Those lying steamboat captains! Grrr!

I adore the NY Times archives. I come across these old articles every once in a while during random research that are so entertaining it makes me wish I lived a hundred or so years ago if for no other reason than to look forward to the morning paper. Tonight I was researching steamboat speed for the Anamnesis Delta and came across this gem, which I've typed up in its entirety from the October 8, 1892 issue of the NY Times and offer it for your enjoyment. (I assume this is in the public domain, but I'm sure someone will come along soon enough to ask me to cease and desist if it isn't.) The Speed of Steamboats

The steamboat season may now be regarded as at its close. It goes out in a blaze of glory, owing to the advent of a new vessel, whose Captain has succumbed to the inevitable temptation of beating some other vessel in a race and then boasting of his steamer's remarkable speed. This seems to be a very good time to say that in the bright lexicon of the steamboat Captain there is no such word as slow. In his merry imagination miles are ticked off by the boat's clock in spaces of time which are strangely mysterious. For it should be noted that these wonderful bursts of speed never take place on regular trips of the boats; or, at any rate, no passenger has ever been found who reached his destination the sooner because of one.

The real truth of the matter is that in the waters around New-York City there is not a steamboat afloat to-day that can make the speed with which she is generally credited in the minds of steamboat travelers. It is not for us to say who is responsible for the popular misinformation on this interesting topic. No doubt the steamboat Captains can easily prove that the disseminators of the exaggerations are the newspapers. We are not prepared to deny this, but content ourselves with expressing the hope that no one will press the inquiry as to who told yarns to the reporters.

It should be added that the popular mind is led further astray by the failure to discriminate between nautical and statute miles. No steamboat Captain was ever guilty of the gross carelessness of stating the speed of his vessel in sea miles. A land mile is shorter by about one-seventh of its own measurement than a sea mile. Therefore a steamboat can log more land than sea miles to an hour, and, equally therefore, the steamboat Captain uses the former in his reckonings of speed. Hence when the ordinary wayfarer on the waters hears of a steamboat's making 20 miles an hour he thinks she is going at the habitual gait of the City of Paris; which she is not by about 2-1/2 land miles per hour.

Now, it appears that in the latest contest of speed on Long Island Sound one of the racers, according to her skipper, made 22 miles an hour--land miles, of course. The steamboat which did this plies between a point near the Brooklyn Bridge and City of New Haven. The distance from the bridge to Sands Point, where this recent race ended, is 17-3/8 nautical, or 20 land miles, and from the Point to the Southwest Ledge Light at the entrance to New-Haven Harbor it is 42-1/2 nautical and 49 land miles. Now, knocking off the exra two miles--which may have been due to forced draught, in the furnace room or the pilot house--and putting the ordinary running speed of the boat at 20 land miles an hour, she ought to make the run from her wharf here to the Southwest Ledge Light in three hours and a half. However, we must allow her an extra half hour for the delays of East River and Hell Gate navigation, and give her four hours for the run. When she makes it in that time, the passengers will no doubt be very highly delighted.

The Captain of this vessel properly referred to the Sandy Hook boats as models of speed. They are, indeed, fast, but not quite so fast as they are said to be. The time which they usually occupy in making the run from Pier 8 North River to their wharf at the Atlantic Highlands is an hour and five minutes. The distance from the Battery is 17-1/2 nautical and 20 land miles. When a boat makes 20 miles in an hour and five minutes, she is traveling at the rate of 18-1/2 miles per hour. This is excellent going; but as most of the old travelers on the Monouth and Sandy Hook are under the impression that these vessels can do 22 or 23 miles an hour, it is disappointing. No doubt they could and would do it if they should chance to meet that New-Haven boat out in the widest part of Long Island Sound on a dark October night.

This whole matter of steamboat speed is best explained by the absence of all satisfactory tests. The trial over the measured course in water unaffected by tidal currents is not given to steamboats as a rule. The trial trip of a new boat in this part of the world consists of a run down the bay or up the Hudson, in the course of which many men of maritime pursuits discover the sun over the foreyard at irregular but frequent intervals. When the boat returns the Captain announces that she attained a speed of so many miles per hour. She then goes into her regular daily business, and never attains that speed again. The result of which is that some observant persons are forced to the conclusion that a steamboat is a vessel which can go very fast--but won't.