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Saturday, August 02, 2014

Mine's Bigger by David Kaplan

Tom Perkins,  member of the notorious HP board during the now infamous board battles (see https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/146770902),  was no land-lubber.   He could name all of the lines on a clipper ship.  He wanted something even bigger and better.  But as someone of immense wealth, the push for ever bigger and better became an obsession. “size mattered—as it always had. When it quickly became insufficient to be merely big, then yours had to be bigger. For how shall it profit a man to have a big yacht if somebody else has a bigger one?”

Personally, I don’t like boats that tip sideways, i.e., heel.  My idea of a boat is that it has to have a swimming pool although,  “I always say that if you encounter a really rough sea in a sailing yacht, you regret having left port. But if you encounter a really rough sea in a motor yacht, you regret having been born.”   …

Perkins had lots of experience sailing, and the author details not only how he accumulated that knowledge but also how he amassed his huge personal fortune at HP and as a venture capitalist. Yet the boat Perkins proposed building would cost 20% of his net worth.  He loved doing things in a big way and his goal in the development of the new yacht/ship was nothing short of revolutionizing the way sailing is done and ships designed.

One interesting anecdote:  Patrick O’Brian, whose stories Perkins had all read and loved was invited once to tour the Mediterranean on one of Perkins’ huge yachts.  <i>After all, O’Brian had written well-paced seafaring sagas that always got the details right about sailing—he knew a scupper from a schooner, a jib from a jibe. Unfortunately, as an incredulous Perkins recounted it, O’Brian was clueless how a sailboat actually worked. When he wasn’t steering recklessly or causing more than 10,000 square feet of sail to flail about, he was either drunk or seasick (or both).</l>

<i>Now, at seventy-four, Perkins was setting out to transform the art of sailing. His $130-million yacht, anchored a few hundred yards out in front of the palace, was the Maltese Falcon, a twenty-first century clipper ship that was bigger, faster, higher-tech, more expensive and riskier than any private sailing craft in the world. The Falcon was as long as a football field, forty-two feet wide, twenty feet deep, with three masts, each soaring nearly twenty stories toward the heavens. On each mast were six horizontal yards—ranging from forty feet to seventy-four feet in width—to support the sails. The size of the Falcon was utterly out of scale with anything nearby—the ramshackle fishing boats, the tourist ferries traversing the Bosphorus, even the palace.</i>  The design was unusual.  <i>"the masts were entirely freestanding and, unlike masts on any other boat, they were not stationary, but rotated. The sails were deployed at the push of a button, rolling out from inside each twenty-five-ton mast. Dozens of computers and microprocessors—connected by 131,000 feet of cable and wires—integrated the system, allowing helmsman and crew to control the boat nearly effortlessly. And unlike the clippers of yore, with their vast, white expanses of billowing canvas, the Falcon’s sails in effect formed a nearly flat vertical wing </i>

The competition between billionaires to have the biggest and fastest and most luxurious sailing yacht reached preposterous proportions. Joe Vittoria’s <i>Mirabella V</i>, the largest single masted sloop ever built had a mast of 292 feet (as high as a football field is long) with sails that cost $250,000 and was so heavy it had to be lifted on the boat in pieces with a crane and then assembled on board.  The mast was so high the boat could not transit the Panama Canal since it couldn’t go under the bridge, nor could it pass under the Golden Gate Bridge.  Usually easy to handle, this monstrosity takes 11-14 minutes to tack, and is forbidden by the insurers to jib; it was too risky.  The mast is so high that wind velocities may differ from top to bottom creating its own wind shear.  Sailing in a moderate breeze, with the boat heeled slightly (it had a thirty-three foot keel) the downward pressure on the mast was 400 tons creating enormous strain on the stays and shrouds.  Insurers forbad any heel greater than fifteen degrees as the passengers would have slid over the side or smashed into something. (Thirty degree heels on a traditional sixty-foot sailboat are no big deal.)

What Perkins (and the boat’s designer Perini) managed to do was nothing short of revolutionary. The masts and sails functioned in almost the opposite way they did in a traditional sailing ship.  In the Maltese Falcon, the *masts* rotated while the *yards* were fixed.  This meant the forces working on the hull were very different.  But it also had numerous advantages since there were no stays to get in the way of the sails as they were turned into the wind.   It also meant the masts resided on huge bearings that had to take enormous forces not to mention a complicated system of motors (29 per mast) to operate the sails that moved them in and out of the yards.  Sails were fixed on both the top and bottom. “Separated only by the yards supporting them, the five tightly stretched sails on each mast effectively formed a single vertical wing of 8,600 square feet of sail area. Properly trimmed, each set of sails—with their aerodynamically shaped masts and yards—became a tall airfoil. Even though there were five sails supported on each mast, the wind acted as though it was blowing over only one large single sail.”  He was building “a twenty-first century clipper ship that was bigger, faster, higher-tech, more expensive and riskier than any private sailing craft in the world. The Falcon was as long as a football field, forty-two feet wide, twenty feet deep, with three masts, each soaring nearly twenty stories toward the heavens. On each mast were six horizontal yards—ranging from forty feet to seventy-four feet in width—to support the sails.”

And no one knew if it would work.   A marvelous  digest of biography, economics, risk, and technology all in a nautical setting. Excellent.
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For the technically minded, I found this discussion of the relationship of hull length to speed to be quite revealing. Froude’s Law states that maximum hull speed is the square root of a boat’s length at the waterline multiplied by 1.34.* A heavy hull, or one with an inefficient shape, obviously couldn’t approach that full hull speed. And the benefits of length were diminishing, since the relationship between speed and length is not linear, but based on a square root. But even so, Froude’s Law was clear: the longer a boat, the faster it can go. Thus, a 100-foot sailboat in theory could go no faster than 13.4 knots; a 200-foot sailboat, no faster than 19 knots; and a 300-foot sailboat, 23.2 knots. (The Perini hull at the waterline was 257 feet, so its maximum theoretical speed was 21.5 knots—three knots faster than its two diesel engines could make it go.) For skippers who wanted speed—while also having a hull with creature comforts and that could be used for cruising—going long was the only way. For length also produces stability—a boat’s ability to stay upright. In fact, stability goes up exponentially—to the fourth power—as the waterline length increases. Assuming all other measurements equal, if you double the length, then stability goes up sixteen times (2 × 2 × 2 × 2). Stability and length are among the few relationships in physics subject to the fourth power. The tendency to heel increases with length as well, but only by the third power: if you double waterline length, the heeling force goes up only eight times (2 × 2 × 2). So the benefits of length still predominate, as the increase in stability is greater than the tendency to heel. God must be a sailor.

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