As regards the propeller, as we know, except in certain cases, the paddle-wheel has practically disappeared, and the screw propeller is all but universally employed. The substitution of the screw propeller for the paddle enables the engine to work at a much higher number of revolutions per minute, and thus a very great piston speed, some 600 ft. to 800 ft. per minute, is attained; and this, coupled with the fairly high mean pressure which prevails, enables a large power to be got from a comparatively small-sized engine. Speeds of 15 knots an hour are now in many cases maintained, and on trial trips are not uncommonly exceeded. Steam vessels are now the accepted vessels of war. We have them in an armored state and in an unarmored state, but when unarmored rendered so formidable, by the command which their speed gives them of choosing their distance, as to make them, when furnished with powerful guns, dangerous opponents even to the best armored vessels.
We have also now marine engines, governed by governors of such extreme sensitiveness as to give them the semblance of being endowed with the spirit of prophecy, as they appear rather to be regulating the engine for that which is about to take place than for that which is taking place. This may sound a somewhat extravagant statement, but it is so nearly the truth, that I have hardly gone outside of it in using the words I have employed. For a marine governor to be of any use, it must not wait till the stern of the vessel is out of the water before it acts to check the engine and reduce the speed. Nothing but the most sensitive, and, indeed, anticipatory action of the governors can efficiently control marine propulsion. Instances are on record of vessels having engines without marine governors being detained by stress of weather at the mouth of the Thames, while vessels having such governors, of good design, have gone to Newcastle, have come back, and have found the other vessels still waiting for more favorable weather.
With respect to condensation in marine engines, it is almost invariably effected by surface condensers, and thus it is that the boilers, instead of being fed with salt water as they used to be, involving continuous blowing off, and frequently the salting up, of the boiler, are now fed with distilled water. It should be noticed, however, that in some instances, owing to the absence of a thin protecting scale upon the tubes and plates, very considerable corrosion has taken place when distilled water, derived from condensers having untinned brass tubes, has been used, and where the water has carried into the boiler fatty acids, arising from the decomposition of the grease used in the engine; but means are now employed by which these effects are counteracted.