruition. However that same lack of money meant that his incredible invention was never used or further developed because it was seized for lack of payment of his harbour docking fees and destroyed.

A fascinating technological look at Monturiol's design, and also a look at his time and the point in history that gave birth to the Ictineo II

A highly recommended read.

Monturiol's Dream
The Extraordinary Story of the Submarine Inventor who wanted to save the World.

Mathew Stewart




Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed, and your water iced.


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