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Kulibin's watership

March 10, 2003
Russian inventor's alternative to steamship.

From the earliest times people have used rivers for transport. In Russia, the main water artery was the river Volga. When a vessel went downstream, it could cover over 80 versts during a day. But moving upstream made a great difference. The vessel was hauled by hobblers (towers), and their job was not an easy one. Several teams of hobblers managed to move a vessel upstream only by 10 to 12 versts a day.

The known inventor Ivan Kulibin adapted the force produced by the flowing water to moving vessels against the current by turning the harmful action of the flowing water into useful work. In 1782 in Saint-Petersburg he built and tested “mechanical watership”. It had two impellers fixed on a cross-pulley.
The device operated in cycles. First, an anchor, connected to the pulley with a long rope, was delivered upstream by boat. The anchor was lowered to the river bottom and the pulley was released. The flowing water rotated the impellers and the winding rope towed the ship to the place where the anchor was fixed. Then the cycle recurred. The loaded watership moved upstream at a speed of 1 verst an hour, i.e. twice as fast as a vessel hauled by hobblers. Such vessels could compete with hobblers, but they did not come into use because the era of steamships was coming on.
This witty solution solved the contradiction in the following way: first the comparatively light part of the vessel (anchor) was moved ahead, and then the rest of the vessel.

Used materials: A.P. Shikman. Personalities of Home History. Biographical Reference. Book. Moscow, 1997.


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