July 26, 2009

Dimples in my bottom

(Read John Vigor’s mind here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.)

SOME TIME IN THE PAST a manufacturer of golf balls discovered that putting dimples in the surface of the ball made it go faster and farther. Now every golf ball has dimples.

I’m not sure that anyone understands why this is. Specialists in aerodynamics talk a lot about the boundary layer and amount of friction and drag caused by a ball moving through air, friction that obviously slows the ball, but it’s not in any sort of language I can understand, although I am forced by personal ignorance and empirical evidence to believe that what they say is true.

Now you may be wondering what golf balls have to do with sailboats. The answer is what they have in common — drag. Sailboats move through water, which is about 800 times denser than air, and they move at about 1/800 of the speed of a golf ball. And as they do so, they meet resistance in the form of drag on the underwater wetted surface.

Now some people I know (hint: racers) go to a lot of trouble to make the underwater paint job really smooth. The idea is to make the boat slip more easily through the water, to create less fuss, to lessen drag, and go faster.

It has never occurred to them that they are emulating the ancient style of golf ball, the one before dimples were invented. It has never occurred to them that their boats might go faster if the underwater paint job was dimpled.

Well, that’s my excuse, anyhow. My boat has a dimpled bottom. I would like to claim that it was by design but it actually wasn’t. When it came to painting the bottom, I decided to use a coarser-than-usual roller because I wanted to get a nice thick coat of copper paint on. I was a little surprised at the rough texture it left behind, but once you’ve started you might as well grit your teeth and go through to the finish, I always say. And so I ended up with a bottom paint job rougher than an alligator’s backside.

I am not dismayed, however. My research, which led me to golf balls and dimples thereon, cheered me up immensely. I think I may be on to something. I am certainly not going to sand my bottom smooth and start again. I am hoping that my dimpled bottom will allow me to go faster and farther, just like a well-struck golf ball.

I am even thinking of patenting the idea. Once the racers hear about it, they’ll all want to try it. If I make enough money I might be able to afford a nifty little racer myself. I remember how to do it. You just have to yell “Starboard!” a lot and shout “Room to tack!” Nothing to it.

Today’s Thought
If it is not true, it is very well invented.
Giordano Bruno, Degli Eroici Furori (1585)

The maitre of a New York hotel watched in amazement as an Ohio tourist carefully washed his dessert spoon in the finger bowl.
He rushed up apologetically, saying: “There’s no need to do that sir.”
“Oh no?” said the tourist. “This is a new suit, buster. You think I want ice-cream all over my pocket?”

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