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Putting the Pressure On

December 9, 2021 in Uncategorized


Steamboats are ever appealing for their historic connections and harkening to the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution when manufacturing was evolving beyond just a concept.  The idea of propulsion that is independent of any natural force such as wind or current was an elusive concept until the steam engine.

Seraph, a 21’ hull with a beam of 5’ was assembled from hull and then engine to become a steamboat. Made of oak and yellow pine, much of the 115 year-old hull is original. Yellow pine is a very durable wood that continues to survive in boats built with it. Excessive harvesting of some woods has made it difficult to restore some old boats, but that is a topic for another day.

Seraph flies two very old flags, appropriately tinged with soot and age. Her canopy, built by Paul Gockel, her owner, protects passengers from sparks and ash that come flying out of the smoke stack. Not just anyone can fire up a steamboat in Ontario. It requires special certification to operate one. A boater’s license isn’t enough.

Her boiler has 91 vertical fire tubes that have to be cleaned every fall with a special brush. It is surprising how much water is needed and that circulates through the workings of this boat, all of which needs to be drained in the fall. Gockel’s engine is a relatively low pressure system, compared to some steam engines. The safety valve will go at 100 lbs. Since many of the parts exposed to running water are iron-based, they need to be coated with oil in the fall to protect from rust.

While Seraph could be pushed much faster, she runs comfortably at about 6 mph. With a toot, snort and gurgle, she chugs happily through the waters of Lake Joseph.

By Tim Du Vernet

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