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efreysson
08-13-2018, 02:20 PM
I'm putting together a fantasy setting, and a major part of it is imperial control of a river system that cuts through several countries. I know that it was possible to row upriver before steam power, given favourable conditions. But before going any further I guess I should start thinking about how I need to structure the waterway and the ships for my plans to work.

I want the system to be a busy trade route, with occasional piracy problems, and at least a couple of chances to shift up a side-river.

I guess canals could be dug to connect two or three river systems, but digging a truly extensive canal system in pre-industrial days would be a Herculean task.

Then there's the question of how I need the boats to be structured so they can ferry enough soldiers or wares to make a difference, yet still be rowed. And the issue of what the river needs to be like to be gentle enough for up-stream rowing. I'm no geographist.

Any advice?

Bacchus
08-13-2018, 02:42 PM
I guess canals could be dug to connect two or three river systems, but digging a truly extensive canal system in pre-industrial days would be a Herculean task.


The British network of canals (over 2000 miles) was built almost entirely by hand

The Canal du Midi in France was built in the late 1600s - not sure about their other canals

If you are relying on rivers alone they are very seasonal - without control structures what might be a muddy trickle in summer can be a raging torrent in winter

benbenberi
08-13-2018, 04:44 PM
In the pre-modern period there was absolutely no problem for merchant shipping to move upstream on major rivers -- it just took longer than going downstream. There was plenty of traffic in both directions on the Rhine, the Rhone, the Thames, the Seine, etc. Canals eventually became very important, mainly post-1600 (some of them very extensive, and built by hand as Bacchus says), but difficulty traveling against the current of a stream was not among the problems they were needed to solve. There was no difficulty unless you were in an extreme hurry.

jclarkdawe
08-13-2018, 05:48 PM
There are a wide variety of systems that were developed with human and horse power. The Nile for instance was sailed upstream and rowed downstream. The Missouri was notorious for snags. Some were seasonal, some ideas didn't work out, and some made millions of dollars for their investors.

Vessel type is some variation of barges. A barge is a wide, shallow-drafted vessel. Sea-worthiness is not especially good. (There are sea-going barges, but the basic principles remain the same.) Cargo capacity can be rather impressive and some of them take less than a foot of water. Three or four feet is very common and can make a very viable canal.

Ways to make the barge move include rowing, sculling, sail, and tow ropes. Sail works well when the prevailing wind works in the right direction. Sculling is good in narrow waterways. Rowing often requires a large crew and more room. Tow ropes are the most reliable.

Because current is relentless. Even a one mph current is exhausting to work against. And we now have to learn about the difference between the speed through the water and over the ground. The Cape Cod Canal has a strong current and for slower vessels, can result in the boat moving full speed through the water, and going backwards over the ground. Tow ropes get around this problem because the power is being applied on dry land.

Water transportation is cheap and slow. You can move massive amounts of material or people with minimal energy consumption. But maximum speed is never going to go above 5 - 6 mph before steam, and usually a lot slower. On the other hand, a lot of inland water systems were able to move cargo 24 hours a day.

Piracy was not a big problem on inland waterways. It happened, but not often. It's hard for pirates to get away, and easy to avoid. You needed areas where governments and large numbers of people tended not to be. Excessive tolls were and are a much bigger problem.

Jim Clark-Dawe

talktidy
08-13-2018, 06:19 PM
As far as current is concerned, wasn't there a thing about waiting to launch when the tide was most favourable? It required least effort and time. Time is money an all that.

waylander
08-13-2018, 08:20 PM
Britain's canal were built with towpaths so horses towed the boats along. This was also used to go upstream on rivers.

benbenberi
08-13-2018, 08:55 PM
Piracy may have been a minor problem for river traffic, but in places that were not well policed there was a high risk of land-based predation. A slow-moving barge, and even more so a barge tied up for the night, was an easy target for a mobile & well-armed gang of robbers, even more so for robbers with a secure base. The robbers sometimes were the local baron. (As in, y'know, OG robber barons.) And in some regions, frex sections of the Rhine, there was a tradition of powerful local landowners simply seizing control of the river at a narrow spot and forcing people to pay "tolls" to pass. -- That's the origin story for a lot of picturesque castles. -- This kind of freelance extortion generally continued until some stronger external authority put a stop to it (and often took over the toll-taking function in a more bureaucratic/lawful manner).

frimble3
08-13-2018, 09:51 PM
The tidal Fraser River is navigable, with tidal effects about 40 miles from the sea. It's a broad, slow river up to that point, although it gets narrower and thus faster, further upstream into the mountains.
Even these days, even with powerful tug boats, you can see the river traffic get busier when the tide pushes upstream, aiding ships and barges.

Siri Kirpal
08-14-2018, 06:49 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I'm not remembering when China constructed the canal between the Yellow and Yangtse Rivers, but it was early on and would be worth looking into.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

WeaselFire
08-14-2018, 11:39 PM
But before going any further I guess I should start thinking about how I need to structure the waterway and the ships for my plans to work.

Why? If rowers can row faster than the current, they move upstream. It really is that simple.


I guess canals could be dug to connect two or three river systems, but digging a truly extensive canal system in pre-industrial days would be a Herculean task.

One man, one shovel. Multiply by five thousand. Worked for every pre-industrial society out there.


Then there's the question of how I need the boats to be structured so they can ferry enough soldiers or wares to make a difference, yet still be rowed. And the issue of what the river needs to be like to be gentle enough for up-stream rowing. I'm no geographist.

Galleys, Triremes, lots of examples from the past. And back to the river, slower moving than rowers can row. Or use alternate means, sail, tow paths, whatever. Grab an ancient history nook and start reading.

Jeff

snafu1056
08-15-2018, 12:54 PM
Any society that did that much inland water travel would definitely have a vast canal network in place. Aside from the well known grand canal, the Chinese had a whole system of smaller canals in place to help with inland water transportation. You could travel right into the markets of some cities via the canals. There's a famous scroll painting from the 12th century called "Qingming Festival on the River" that contains lots of nice examples of medieval river vessels and how they traveled. There are small personal boats, big grain barges, pleasure craft, etc. The scroll is a vast panorama of an entire city with a river running thru it. There are annotated versions available online if you look.

Twick
08-15-2018, 07:05 PM
As far as current is concerned, wasn't there a thing about waiting to launch when the tide was most favourable? It required least effort and time. Time is money an all that.

Tides don't apply on rivers. At most, they'd affect the rivermouth area.

Twick
08-15-2018, 07:08 PM
So was building the pyramids. The Great Wall. The Roman system of roads all across Europe. Heck, it's only a few generations ago that people told the story of John Henry, the railroad builder who kept up (for a little while, and with lethal results) with an industrial age steam-powered hammer.

You'd be surprised how much manhours were available before the internet sucked up all our time.


I guess canals could be dug to connect two or three river systems, but digging a truly extensive canal system in pre-industrial days would be a Herculean task.


ETA: With respect to rowers, this would probably be one of the biggest ships of the pre-industrial age:


Ptolemy IV (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptolemy_IV) built a "forty" (tessarakonteres (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tessarakonteres)) that was 130m long, required 4,000 rowers and 400 other crew, and could support a force of 2,850 marines on its decks.[53] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellenistic-era_warships#cite_note-sea108-53)

waylander
08-16-2018, 10:55 AM
Tides don't apply on rivers. At most, they'd affect the rivermouth area.
The tidal effects on the Thames go up as far as the lock at Twickenham. That's a long way from Tilbury/Gravesend.
This is why the Oxford/Cambridge boat race from Putney to Mortlake starts at variable time of day to ensure that the state of the tide is always the same.

Bacchus
08-16-2018, 12:09 PM
The tidal effects on the Thames go up as far as the lock at Twickenham

...and high springs still overtop the weir at Teddington - I used to live on the first island in the "non-tidal" Thames and occasionally got caught out with wet feet. Before the locks were built the limit of the tidal Thames was Staines.

The tide on the river Severn can come in so fast that people surf it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8TeguB3BYo) - that could be a fun way for the OP to exploit his rivers (c:

frimble3
08-16-2018, 12:20 PM
Tides don't apply on rivers. At most, they'd affect the rivermouth area.
Depends on the river, and the geography.

Bolero
08-19-2018, 02:25 PM
By the way - in terms of rowing barges - it isn't all sitting down with multiple banks of rowers like triremes. Thames Barges are massive and could be rowed by a handful of guys - and it was all done standing up. See this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bx0kxs6GXA - rowing starts a little way in. There is also historic film of working barges.

Curlz
08-19-2018, 02:48 PM
Why can't they use sail?

Bolero
08-19-2018, 03:55 PM
You can sail on rivers, it just depends on the prevailing winds, how built up the river banks are which reduce the wind or make it turbulent, the height (or lowth) of bridges across the river. Everything is weight - so you can have masts and sails on a river vessel, but they have to be useful often enough to make it worth it.

Curlz
08-19-2018, 04:02 PM
Everything is weight - so you can have masts and sails on a river vessel, but they have to be useful often enough to make it worth it.
Well, you can have the same discussion on dragon wings and how such a large and heavy animal can fly. But nobody discusses the physics of flying dragons. Or even their firebreathing qualities. It's just how it is. It's fantasy.

talktidy
08-19-2018, 04:54 PM
Well, you can have the same discussion on dragon wings and how such a large and heavy animal can fly. But nobody discusses the physics of flying dragons. Or even their firebreathing qualities. It's just how it is. It's fantasy.

So it was just me then on watching Game of Thrones <spoiler>, and observing a dragon flying on horribly tattered wings, while wondering what the hell was giving him lift? Then a realisation: zombie dragon -- all bets off.

Bolero
08-19-2018, 07:31 PM
Well, you can have the same discussion on dragon wings and how such a large and heavy animal can fly. But nobody discusses the physics of flying dragons. Or even their firebreathing qualities. It's just how it is. It's fantasy.

I didn't say sailing was impossible, I was just outlining some of what the OP would need to consider for their worldbuilding - and the OP did come on here and ask for practical information for their worldbuilding.

Most fantasy that I've run into does try to get all the physical details that match with this world correct. I certainly prefer that as a reader, as it helps with my suspension of disbelief if the magic or supernatural elements are used selectively.
A fantasy series that I particularly like is Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife books - which incidentally includes the practicalities of a river voyage in one of the books. Her research included reading books by folks who'd done it for real - such as Mark Twain who was a riverboat pilot.