Stranded in sea affairs, a term, which, when applied to a rope, signifies that one, at least, of its strands is broken, but when applied to a ship, or vessel, it means that she has run on a rock or shoal, and been either rendered useless, or entirely dashed to pieces. The considerable loss every year of valuable lives, by shipwreck, on the British shores, had early attracted the notice of the Society of Arts, and premiums were offered for the discovery of effectual means of diminishing the frequency of these distressing calamities. In the year 1791, Mr. J. Bell, serjeant of artillery, proposed the projection of an eight-inch shell,loaded with lead, and having alight rope attached to it. The shell being discharged from a small mortar on the deck of a stranded ship, would perform a range of about 200 yards, carrying the rope with it, and would bury itself in the sand on the shore, so as to form a communication with the land, by means of which boats, or rafts, might be hauled through the surf, and thus greatly facilitate the probability of escape from the wreck. The objections to this plan consisted in the difficulty of prevailing on the owners of merchant ships to incur the expense, and on the masters to have the apparatus in constant readiness for use.
Besides which, many cases would no doubt occur, in which, from the pitching of the vessel, and from the sea beating over her, it would be impossible to project the shot in the right direction, or even to discharge the mortar at all.
In 1808, Capt. G. W. Manby, of Yarmouth, effected considerable improvements on the original proposal of Mr. Bell. These consisted in stationing the apparatus on the shore, instead of having it on board the ship, as, indeed, had previously been proposed by Mr. Bell; thus enabling, in the first place, a single apparatus to be used in aid of every vessel that might be driven ashore, on a considerable line of coast. Secondly, enabling the persons intrusted with the apparatus to become familiar with it, and therefore prompt in its application. Thirdly, increasing the probability of success by having the power of placing the mortar in the most favourable position, with regard to the vessel, and of arranging the rope, so as to render it much less liable to entangle, and thereby to break, than if it were thrown from the deck of the stranded vessel. The great personal activity and exertions of Capt. Manby in this very interesting and meritorious undertaking, were liberally seconded by the government; and the result, that on the eastern part of Norfolk alone, where Capt Manby has been stationed, no less than 332 persons have been rescued from 48 stranded vessels between 1808 and 1826. Capt. Manby's original method of coiling or faking the rope on the shore, was an operation that required to be very dexterously performed; was impracticable in some places from the inequalities of the ground; was liable to derangement from the wind; occupied much precious time after the arrival of the apparatus, and scarcely admitted of being performed at night.
A great improvement was subsequently made by Capt. Manby, in having the ropes arranged in baskets, which allows of their being now conveyed in a state ready for immediate use, to any place where they may be wanted. Under the management of Capt. Manby, and his immediate assistants, the breaking of a rope, in consequence of its getting foul while running out, is a very rare occurrence. Other persons less accustomed to the business, and, perhaps, less dexterous, have, however, frequently failed; and it seems to be generally allowed by the associations on the coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk, for relief in cases of shipwreck, that some more certain mode of faking or coiling the rope would be an important improvement
In 1823, Mr. Hase, of Saxethorp, in Norfolk, being employed to cast a brass mortar for one of Capt. Manby's apparatus stationed near Cromer, constructed a skeleton reel, or rather conical spindle, as an improvement on Capt. Manby's baskets. This reel was supported by an axis, which allowed of its being placed at any required angle; and the rope being wound round it, was expected to be delivered more freely, and with less risk of breaking, than by the usual mode. Experiments made at Cromer confirmed the anticipations of the inventor, and the apparatus has now been in use for three years, and, apparently, has given much satisfaction.
Finally, Mr. Thorold has given to Mr. Hase's reel a stronger and more compact form, has both expedited and facilitated the coiling of the rope evenly upon it, and has placed the mortar and reel upon wheels, so that it may be transported expeditiously to any place where it is wanted. It is obvious, however, that by so doing, the expense of the whole apparatus is greatly increased; that it is now scarcely capable of being conveyed by hand, as Capt. Manby's, and even Mr. Hase's is; and that, therefore, situations may occur, to which it would be difficult, if not impossible, to bring it. The following figure presents a side elevation of the cart (with the near wheel off) and reel, and the mortar elevated into a position for firing. The axis of the conical reel is fixed in the centre of a strong wooden cross, which is framed and secured by four bolts to the bars b b; these are hinged at c to the cart; d is a bar of iron with holes, serving as an elevator; it is screwed on to the frame b, and one of the holes being placed on a pin fixed in the cart's side, retains the reel at the required angle. Two chains e e are fixed on at each side of the cart, and to the frame b b, which retains it; while the reel is vertical, the elevator d catches the pin by its last hole.
At f there is a movable ring and winch handle (not represented); g a guide bar, turning on pivots in the frame b, on which is a sliding box h, to be used in coiling the rope. Within the winch ring is a hook: a bend of the line being placed on this, the reel is turned once round, and the rope passed through the eye of the guide box h, properly constructed, and a pair of nippers (not shown). When the mortar is to be fired, the guide bar g is thrown back into the position represented, and the winch. The pressure of the guide bar being thus taken off, the elasticity of the cord causes it to rise a little, and throw off two or three of the upper coils; the next coil is kept in its place by one of the assistants laying his finger on it, and not withdrawing it until the moment of firing. The mortar is to be placed a few yards to leeward of the reel, with the line attached to the shot. A clamp n hangs from the frame b, by means of which the last coil of the rope is to be bound to the rim of the cone, in order to secure it for travelling, the remainder of the line being on the frame o o. Another line, on a similar frame, is stowed in the tail of the cart; and in front of the axletree there is a locker for the shot, the peculiar form of which is shown by the separate figure q.
The time required for winding the line, and firing the shot, is one minute and a half. Numerous certificates on the advantages of Mr. Thorold's apparatus, accompanied that gentleman's communication to the Society of Arts, who voted him the silver Vulcan medal: - a model of which invention is placed in the Society's Repository.