Sunday 23rd of January 2022

feet of clay, toys of rust...

keels of contention...

keels of contention...

Our heroes who are inspiration to most of our democratic ideals, often are not democratic. Just who cares? They have attributes of folly that succeed in slaying the dragons.... In a democracy, there would have been an endless array of general meetings on why the dragons would have to be protected — or cut to pieces in times of famine...

Look at Robin Hood, Look at Joan of Arc... Weirdoes in tights, full of heroics... And look at our politicians: not many heroes amongst them. Yet they work their butts-off to plod out bland compromises that should benefit us all...

Say also that heroes have flaws like the rest of us. The foolishness of doing something courageous about a dangerous problem, a war or a sticky situation demands more than a compromise, but a determined action that may or may not succeed — a gamble as a courageous often stupid act. The heroes are those who succeed while minimising the damage — the result being glorious. Those who fail are wiped from our memory or bunched up together in memorials to useless wars. In the case of Joan of Arc, after her success, she was judged a heretic, a witch, for whatever reason, despite her "heroism" that saved a kingdom. Then the same people who burned her at the stakes gave her a sainthood. Religious fanatic weirdoes...

Being a hero is complicated, dangerous and often non-rewarded unless one has a good PR machine. A good historian. And some people are ready to steal your laurels once you cark it, even if your actions are in black and white... But these days, most heroes in our democracies are "hero-ettes" who have done nothing much more than exposed their curvy shapes in a second rate movie but have PR engines the size and horsepower of tanks.

But then there is Ben Lexcen, Till Eulenspiegel and quarky thingsters..

Quarks, bosons and leptons are hard yakka. In my mind they are heroes — borderline bizos in particle physics without which the universe would be a blancmange rather than being a structure. Chaotic structure, but structured nonetheless. Till Eulenspiegel was a hero of mine in my youth, a mischievous young man who still cuts the mythical mustard. 

Ben Lexcen, or Bob Miller, as he was known when I first heard of him in the early seventies (when I was designing and building boats... oh boy... I've done far too many things in my life...) was another character, not so much a hero but a plumpish anti-hero who was always doing something adventurous and borderline, yet I believe, ethically. Not only the America's Cup has always been sailed in the courts by lawyers as much as captains on the water, the controversy of who designed the keel of Australia II comes to muddy the landscape too many years after Ben died. I have no proof of anything here, thus I will only speculate about this farce. Say, one could argue that the French invented the winged keel in the 50s but placed it the wrong way up on "Le France", and ended up as chimneys. Chug chug...

Joke apart, the problem facing designers of the 12 Metres Class boats for the America's cup was that bulbs were not allowed in the design of keels. The key word of course being "bulb"... I don't know what the lawyers of the America's Cup rule-book had really specified but had they used the word "bulbous", then all syndicates in the infamous races would have complained in triplicate with trolleys full of evidence about THAT keel in yet another supreme court.

In the design of such boats too, measurements are performed at key points and specific cross-sections to achieve the 12-metre rating. Thus the designers have to make sure those complicated measurements and calculation are within the rules and fit the rating while fiddling with the length, width, draft, deck shape, et all, in order to make a faster boat than that of the competitors — and this in the very specific sea conditions of the race course.

With displacements boats, higher speed is achieved with longer waterline, but the 12-metre rating penalty for a lengthy waterline is high, thus other parameters would suffer badly. The boat might take too long to tack. Or sink. Whatever. And there is a rule limit on the waterline length. Thus the designers had to find ways to shorten the waterline to the maximum allowed (measured while the boat is motionless and loaded with specific crew weight) to fit the rating — while the waterline would lengthen greatly as the boat is in motion.

This is mostly done using the bow wave and the curving wake to add to the length. Thus older design of long bows and slopping transoms were replaced by new designs in the 1980s with vertical bows down to a few centimetres above the waterline, followed by a recess taking the measurement of the observed waterline way back — sometimes two or three feet — while the transom was replace by a low cut overhang that would increase the waterline by at least four feet as soon as the boat moved. A wider transom would also increase the length as the boat heeled. All these added complications to make a winner — and there were plenty of duds, where the specifics had been stretched beyond what was going to really work... Baron Bich... He-he-he...

In regard to the keel, the centre of gravity has to be as low as possible to keep the boat as upright as possible, while not being too big as to create too much friction in the water. Thus the "dartish keel" was favoured as long as it did not have a "bulb". Some American-designed boats used depleted uranium (18.9 kg/litre) as keel ballast while competitors were still using lead (13.6 kg/litre). One can see already a certain advantage...

From what I can remember, Ben Lexcen had his thinking cap on and devised the upside down keel where the narrower thinner part would be at the top. But this would create some massive headache for the engineering in load bearing calculations, while still being within the rules — as there would be no "bulb" at the bottom, just a "thicker keel". He-he-he...

The idea of adding wings to keels was not new. A bit like adding vertical tips to wings of planes. Some of my brother's model sailing boats, he built in the 1930s, had heavy flattened lead bulbs at the end of their wooden blade-keels... Most birds of prey have two or three feathers that bend to at least 45 degrees as wing tips. and this is no fluke. This provides greater stability for longer gliding and this more efficient travel came via specific evolution... In my days of model plane making we all made raised winged-tips to provide greater stability and greater airflow while reducing turbulent spillage at the tips... Those were the days of occupation...

In regard to the keel of Australia II, if my memory is correct, Ben Lexcen HAD the idea to add wings to the keel but he had to beat the measurement rating and the bulb rule. The engineering had to make sure they would not break, while being efficient to the max.

The advantage of wings is that the keel can be shorter in depth while the boat is at rest, while "becoming deeper" when the boat tilts (heels), giving the boat more grip and less drift. To also beat "the measurements", the wings on the keel had to be set AFTER the measuring points, without hampering the performance of the boat. Too far back and the boat could become non-steerable in certain conditions, thus the need to do some major tank-testing. The wings had to be not bulbs either... And this is where the controversy arise...

Who "designed" the keel? Was it the testing team who probably made some major "improvements" to the keel design to maximise efficiency while minimising water resistance OR is it having the concept of fiddling with the rule book while having a team of well-briefed lawyers who could argue the case? Alan Bond (the instigator/financier of Australia II) would have taken care of the lawyers, no sweat... That was his department. But knowing of Bob Miller (Ben Lexcen) design successes way prior the America's Cup campaign, I would say that he alone came up with the concept of the winged keel. Knowing of his ethics in the boat design world, HE WOULD NOT HAVE TAKEN THE CREDIT should someone else had done the concept and the "design". I will stick by that. There you have it.

The next thing was to hide the magic keel from view... And we all remember the shroud being wrapped around the keel while the boat was being raised from the water, after every race, and let's not forget the cunning paint job that made the keel look like a double blade, effacing its real shape and the wings, in the muddy waters of Newport.

So, I would say here, there was a bit of Till Eulenspiegel and Robin Hood in Ben Lexcen... He even had changed his name by deed poll to the sounds of a trade mark of poly-carbonate (Lexan) — a bullet proof product... Too sad he is not here to set the record straight. But the legend shall live...

Ben used the very complex engineering dictum that "if it does not break at some stage, then it's too heavy" (thus the steering of Australia II breaking during one of the races) — in opposition to my grandfather's belief that "too strong never fails", while making us, kids, toys of solid plated steel that never broke, just rusted... Opa Adolph was my hero...

the clowning philosopher and a keel...

"He was so humble yet so proud, so simple yet so complete. He could be 40 characters in one day, from philosopher to clown, changing almost by the hour, dependent on the circumstance or the mood." This is how Warren Jones, the manager of Alan Bond's America's Cup syndicate described Ben Lexen.

wi-fi...

An Australian radio astronomer who helped develop wi-fi technology has won the Prime Minister's prestigious Science Prize.

Wi-fi technology has become an essential part of everyday life. It is found in personal computers, video games, mobile phones and much more.

Nearly a billion people now use the CSIRO invention every day around the world. Almost everywhere you look, the technology is part of the home and the office. It is in laptops, mobile phones, printers and game consoles.

Scientist John O'Sullivan, with a team of CSIRO scientists, is the man who made it happen. He and his team created the formula that made wireless technology fast and robust.

It began as a search for radio waves from exploding black holes, but it has now turned into the most popular CSIRO invention.

Tonight, Dr O'Sullivan's work is being honoured with the Prime Minister's Science Prize.

"It's fantastic and I am very proud and honoured to receive the award," he said.

"We always thought it was going to be big but we're absolutely blown away by how many things are incorporating the technology we developed."

----------------

Invention is the necessity of progress...