November 24, 2011

After-dinner thoughts

WHEN YOU'RE STRETCHED OUT on the couch after your Thanksgiving dinner, and all your blood has rushed to your stomach to sate itself upon the newly arrived turkey and cranberry sauce, your mind does strange things. Mine asks: "How has evolution affected boats sailed for pleasure?"
    This is not the time for such questions, of course, but the mind is strangely insistent. "Are they any better than their predecessors?" it wants to know. "Is Nature on the right track?"
    Well, a few days ago I was reading a Patrick O'Brian novel in which Dr. Maturin comes across a very rare butterfly whose normal markings are completely reversed. This is how evolution works. It occurs with diversions from the norm. Genetic mistakes, in other words. And if the mistake works better, it becomes the new norm. If it's no good, the new species dies out. In nature, "good" refers to the ability of something to reproduce itself, and to eat other things in the food chain, and the ability to rise in the food chain. Or, in the case of plants, the ability to smother your neighbors, to steal their food in the ground, and their sunlight.
    In the butterfly's case, it was immediately pounced upon by Dr. Maturin because of its rarity. ("Oh well," Nature sighs with a shrug of her shapely shoulders. "That didn't work. Too bad. Let's try something else.")
    So how do yachts fit in here? In theory, bad yachts will sink and remove themselves from the gene pool. Or they will be so slow and clumsy to windward that their owners will take an ax and chop them to bits.
    But what distinguishes a good sailboat from a bad one? I can think of seven areas: ease of handling, seaworthiness, comfortable accommodation, seakindliness, speed, weatherliness, and affordability.
ØEase of handling? Lighter, stronger fabrics for sails and lines have made handling easier (along with fancier winches and line stoppers).
ØSeaworthiness? I'd call it a slight improvement.
ØAccommodation? Definitely better.
ØSeakindliness? Probably no improvement on the whole.
ØSpeed? If we leave aside the ultra-lights and multihulls, perhaps just a little improvement.
ØWeatherliness? Much better, through rig and keel design, and better sails.
ØAffordability? Yes, more affordable now because of mass production.      
    So I think we have to agree that on the whole sailboats have indeed evolved for the better. They're living longer, too. Fiberglass is turning out to have a very long life, despite a few outbreaks of bottom pox here and there.
    (Okay, brain? That enough for you? Can I have my snooze now?)

Today's Thought
I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection.
— Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species.

Blessed are the pure in mind, for they shall inhibit the earth.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Oded Kishony said...

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving Mr Vigor.

Your loyal reader
Oded Kishony

John Vigor said...

Thank you Oded, and I wish exactly the same for you.

Warmest wishes.

PS: I same to have lost your second comment. Finger trouble. Would you like to repeat it?

John V

goshohmighty said...

Man's hand in design development adds a lot of gagetry to the yacth over the years, but I see an explosion now with our evolution of technology, downloads and thrusters.Carbon fibre and epoxies are on the upspike too yet the general shape of the yacth seems to have run it's course for now, with lots of variety in the bird but nothing so unique that we change much at all. Nice thought provoking artical John...just the idea of evolution and some say with devine intervention. I leave it all up to man and his boat problems. -Bruce