April 28, 2010

A Glimpse Into The Future


Tillerman's latest writing project asks us to predict what sailing will be like in the future.

I am notoriously poor at predicting the future, as a simple look at my 401k balance will quickly prove. I predicted great things for Betamax and the Videodisc. I told everyone that Barry Manilow couldn't possibly have more than one hit song.

As visionary Adam Turinas points out in a well thought-out look into his crystal ball, sailing will no doubt change dramatically in the next 20 years for bigtime racer dudes who can afford the latest tech, or whose sponsors can, at least.

But for those of us of more modest means, I think sailing will be pretty much the same old same old, especially when it comes to that nemesis of practically every keelboat sailor - The Engine.

As Adam suggests, sailors have long hoped for a simple replacement for those fiendishly complicated and maintenance demanding engines that live in the belly of most modern keelboats. An electric motor that ran at the push of a button, that didn't need high pressure pumps, low pressure pumps, freshwater pumps, raw water pumps, fuel injectors, heat exchangers, and an invocation in Latin just to start would be a great innovation to be sure.

But the Achilles heel that has always kept boat manufacturers from putting electric motors in sailboats has been the old enginnering dilemma of what to do about 'encabulation'.

This little understood engineering principle is why most hybrid cars today still require a gasoline engine and don't run with electric motors alone. In a boat, the need for a gas engine would completely negate any advantages of an electric motor.

A solution seems at last to be on the horizon. Researchers at Rockwell International have finally made real progress towards controlling encabulation so, in the future, sailors could finally be free of the tyranny of the diesel engine.

Ah, but is the future as rosy as the technologists promise? Here's a Rockwell promotional video explaining in simple, layman's terms how their 'Retro Encabulator' works. While they may have the engineering gremlins on the run, why do I think there's a warning here about placing too much trust in new technology?



  1. Actually I think you are wrong about encabulation because you don't take into account the recent developments in transitive np-compiled reverse fail-safe systems which prevent sinusoidal replanaration altogether instead of simply reducing it at the dingle arm. Have you not heard of the use of the Trevors-Phalen Mass Centrosystemic Field to contain and absorb the kinetic energy of isolated quark-antiquark pairs which detrimentally lower the lifespan of cardinal grammeters?

  2. You see, I told you I wasn't very good at predicting the future.

    I'm still stuck in the old school method of limiting the kinetic energy of isolated quark-antiquark pairs by containing them in a Klein bottle.

    And I usually deal with sinusoidal replanaration by just taking an over-the-counter remedy, like Dristan.

  3. The achilles heel of electric engines at sea is a pesky thing called corrosion.

  4. And another pesky thing called an extension cord.

  5. The Achilles heel of articles about engineering is spelling "engineering" correctly.

  6. Oh, why is the copy desk always the most humorless part of any editorial organization?

    This is a post about engineering, which is mainly about numbers. I've used the word engineering three times in this post and have spelled it correctly two of those three times. That is a correctness factor of 66.67 percent (rounding off to four significant figures). That far exceeds established standards for accuracy here on O Dock, where I am lucky to be right half of the time.

    And now I am wondering about the phrase 'most humorless'. Where did I put my copy of the AP Stylebook?

  7. It is a sobering thought to consider that my computer has a far better memory than I do, is not paid a salary, does not require vacation time, will work 24/7 without complaint, and takes up less space than I do.

    I know my supervisor has been thinking along these lines.

    But my plan to get the computer to start reading blogs on company time and thus reduce its efficiency is starting to bear fruit.

  8. Pleased to hear that you are now sobering up.

  9. hm - "most humorless" is a bit like "most broke", isn't it. Not really a state with gradations. If you have a penny, you're not broke. There are certainly degrees of being beyond broke - but then what you're measuring is levels of indebtedness.

    And speaking of being broke, one of my less-cheery versions of the Future of Sailing would, oddly enough, solve that whole pesky motor problem. That's the version where the division between the rich & the rest keeps on growing until eventually there's only people who can afford dinghies & canoes & people who can afford megayachts.

    I didn't think that there could possibly be a silver lining in that scenario, but hey, if that's how it ends up, the people with motors will all have highly trained staff to take care of the motors!

    Secret password:


    Later, gater!

  10. I have to admit that my current definition of "rich" is anyone who can afford a boat longer than mine.

  11. 2025:

    2 basic kinds of sailors.

    You have your Tillerman type, and then you have...well, whoever owns this thing.

    2 basic kinds of boats.

    Dinghies and "thingies".

    for anyone who missed that whole discussion, that's thingies as in "my thingy is bigger than yours..."


  12. This is probably good fodder for a post or two - uh, dinghies, not thingies, that is.

    There's been much discussion about how the cost of new keelboats has now limited their availability to the wealthy, where I think that wasn't nearly so true 25 years ago.

    But things may not be as bleak as they seem.

    Since old boats don't wear out the way old cars do - if they're maintained - there will probably be plenty of affordable boats around for a long time.

    They've been making Catalina 30's long enough that available boats span a huge range - from the cost of an old car to that of an old house.

    I often wonder why anyone would buy a new sailboat - especially a mid-sized keelboat - considering the disparity in price between good used boats and new.