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 LESSON 1  The Fleet


From Sail to Steamship to Motors

Travel by sea has evolved over the years from sail to steamship to motors. Read about these methods of travel here.



A sailing ship moves forward because the wind (moving air} exerts a force on the sails. Sails have been used since the earliest time and have helped people to fish and to travel.


Sailing ships were also used to bring the French army to Ireland in 1689 and 1798. Of course the sea battles between the big countries including England, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands were conducted in sailing ships.

Explorers such as St. Brendan and Christopher Columbus used sail.



Of course, sail is still in use by yachts and small sail boats.





Towards the end of the 19th century the steamship had mostly taken over the transport of goods by sea. The power to move the ship is created by a steam engine. Water is heated so that it turns into steam.


The steam expands and drives a series of mechanical components that cause the propeller or screw to turn in the water. This drives the ship forward. A steamboat or steamship, is sometimes called a steamer. Steam ships usually have SS in front of the name.



In the second half of the twentieth century steam was replaced by diesel engines. A diesel engine is an internal combustion engine. In this type of engine a fuel such as petrol or diesel is heated and mixed with air. The resulting expanding gasses drive the mechanical components. Such ships are called motor vessels and have MV in front of the name. The Follow the Fleet ships are motor vessels.

did you know
 Did you know?
  • Wolfe Tone brought the French ships to Ireland during the 1798 Rebellion.
  • There is a book by Thomas Flanagan called The Year of the French which tells the story. There is also a film of the same name.
  • Two famous sailing ships Cymric and Mary B. Mitchell, brought vital supplies from overseas during the war years.
  • The Cymric was lost with all hands on a voyage to Lisbon in 1944.
  • Also in 1944 the Mary B. Mitchell ran ashore in a fierce gale on the Scottish coast. All of her crew were rescued.
  • Force was first described by Archimedes.
  • Isaac Newton developed first mathematical description of force.
  • The sail alone would only to push a boat in the same direction as the wind. In order to go in any other direction another force must be involved. This is produced by a keel or centreboard fixed below the waterline.
  • Steam engines were first used in the 1600s to pump water out of coal mines.
  • James Watt (1736-1819) is the most famous inventor/engineer to develop the steam engine.
  • The famous Titanic was the largest steamship in the world when she sank in 1912.
  • The Queen Elizabeth, launched in 1938, was the largest passenger steamship ever built.
  • Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2), launched in 1969, was the last passenger steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Some steamships did not have propellers but were driven by paddles.
  • The paddle steamer SS Great Western was the first steamship to cross the Atlantic regularly, starting in 1838.
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© Irish Maritime Development Office, 2007