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In my setting, there is a massive crater that results from a divine apocalyptic event. Long story short, due to the sheer power contained within it, the water within the sea created by the crater is boiling or nearly boiling hot. There's not a natural origin for this.

I've heard that boiling wood will weaken it and saturate it, so I wanted to know if there was a way to get around this. I had the idea that pirates, using innovations other people didn't have, would use the hotter, inner regions of the boiling sea (maybe which are scaldingly hot but not boiling) as a shortcut and as a place to escape from pursuing vessels.

How far might they be able to reach into this boiling sea before it becomes too deadly?

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    $\begingroup$ Problem: A boiling sea means the , air the crews breathe is steam, or at least scalding hot. Their biggest problem would be bringing in ice to keep from being steamed or parboiled alive. A boiling sea is less buoyant because bubbles of gas don't contribute to the fluid holding the boat up. But there could be some really interesting biology... $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ How do your pirates address the problem of breathing in 100 C environment filled with team? Also, there would be a permanent giant storm raging in that whole geographic region, and permanent showers all around. $\endgroup$
    – void_ptr
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ @DWKraus Maybe, but this whole phenomenon (a boiling sea) seems so ludicrously energetic that I suspect nothing would survive anywhere near it. Between literal tons of water falling on every square meter of surface, 1000 km/h winds blowing from the shore to the sea, massive updraft of 100 C hot steam carrying millions tons of water into the stratosphere, cooling and dissipating around, settling down and closing the water cycle. Might as well be on Venus. $\endgroup$
    – void_ptr
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ You've got a real mismatch going on between your title and the actually question at the end there. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ Are people voting to close this because a boiling sea is improbable? Boiling seas seem like fine fantasy to me, and the OP just wants the disbelief not quite so suspended. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 2:04

4 Answers 4

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No

It's a fairly short answer, but your sailors will be dead before they've managed to cast off.

Even if you can manage to insulate their environment to take 40 Celsius off the ambient temperature they have a matter of seconds before permanent damage begins.

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  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't answer the question about structural integrity of wood in hot-water situations ... it's not actually an answer to the question asked $\endgroup$
    – Harthag
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Harthag, the question has been edited in a way that invalidates this answer. And in fact, all the others from that point. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Harthag for that matter it was modified by you, I suspect a rollback is in order $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ My edit didn't affect the main content and purpose of the question, only clarified it, as my comment on the main question, itself, explains. This answer was already not an answer to the question, before my edit. Rolling it back only serves to unclarify the question in order to re-validate your own answer $\endgroup$
    – Harthag
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Harthag your edit changed the text of the question, it invalidated existing answers, your edit was hence invalid. I have answered the question in the text which was simply, how far will they get, nowhere, you removed that question and replaced it with something else. Do not do this. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 15:41
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Something tall

(this answer assumes you have a small lake, that can be crossed within 30 minutes, the boiling water won't damage the wood of the ship..)

You'd need to be below deck, preferably as far from the water as possible.

In medieval times, there were no ships able to do this, because they were too small. Consider upscaling..

The Cog

Dutch, 14th-15th century. Go below deck on the rear side (aft) and enjoy the sauna.

enter image description here

Before crossing this cooking crater lake, move some cargo behind the bow for balance.. and rig your sails.. enter the cabin in the aft.. and hope for the best.

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No, well... yes.

First of all, "medieval" covers the range of roughly 600 C.E. to 1600ish C.E. A whole honking lot of technological development occurred during that time period. You don't specify a year (a common problem here on Worldbuilding. You should always specify a year), so I'm assuming the best tech possible. 1699.

  • You have access to Asbestos, which has been used since time immemorial. Literally. It's believed to have been used a far back as 4,000 B.C. and was used to embalm Egyptians as far back as 3,000 B.C. So, insulation you have.

  • You also have access to some pretty hard woods. Yes, heat and boiling water is pernicious, but that really only means that ships must be docked for maintenance more often. I'm a believer in human ingenuity. Some bloke would have figured out how to connect all that timber in a way that didn't just spring apart. The easiest idea is to use a different kind of wood as the plug (nail) holding boards together, one that expanded faster in heat than the wood used for planks.

This is going to result in thicker hulled ships than history actually saw. That's a good reason to favor later years, too.

  • I also believe it's possible to reasonably seal the hulls such that crew below decks don't suffer from the steam outside. A few gears and some back-breaking labor would result in a high degree of ventilation, which might (maybe...) keep everyone from boiling while surfing along a boiling sea.

Where you run into problem is the management of sails. That requires people to be outside. The folks in the crow's nest might not suffer too badly, but a single wave over the deck will scald anyone there. Here's where my choice of 1699 is important.

Two English inventors developed the first pressure-resisting diving suits in the 1710s. John Lethbridge built a completely enclosed suit to aid in salvage work. It consisted of a pressure-proof air-filled barrel with a glass viewing hole and two watertight enclosed sleeves. This suit gave the diver enough maneuverability to accomplish useful underwater salvage work. (Source)

This is no small thing. But we're only looking for suspension-of-disbelief, right? So along with massive ventilation below decks, those folks breaking their backs are also providing ginormous ventilation for crewmen in asbestos-lined diving suits, used to work on deck.

Frankly, if you create enough pressure and move hot-steam-air fast enough, it'll cool things down, too. Not efficiently, but it would work. You're going to need a few extra crew on bilge duty to handle the extra condensation it'll cause — but let's roll with it!

How believable is this? I suspect anyone with sailing experience would be rolling around laughing right now due to the need to handle complex ropes, deal with moving objects, and move quickly and with agility — all of which would be a real problem in a diving suit today, much less what was used 300 years ago. Plus the additional crew (and therefore supplies) to handle all the extra equipment and services work.

But do we care? Sometimes on this site we worry a bit too much about whether or not a solution is realistic. Boring! The number of people who would read this story and say to themselves, "ppfhphttt! That'd never work!" is a mere fraction of the total readership.

So, I'm going with "yes!" A suspension-of-disbelief scenario can be created using late-medieval tech (and the driven-by-necessity early invention of some early 1700s tech) that would allow people to sail a boiling sea.

I wouldn't want to be one of them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, this is probably one of the most comprehensive answers I've gotten. I could imagine someone constructing a ship to explore the innermost reaches of this sea in such a way, but pirates escaping to the boiling sections of this sea would be a no-go, just wouldn't be practical. Still, maybe they could reach the areas where the hot water starts causing problems that other ships aren't used to. The wet-bulb temperature would be hellish, but hey. $\endgroup$
    – John Lewis
    Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 19:59
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Oars

oarship

https://naval-encyclopedia.com/medieval-ships.php

The water is 100c. We will say there is a lot of wind (because of the heat coming straight up from the water) and so the air is hot but not 100C. The wind would be good because it is steady on account of the steady heat but it is too hot on deck to stay up and use the sails.

The pirates go below deck. The middle deck has an air space which is insulated from the hot air above and also insulated by the hull and the air space down there from the heat below. The middle deck will stay cool for a while.

The pirates use oars. The oarlocks have sailcloth covering the holes to allow free play of oars but prevent ingress of hot air.

The problem is they are rowing blind. A periscope is an anachronism here but there is no reason the ancients could not have built a periscope - it is 2 mirrors and a tube. The pirates steer submarine style with a periscope.

-- This also sets up the scene where the pirates bundle up with many clothes to prevent being burned and go up to set the sails. Perhaps they run afoul of the things that live in this magical crater and must escape using the wind.

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  • $\begingroup$ Insulated for how long? Rowing anywhere takes weeks at a time. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 1:59
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    $\begingroup$ @SurpriseDog - maybe you need to go to the gym more, and practice. Upper body work. They have machines, you know. When I am rowing my passenger does not even have time to finish "Paper Moon" on the ukulele before we arrive. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 2:07
  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't answer the question about structural integrity of wood in hot-water situations ... it's not actually an answer to the question asked $\endgroup$
    – Harthag
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 23:40

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