For those who are interested, I walk them through the dynamics of sailing. For those who aren’t, I just point them in the direction of a close reach and leave it at that so they can enjoy the adventure. Here we have a scientist relearning sailing.
Kim Allan sent her husband Brian and their son Ben on a Father’s Day sail so they could learn the fundamentals. We were to wave at Kim and their two other children while sailing past the beach in Yorktown, but I persuaded them to come along for the ride.
Once behind the helm, Brian said, “I learned to sail with my father on a small boat and I’ve always wanted to get back to it.” I asked if he had ever heard of the Bernoulli Principle, which is how boats sail. Very casually and without irony or conceit, he replied, “I have a Ph.D. in fluid dynamics, so yes. I work at NASA.”
We got into a brief discussion of pressure vs. speed in Bernoulli as the boat revved up speed in 10-12 mph winds. Because the wind was coming out of the southwest, we soared downriver toward Goodwin Island. The children went back and forth to the bow to enjoy the bouncing waves.
One of the puzzling wonders of modern Navy ships, like the destroyer that got T-boned by a Japanese freighter, is how they don’t leave any wake. I have heard that it’s because even though the aft is a straight box, the hull underneath is secretly rounded to reduce the wake.
“That’s right. We can establish the dynamics of what the desired wake should look like, which is to say no wake. Then we reverse-engineer the hull to produce the result. The more efficient shape of the hull throws out a smaller wake. There’s an app for iPhones called Wind Tunnel which lets you design your own shapes.
“I used to fly RC gliders,” he continued. RC stands for remote control. “I work in helicopters at NASA. There’s a running debate about our exploration of Mars. Should we send people there to explore, or let robots do it? The Rover on Mars could go farther, but its camera won’t let it see far enough ahead to avoid going over cliffs. If we had a small helicopter, it could fly ahead and show pictures. The atmosphere is one-tenth that of Earth, so it’s easier for the drone helicopter to fly. I’m working on the numbers.”
Because of his understanding of wind, Brian caught onto the idea of pinching on a close reach to spill wind without letting the sails out. He did this numerous times, and in the occasional gust I showed him how to ease the main or ease the traveler. Eventually Ben got to sail and proved adroit at pinching. He was as good as his dad. I rarely see such nuanced sailing from beginners.
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