January 17, 2010

Edible boats, everlasting planes

INTERESTING THINGS ARE HAPPENING in the world of plastic technology. The Boeing airplane company, against my advice, is now using carbon-fiber-and-resin laminates to build the new 787 Dreamliner. I wonder if they know what they’re doing.

For many decades, aluminum has been the material of choice for airplane bodies. Aluminum is predictable. It’s nice and shiny, it’s ductile, and it’s very light. And at the end of its life, you can melt it down and make beer cans out of it. Very important. Can’t do that with carbon fiber. But the main thing about aluminum is that long experience has taught us there is a limit to how many times you can flex the wings before they fall off and you have to throw the plane away.

Unfortunately, nobody but me has told the Boeing people how long plastic planes will last. Someone in authority should have informed them about fiberglass boats. Sixty years or so after boatbuilders went over from wood to fiberglass, those good old boats are still going strong. They’re slow, cramped, and unfashionable — and you can’t get rid of them. They’re everywhere, they’re cheap, and they’re here forever. They’re depressing the new-boat market so badly that dispirited yacht brokers are hurling themselves off tall docks all over the country every day.

So Boeing now finds itself faced with the specter of 50-year-old Dreamliners lumbering around our skies, and no new orders for planes because the old ones never wear out. Just as boatbuilders have gone out of business by the score because of indestructible fiberglass boats, so Boeing is going to find itself hoist with its own petard. Well, maybe they deserve it. They are a headstrong lot and they can’t say I didn’t warn them.

The other interesting development concerns boatbuilding. A press handout from Canada says:

Campion Marine Inc., Canada's largest fiberglass boat builder, is proud to announce that it will become the first boat builder in the world to manufacture all of its boats with Envirez®, a renewably sourced bio-derived resin from Ashland Performance Materials.

Envirez® resin is the first resin that uses a substantial amount of soybean oil and corn derived ethanol in its formulation.

So now, if you run out of food in mid-ocean, you can eat your boat. You’ll have to spit out the fiberglass strands, of course, otherwise they’ll get stuck in your teeth, and the diet of soybean and ethanol may start to pale after a week or two, but at least you won’t starve.

The only decision left to make is: Where do you start eating? Somewhere above the waterline, obviously. Not the cockpit floor, but maybe the coamings. Or perhaps the toerails if your crew wash their feet regularly.

The edible boat ushers in a new era of yachting and I look forward to the first book of recipes. Transom stew. Corn à la Cockpit. Poopdeck Purée. It all sounds so delicious I can hardly wait.

Today’s Thought
This has got to be the most expensive food ever laminated.
— Bryan Miller, NY Times, (on Manhattan’s Casual Quilted Giraffe restaurant)

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #3
The force of the wind increases as a square of its speed. Thus, if the wind speed doubles, its force increases four times. And if it trebles – say from 5 knots to 15 knots, its force increases 9 times.

Homeland Security officials hired to find Tiger Woods believe they are in hot pursuit. They are following a trail of exploding underpants.

No comments: