Ernest Bazin: The Ship That Rolled on Wheels

Jan 23, 2024 0 comments

Between 1892 and 1893, French inventor Ernest Bazin filed patent for an unusual ship design. Instead of gliding through water, which had hitherto been used, Bazin sought to minimize contact with water and thus overcome friction by proposing a design that incorporated rotating wheels. After long years of experimentation with a model roller ship in a scale of 1 :25, Bazin was ready to take his invention to the seas.

In December 1893, Bazin, in collaboration with his brother Marcel, established the Societe en Participation du Navire-Express-Rouleurs Bazin, a shareholding association dedicated to the development and financing of the roller ship. Two years later, the Societe d'Etudes et d'Exploitation des Navires Rouleurs Bazin Societe Anonyme was officially incorporated in Paris to further advance Bazin's roller ship concept. Simultaneously, construction of the first roller ship commenced at the Cail shipyard in Saint-Denis.

The ship consisted of a rectangular platform which was about 86 meters long and 12 meters wide. This rectangular hull was lifted out of the water by the buoyancy of six hollow, lens-shaped rollers which are each about 12 meters in diameter and 3.60 meters thick. Each pair of rollers were driven by a fifty-horsepower engine, and under normal load, were immersed only one-third in water.

Bazin predicted that his ship could achieve speeds of around 18 knots, possibly reaching 20 knots at maximum power. In contrast, a conventional ship with a similar structure and power could only reach half that speed. He proposed that his roller ship design, equipped with a 10,000 horsepower engine, could transport an additional 600 tons of cargo at 32 knots across the Atlantic. This was compared to a conventional steamer requiring 30,000 horsepower to achieve a speed of 20 knots, with a lower cargo capacity. Bazin also anticipated significant fuel savings, predicting that his ship would consume 800 tons of coal for an Atlantic crossing, compared to 3,000–4,000 tons burned by a conventional liner.

Bazin argued that his ship would enhance safety, reasoning that in the event of a collision, at least one pair of rolls would remain undamaged, enabling the ship to continue moving until reaching the next port.

Bazin was confident the scheduled tests in Rouen and later on the Thames would be a success and named his ship “Ernest Bazin” after himself. He announced plans to construct a larger ship with four pairs of rollers for transatlantic journeys. However, when the "Ernest Bazin" was tested in the English Channel, it proved to be unstable and underpowered. The wheels churned up so much water that they slowed down the ship instead of pulling it forwards. Contrary to the predicted 20 knots, the ship could only reach a maximum speed of 7 knots.

Ernest Bazin died shortly afterwards in January 1898 with a disappointed heart. Both Bazin associations were dissolved in the same year. His ship, which had cost him a fortune of $100,000, was offered publicly for sale as the "French Roller Steamer" in 1899 in Liverpool. No one showed any interest, and in the end the ship was scrapped.

# The Ernest Bazin Roller Ship, Maritime Heritage
# Ernest Bazin's roller ship, Hans George Glasemann


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