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    Two months had passed since the ‘Challenger’ was safely launched. From this time, Sejong began to gradually urge the Ministry of Military Affairs and Hyang.

    “Is the Challenger still not ready?”

    “Are they still under training?”

    Every time Sejong urged, Jo Mal-saeng and Hyang had to give the same answer.

    “The naval forces’ training level is still insufficient, so they are training day and night, forgetting about the time.”

    “A little more time is needed.”

    “Oh my~.”

    Every time he heard the answers from Jo Mal-saeng and Hyang, Sejong did not hide his impatience.

    “Isn’t the establishment of the 1st Ocean-Going Fleet almost finished? Yet, the preparations for Ship No. 1, the Challenger, are still not done?”

    At Sejong’s reprimand, Hyang immediately answered.

    “The hull form of the Challenger is different from the Korean ships that have been used until now, so it is taking time to master its characteristics. Those who have mastered the characteristics of ocean-going ships through the Challenger will become the core personnel for the ships that will follow, so we are taking every precaution in training.”

    “It’s taking time because the hull form is different… Tsk.”

    At Hyang’s explanation, Sejong had to click his tongue. Seeing this, Hyang continued.

    “Yes. Fundamentally, the ships that form the backbone of our Joseon Navy have been flat-bottomed ships for generations. However, the Challenger is a sharp-bottomed ship. Speaking of this sharp-bottomed ship…”

    ***

    Hyang’s explanation was not a mere excuse.

    Since the Goryeo Dynasty, flat-bottomed ships had been the mainstream for Korean ships. This was because the main area of activity for Korean ships was limited to the West Sea and the South Sea. Therefore, flat-bottomed ships, which focused on safety rather than speed overall, became the mainstream.

    In the West Sea, which had a strong character of a calm inland sea and a large tidal range, and the South Sea, which had a complex coastline and strong tidal currents, flat-bottomed ships with a shallow draft, small turning radius, and good balance even when stranded on tidal flats at low tide were advantageous.

    However, sharp-bottomed ships like the Challenger had a deeper draft and a wider turning radius, unlike flat-bottomed ships.

    Also, due to the characteristics of sharp-bottomed ships, if they were to be stranded on tidal flats, they would immediately tilt and run aground.

    Because of these differences, it took more time for the Joseon Navy to handle the ships.

    However, Hyang had no choice but to insist on sharp-bottomed ships.

    This was because when going out to the ocean, the advantages of flat-bottomed ships would become disadvantages, and the disadvantages of sharp-bottomed ships would turn into advantages.

    ***

    Sejong, who was listening to Hyang’s explanation, pointed out the problem.

    “Then, the most important thing would be the commander who will move the ship…”

    “I have already reported…”

    As Hyang’s words slightly trailed off, Sejong searched his memory.

    Sejong, who had to find the memory he had deeply buried while dealing with dozens to hundreds of reports every day, finally remembered who the captain of the Challenger was.

    “We promoted and appointed Assistant Commander Oh Ha-seok as Manho (萬戶, Commander of 10,000 men), right?”

    “That’s right. We appointed him because he had experience sailing the ocean and had mastered the characteristics of sharp-bottomed ships through the ships of the Hui people.”

    [TL/N: Sharp-bottomed ships or sharp-schooner are ships with sharp curved midsection on its bottom.

    https://modelshipworld.com/uploads/monthly_2020_04/image.png.bd8d7c738d1bd05b6a6c3cb86e8e4280.png ]

    “Hmm… I see.”

    At Hyang’s explanation, Sejong nodded his head.

    According to his memory, those who had safely traveled to Aden with Oh Ha-seok were all assigned to the Challenger.

    They would gain experience in ocean navigation through the Challenger and then move on to become captains of the newly launched ocean-going ships.

    In the end, Sejong had no choice but to take a step back.

    “It is natural to be cautious as it is a matter upon which the future of our Joseon depends. However, we must prevent the delay of progress by putting in too much effort.”

    “I will keep that in mind!”

    Hyang bowed his head and answered at Sejong’s words. However, Hyang kept grumbling inwardly.

    ‘Your Majesty! I am more urgent! I’m saying we need to assemble the fleet as quickly as possible to send them to South America!’

    ***

    “Once the fleet is assembled, we must send it to South America under any pretext.”

    Hyang muttered while examining the report recording the training situation and improvements of the Challenger.

    “What we will bring from South America is not just gold or silver. There is something even more important. What we will bring from South America are potatoes, sweet potatoes, and rubber. No, even if we skip everything else, we absolutely need rubber.”

    For Hyang, rubber was an item that he had to obtain at all costs. Hyang tapped the desk with his fingers and muttered.

    “If we can just get rubber, we can warp this Joseon right away.”

    ***

    The starting point for Hyang’s desperate desire for rubber was the steam engine.

    Connecting the pipes through which high-temperature steam passed required copper gaskets. However, the steam engines currently being continuously improved in the research institute and Area 51 required copper gaskets for all parts that needed sealing, even if they were not exposed to heat.

    “If it’s like this, the manufacturing cost will be too high, even if I don’t know about the lifespan.”

    It was not just a matter of the unit cost of steam engines. As more and more devices were being made, the need for rubber was increasing.

    The water hose attached to the water pump used by the Geumhwa-gun (Firearms Corps) to spray water towards the fire also needed rubber.

    The water hose made of thick and tough cotton cloth had a short lifespan, and its water discharge performance and pressure resistance were poor.

    If the pressure increased even slightly, the hose made of cotton cloth would burst first.

    As a result, the centrifugal pump mounted on the water pump could not be utilized to its 100% capacity.

    That was not all.

    Rubber was also needed for the housing complex for homeless officials, which had completed its design and only had the land purchase process remaining.

    The part where rubber would be used in the newly designed housing was the well pump. Hyang, who remembered the well pump installed in the kitchen sink in the Western movies he had seen in the 21st century, was agonizing over how to apply it.

    “I remember the structure well, but the problem is the packing, as expected.”

    The piston of the well pump, which was one of the few remaining in rural villages of Yangsan, had to have a packing component made of rubber.

    Of course, it worked even when using a copper-made, hinge-type packing, but rubber had to be used for better performance.

    It could be somewhat substituted with wood, bamboo, or even paper, but there was the issue of decay.

    However, what made Hyang desperately want rubber was to create a device he considered most important along with the steam engine.

    “If this is completed, Joseon can develop not just by leaps but at warp speed!”

    What Hyang was determined to make was a generator.

    ***

    In the 21st century, it was an era where survival itself would be a problem without electricity. Being so accustomed to the existence of electricity, Hyang absolutely could not give up on it.

    “It’s not like I don’t know the structure of a generator…”

    During his high school days in the 21st century, Hyang had the experience of making a model steam locomotive that actually moved by heating water and won a prize in a competition.

    Of course, Hyang did the overall system design and conceptualization, while his science-track classmates did all the actual numerical calculations.

    At that time, it was mutually beneficial. Hyang, who was immersed in steampunk, was happy to indulge in his interests, and his science-track classmates could acquire a card that would be advantageous when applying to university.

    Of course, Hyang had to receive both praise and scolding from his parents at the same time.

    “It’s commendable that you won an award. But what will you use this award for as a humanities student!”

    Although he was scolded like that, the following year, Hyang made and submitted a model of a generator connected to a steam engine.

    Therefore, Hyang had definite knowledge about generators.

    That’s why Hyang completed the basic design of the generator as the steam engine was being made, but he had to stop there.

    “The problem is the electric wire. The electric wire…”

    To be precise, it was the problem of the insulating material to wrap the electric wire.

    Of course, electric wires could be made even without rubber.

    For simple insulation, it would suffice to wrap the wire with paper or cloth soaked in oil.

    In fact, the wires inside the radio used by the Japanese military during World War II were wrapped in oil-soaked cloth.

    Hyang, who confirmed the relevant records through the internet, clicked his tongue.

    “They had rubber-producing areas under their control, yet they made wires like this? No wonder they lost.”

    Anyway, since there were relevant records, Hyang had thought of borrowing this method, but he soon abandoned the idea.

    It was because of the Great Fire of Hanseong, the devastation of which he had witnessed with his own eyes.

    “Most of the houses have thatched roofs and are made of wood, and the wires are soaked in oil… It will burst into flames.”

    Hyang gave up on the idea of using oil-soaked cloth or paper as an insulator.

    ***

    In addition, there were numerous devices whose performance would dramatically increase with the use of rubber, from water bottles to shoes.

    Hyang had thought of making synthetic rubber, but unfortunately, he did not know the process.

    Therefore, Hyang wanted the rapid deployment of the ocean-going fleet more than anyone else.

    That’s why, while soothing Sejong’s impatience, Hyang was internally complaining.

    ‘If there’s anyone here who’s as anxious as me, come out and show yourself!’

    ***

    Returning to his office, Hyang let out a long sigh.

    “Phew~. For the ocean-going fleet to function properly, we need at least 15 ships. And that’s just warships.”

    Hyang’s plan was to operate the fleet by having 3 ships go to the Middle East, another 3 ships return from the Middle East, and another 3 ships rest and undergo maintenance.

    After allocating 9 ships in this way, out of the remaining 6 ships, 3 would be on standby as a reserve force, and the other 3 would be sent to the New World. This was Hyang’s scenario.

    “Fortunately, sending them up north and having them come down south is safer and can receive more reliable support than having them cross the Pacific Ocean unconditionally.”

    Hyang spread out the world map he had made – which was nothing more than a rough sketch, regardless of scale – and checked his plan.

    “Starting from Wonsan, passing through Sakhalin, using the Kuril Islands as a signpost, passing through the Kamchatka Peninsula, crossing the Bering Sea from there to arrive in Alaska, and then going down along the west coast of North and South America will ensure maximum safety while moving. Of course, we have to be careful that the northern route becomes inaccessible as soon as winter comes… Then, will the first forward base be the Kamchatka Peninsula? Or Vladivostok? It’s not Russian territory now, so what should we name it…”

    https://cdn.britannica.com/92/243492-050-0340B2AD/Locator-map-Kamchatka-Peninsula.jpg 

    Looking at the map and fantasizing alone, Hyang suddenly realized the reality and burst into laughter.

    “Hah! It’s like a dream. We’re currently struggling to secure wood to build ships, yet…”

    ***

    The state of Joseon’s forests during this period was not easy.

    Although coal was being supplied more and more, many trees were still being cut down for cooking and heating.

    Therefore, efforts were being made to protect the forests and restore the destroyed forests from the early days of the founding of the nation.

    However, trees do not grow rapidly, and the need for quality wood was not limited to shipbuilding, so the supply and demand of wood were not smooth.

    Therefore, even when building turtle ships, there was a saying, “Every time a turtle ship is built, a forest disappears.”

    Knowing this situation, Hyang laughed in dismay.

    “The conclusion is that we must secure the Siberian forest zone. Dense and strong wood is the best for building ships. Why do you think French ships of the line and American frigates were called ruffians?”

    Recalling the movies and internet records he had seen in the 21st century, Hyang reaffirmed the need to secure the Siberian forest zone.

    “The problem is that the stabilization of the pioneer areas in the northeast is not yet complete. Roads will be built and people will enter only when this area is stabilized…”

    Continuing to check the situation, Hyang let out a long sigh.

    “Phew~. When will that ever happen…”

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