A moment later we were seated on a couch in the lounge, cigars between our lips. The captain placed before my eyes a working drawing that gave the ground plan, cross section, and side view of the Nautilus. Then he began his description as follows:
“Here, Professor Aronnax, are the different dimensions of this boat now transporting you. It’s a very long cylinder with conical ends. It noticeably takes the shape of a cigar, a shape already adopted in London for several projects of the same kind. The length of this cylinder from end to end is exactly seventy meters, and its maximum breadth of beam is eight meters. So it isn’t quite built on the ten-to-one ratio of your high-speed steamers; but its lines are sufficiently long, and their tapering gradual enough, so that the displaced water easily slips past and poses no obstacle to the ship’s movements.
“These two dimensions allow you to obtain, via a simple calculation, the surface area and volume of the Nautilus. Its surface area totals 1,011.45 square meters, its volume 1,507.2 cubic meters—which is tantamount to saying that when it’s completely submerged, it displaces 1,500 cubic meters of water, or weighs 1,500 metric tons.
“In drawing up plans for a ship meant to navigate underwater, I wanted it, when floating on the waves, to lie nine-tenths below the surface and to emerge only one-tenth. Consequently, under these conditions it needed to displace only nine-tenths of its volume, hence 1,356.48 cubic meters; in other words, it was to weigh only that same number of metric tons. So I was obliged not to exceed this weight while building it to the aforesaid dimensions.
“The Nautilus is made up of two hulls, one inside the other; between them, joining them together, are iron T-bars that give this ship the utmost rigidity. In fact, thanks to this cellular arrangement, it has the resistance of a stone block, as if it were completely solid. Its plating can’t give way; it’s self-adhering and not dependent on the tightness of its rivets; and due to the perfect union of its materials, the solidarity of its construction allows it to defy the most violent seas.
“The two hulls are manufactured from boilerplate steel, whose relative density is 7.8 times that of water. The first hull has a thickness of no less than five centimeters and weighs 394.96 metric tons. My second hull, the outer cover, includes a keel fifty centimeters high by twenty-five wide, which by itself weighs 62 metric tons; this hull, the engine, the ballast, the various accessories and accommodations, plus the bulkheads and interior braces, have a combined weight of 961.52 metric tons, which when added to 394.96 metric tons, gives us the desired total of 1,356.48 metric tons. Clear?”
“Clear,” I replied.
“So,” the captain went on, “when the Nautilus lies on the waves under these conditions, one-tenth of it does emerge above water. Now then, if I provide some ballast tanks equal in capacity to that one-tenth, hence able to hold 150.72 metric tons, and if I fill them with water, the boat then displaces 1,507.2 metric tons—or it weighs that much—and it would be completely submerged. That’s what comes about, professor. These ballast tanks exist within easy access in the lower reaches of the Nautilus. I open some stopcocks, the tanks fill, the boat sinks, and it’s exactly flush with the surface of the water.”
“Fine, captain, but now we come to a genuine difficulty. You’re able to lie flush with the surface of the ocean, that I understand. But lower down, while diving beneath that surface, isn’t your submersible going to encounter a pressure, and consequently undergo an upward thrust, that must be assessed at one atmosphere per every thirty feet of water, hence at about one kilogram per each square centimeter?”
“Then unless you fill up the whole Nautilus, I don’t see how you can force it down into the heart of these liquid masses.”
“Professor,” Captain Nemo replied, “static objects mustn’t be confused with dynamic ones, or we’ll be open to serious error. Comparatively little effort is spent in reaching the ocean’s lower regions, because all objects have a tendency to become ‘sinkers.’ Follow my logic here.”
“I’m all ears, captain.”
“When I wanted to determine what increase in weight the Nautilus needed to be given in order to submerge, I had only to take note of the proportionate reduction in volume that salt water experiences in deeper and deeper strata.”
“That’s obvious,” I replied.
“Now then, if water isn’t absolutely incompressible, at least it compresses very little. In fact, according to the most recent calculations, this reduction is only .0000436 per atmosphere, or per every thirty feet of depth. For instance, to go 1,000 meters down, I must take into account the reduction in volume that occurs under a pressure equivalent to that from a 1,000-meter column of water, in other words, under a pressure of 100 atmospheres. In this instance the reduction would be .00436. Consequently, I’d have to increase my weight from 1,507.2 metric tons to 1,513.77. So the added weight would only be 6.57 metric tons.”
“That’s all, Professor Aronnax, and the calculation is easy to check. Now then, I have supplementary ballast tanks capable of shipping 100 metric tons of water. So I can descend to considerable depths. When I want to rise again and lie flush with the surface, all I have to do is expel that water; and if I desire that the Nautilus emerge above the waves to one-tenth of its total capacity, I empty all the ballast tanks completely.”
This logic, backed up by figures, left me without a single objection.
“I accept your calculations, captain,” I replied, “and I’d be ill-mannered to dispute them, since your daily experience bears them out. But at this juncture, I have a hunch that we’re still left with one real difficulty.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“When you’re at a depth of 1,000 meters, the Nautilus’s plating bears a pressure of 100 atmospheres. If at this point you want to empty the supplementary ballast tanks in order to lighten your boat and rise to the surface, your pumps must overcome that pressure of 100 atmospheres, which is 100 kilograms per each square centimeter. This demands a strength—”
“That electricity alone can give me,” Captain Nemo said swiftly. “Sir, I repeat: the dynamic power of my engines is nearly infinite. The Nautilus’s pumps have prodigious strength, as you must have noticed when their waterspouts swept like a torrent over the Abraham Lincoln. Besides, I use my supplementary ballast tanks only to reach an average depth of 1,500 to 2,000 meters, and that with a view to conserving my machinery. Accordingly, when I have a mind to visit the ocean depths two or three vertical leagues beneath the surface, I use maneuvers that are more time-consuming but no less infallible.”
“What are they, captain?” I asked.
“Here I’m naturally led into telling you how the Nautilus is maneuvered.”
“I can’t wait to find out.”
“In order to steer this boat to port or starboard, in short, to make turns on a horizontal plane, I use an ordinary, wide-bladed rudder that’s fastened to the rear of the sternpost and worked by a wheel and tackle. But I can also move the Nautilus upward and downward on a vertical plane by the simple method of slanting its two fins, which are attached to its sides at its center of flotation; these fins are flexible, able to assume any position, and can be operated from inside by means of powerful levers. If these fins stay parallel with the boat, the latter moves horizontally. If they slant, the Nautilus follows the angle of that slant and, under its propeller’s thrust, either sinks on a diagonal as steep as it suits me, or rises on that diagonal. And similarly, if I want to return more swiftly to the surface, I throw the propeller in gear, and the water’s pressure makes the Nautilus rise vertically, as an air balloon inflated with hydrogen lifts swiftly into the skies.”
“Bravo, captain!” I exclaimed. “But in the midst of the waters, how can your helmsman follow the course you’ve given him?”
“My helmsman is stationed behind the windows of a pilothouse, which protrudes from the topside of the Nautilus’s hull and is fitted with biconvex glass.”
“Is glass capable of resisting such pressures?”
“Perfectly capable. Though fragile on impact, crystal can still offer considerable resistance. In 1864, during experiments on fishing by electric light in the middle of the North Sea, glass panes less than seven millimeters thick were seen to resist a pressure of sixteen atmospheres, all the while letting through strong, heat-generating rays whose warmth was unevenly distributed. Now then, I use glass windows measuring no less than twenty-one centimeters at their centers; in other words, they’ve thirty times the thickness.”
“Fair enough, captain, but if we’re going to see, we need light to drive away the dark, and in the midst of the murky waters, I wonder how your helmsman can—”
“Set astern of the pilothouse is a powerful electric reflector whose rays light up the sea for a distance of half a mile.”
“Oh, bravo! Bravo three times over, captain! That explains the phosphorescent glow from this so-called narwhale that so puzzled us scientists! Pertinent to this, I’ll ask you if the Nautilus’s running afoul of the Scotia, which caused such a great uproar, was the result of an accidental encounter?”
“Entirely accidental, sir. I was navigating two meters beneath the surface of the water when the collision occurred. However, I could see that it had no dire consequences.”
“None, sir. But as for your encounter with the Abraham Lincoln … ?”
“Professor, that troubled me, because it’s one of the best ships in the gallant American navy, but they attacked me and I had to defend myself! All the same, I was content simply to put the frigate in a condition where it could do me no harm; it won’t have any difficulty getting repairs at the nearest port.”
“Ah, commander,” I exclaimed with conviction, “your Nautilus is truly a marvelous boat!”
“Yes, professor,” Captain Nemo replied with genuine excitement, “and I love it as if it were my own flesh and blood! Aboard a conventional ship, facing the ocean’s perils, danger lurks everywhere; on the surface of the sea, your chief sensation is the constant feeling of an underlying chasm, as the Dutchman Jansen so aptly put it; but below the waves aboard the Nautilus, your heart never fails you! There are no structural deformities to worry about, because the double hull of this boat has the rigidity of iron; no rigging to be worn out by rolling and pitching on the waves; no sails for the wind to carry off; no boilers for steam to burst open; no fires to fear, because this submersible is made of sheet iron not wood; no coal to run out of, since electricity is its mechanical force; no collisions to fear, because it navigates the watery deep all by itself; no storms to brave, because just a few meters beneath the waves, it finds absolute tranquility! There, sir. There’s the ideal ship! And if it’s true that the engineer has more confidence in a craft than the builder, and the builder more than the captain himself, you can understand the utter abandon with which I place my trust in this Nautilus, since I’m its captain, builder, and engineer all in one!”
Captain Nemo spoke with winning eloquence. The fire in his eyes and the passion in his gestures transfigured him. Yes, he loved his ship the same way a father loves his child!
But one question, perhaps indiscreet, naturally popped up, and I couldn’t resist asking it.
“You’re an engineer, then, Captain Nemo?”
“Yes, professor,” he answered me. “I studied in London, Paris, and New York back in the days when I was a resident of the earth’s continents.”
“But how were you able to build this wonderful Nautilus in secret?”
“Each part of it, Professor Aronnax, came from a different spot on the globe and reached me at a cover address. Its keel was forged by Creusot in France, its propeller shaft by Pen & Co. in London, the sheet-iron plates for its hull by Laird’s in Liverpool, its propeller by Scott’s in Glasgow. Its tanks were manufactured by Cail & Co. in Paris, its engine by Krupp in Prussia, its spur by the Motala workshops in Sweden, its precision instruments by Hart Bros. in New York, etc.; and each of these suppliers received my specifications under a different name.”
“But,” I went on, “once these parts were manufactured, didn’t they have to be mounted and adjusted?”
“Professor, I set up my workshops on a deserted islet in midocean. There our Nautilus was completed by me and my workmen, in other words, by my gallant companions whom I’ve molded and educated. Then, when the operation was over, we burned every trace of our stay on that islet, which if I could have, I’d have blown up.”
“From all this, may I assume that such a boat costs a fortune?”
“An iron ship, Professor Aronnax, runs 1,125 francs per metric ton. Now then, the Nautilus has a burden of 1,500 metric tons. Consequently, it cost 1,687,000 francs, hence 2,000,000 francs including its accommodations, and 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 with all the collections and works of art it contains.”
“One last question, Captain Nemo.”
“You’re rich, then?”
“Infinitely rich, sir, and without any trouble, I could pay off the ten-billion-franc French national debt!”
I gaped at the bizarre individual who had just spoken these words. Was he playing on my credulity? Time would tell.