Saturday, May 11, 2013

Laws and rules

Every niche of human endeavor seems to evolve its own rules and laws. Most of them don't have anything to do with physics, i.e. the natural laws, or judicial powers, i.e. social laws - though they might be distant cousins. One of the old saws in aviation is to stay away from the edge of the sky when things go wrong, altitude and airspeed are life. A corollary for sailors would be looking for sea room when the weather goes bad. The ocean can sink one all by itself of course, but finds it much easier to do if there is a handy shore onto which it can shove the keel of a boat. The physics of motion and energy, gravity and weather, gird many of the rules of flying and sailing. The social rules of right-of-way, mooring practices, and paperwork form the bases for the rest.

But I'm thinking of a different breed of rules and laws, related closer to Murphy than Newton or Cleisthenes.

I think there is a law, enforced by Tinkinzar (You could look it up.) that requires some minimum number of leaks be found on any sailboat. I'm not sure what that number is, maybe 5, maybe 10, maybe 13? Who is to say since no one has ever found every leak on any boat ... ever. But here's the thing, when you fix a leak on a boat some other leak, somewhere, has to spring up. Otherwise the balance of the universe will be off and the boat will roll over and sink. The trick is to shove the leaks around so as to replace the truly annoying ones, like over the V-berth that drips on your bald head, with one that flows down the inside of some out-of-the-way cabinet and on to the bilge.

Somewhere is written a similar law that determines how many oil leaks must be spread out over the engines of the entire sailboat fleet. There is some tendency for this rule to be local, fix one on any engine and another is likely to show up on that same engine. But if a truly diligent and talented mechanic banishes all oil leaks from the engine room (or has enough money to just purchase and brand new, no leaker to put in his boat) a leak will appear on the engine on some other, hitherto leak free, boat. Likely the engine nearest, leaks are lazy that way, but not necessarily. Sadly this law sets one boat wrench against all others. Just about the time I seal the last dripping flange on my aging Westerbeke, the guy in the next boat over will fix all the leaks on his Yanmar. How else to explain finding my Westerbeke drooling black goo from some new place the very next weekend? Hard to say for sure of course, but I'll bet many a marina brew-a-ha has roots in the frustration of oil leaks appearing seemingly out of nowhere.

Another aspect of the oil leak law is that every new boat splashed means more oil leaks in the world. Unfortunately most new engines don't start leaking for a week or more. At least one of the oil leaks in Kintala is probably a "new boat" leak that needed a home and couldn't wait.

Electronic devices are subject to many a subtle law; capacitance and resistance and voltage drops. But the law that really matters is the device density law, the one that determines just how many electronic do-dads can work together within the confines of a given length of water line. Some smart engineer from Ray Marine or Simrad or Germain needs to figure out what that number is and share it with the rest of us; one device per foot, or two per five. It may be that number is dependent on the material of the hull, more for metal boats, less for fiberglass. Maybe mast height or draft sways the allowed density some, but try to add one more device than the law allows and some other, already installed item, will leak the magic smoke and quit working. This law must have some non-locality properties as well. Which is why, when the mega-yacht with the flight deck of the Enterprise rafts up next to you, the depth meter suddenly quits working on your pride and joy.

Tied in with the density law is the failure hierarchy law. This one prioritizes which electronic item goes Tango-Uniform to stay within the limit. It will be; a) the most expensive, b) the newest not still in warranty or, c) the one hardest to reach.

A law that seems obvious to me, but has apparently been passed over by the smart people on the planet, is that of water's unrelenting attraction to other water. I know they claim gravity causes water to run down hill thus cutting little paths, forming creeks, then streams, then rivers, all flowing to reach the nearest salt water. But I think water cuts its way though dirt and rock as it seeks Mother Ocean. It has little to do with gravity and nothing can stand in its way for long. This is why the clamps and hoses on boats eventually fail as the water in the tanks forces its way into the bilge to be pumped overboard. (Water is smart that way.)

Since humans are basically mobile bags of mostly water laced with a few stray chemicals, this same law explains why sailors will go to any length to fix their boats and make it to the sea.


Bill K said...

I have a headache trying to follow all that, but I think you may be on to something, LOL

Bill Kelleher

Mike McGuire said...

I can agree with a lot of that! Well-written, indeed.

I laughed out loud with the Tango Uniform reference!


Latitude 43 said...

I think the density law also applies to humans. You get too many of them packed together, and some start malfunctioning.

Thx for the laugh.

Robert Salnick said...

You've definitely discovered some new natural laws!

s/v Eolian