October 10, 2013

Dreams in small increments

CHUCK PAINE, one of America’s best-known smallboat architects spoke to me in my sleep the other night. He said he wished he’d squared off the bottom of the keel of his sweet little Frances 26/Morris 26 design.  If the corners had been sharp instead of rounded, she would have gone to windward even better, he said.  I don’t know why he told me this, but I have to believe him. I have seen the little winglets on Boeing planes that achieve the same purpose.

It has taken me a long time to appreciate how small details like this make a big difference on yachts. Inches of freeboard here, square feet of sail area there.

Another famous North American boat designer, Ted Brewer, once told me he’d wished he’d given one of his designs an inch more sheer at the bow. An inch? On a 40-footer? “It would have made a big difference visually,” he assured me.

You probably know as well as I do how a mainsail can start lifting right next to the mast when it’s backwinded by the jib. There are days when it seems to do this on purpose. But it takes only the smallest adjustments to put things right: you can ease the jib sheet an inch, or sheet in the mainsail an inch, or tighten the clew outhaul an inch. That’s all it takes to make the difference. Anything more heavy-handed marks you as a neophyte.

I used to scoff at the notion that an extra inch of beam could make a difference to a boat’s performance.  After all, it was regarded as a minor miracle if, in the olden days of wooden construction, a boat was finished within two or three inches of her designed overall length.

But an inch of beam does in fact make a difference because the interior volume gained through that inch stretches the whole length of the boat.  It’s more in the middle and less at the ends, admittedly, but neverthless it’s not just an inch across the belly section.

I used to sail on a old wooden boat in San Diego that had an extra wooden skin added to the outside of the hull. It was only about 3/4 inch thick, but over the 35-foot length of the boat, it must have weighed a ton and I imagined  the boat must have sunk a good couple of inches in the water. But an old salt came on board and asked the skipper: “How much extra freeboard did you gain?”

I forget now exactly how far she rose out of the water when that extra skin was added, but it did give me furiously to think about how much the extra volume of water displaced all around the hull must have weighed, and, in consequence, made her float higher.

I have more respect now, when people tell me about small changes that have made big differences.  I don’t scoff any more.  If Chuck Paine says square edges are faster than round edges I’m happy to accept it. I wish he’d give me advance warning of when he’s going to appear in my dreams, though. I’m sure I could think of some good questions to ask him.

Today’s Thought
Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.
— Dr. William C. Dement, Newsweek, 30 Nov 59

“I had a date with Jack last night.”
“How’d it go?”
“He had the nerve to try to kiss me.”
“Wow, I bet you were furious.”
“Yeah, every darned time.”

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


biglilwave said...

If Olin Stephens ever appears in your dreams, please share what he has to say as well.

John Vigor said...

biblilwave: I'll do my best. But I'm afraid I will be too awe-stricken and tongue-tied to do anything but worship at his feet. In my dream, at least.

John V.