Laminar flow and design research

Wave front

Wave form

Dream job, fresh out of school and I didn’t have enough sense to know what I didn’t know. But I knew I was going to learn to design boats, . . Sail Boats with tall spars and long legs, OCEAN RACERS! Sawdust, splines, polyester resin, lead and stainless, and ink on mylar, Simpson’s 2/3 Rule, displacement, buoyancy and calculations involving significant digits. And it all started to make sense. I was learning how to learn. Exposure to the principles gave way to understanding, and I began to learn, and question, . . . What is flow? What is turbulence? How do you optimize lift while reducing drag in a fluid with form and shape in motion?

Georg Thomas was an inspiration, a new graduate of Michigan’s Naval Architecture program, he understood the engineering that followed the First Principles that I was learning. He described flow to me one day while I wrestled with a set of hull lines that I was having a difficult time conjuncting, . . . lines and splines held by ducks to conform to small dots on a large sheet of mylar, . . . the hard way.

Georg outlined the flow and motion of a single molecule of water as a boat moves through the water. Surface turbulance and waves on the interface of air and water, and along comes a hull moving at 8-knots. What happens to a drop of water? What motion does it experience? Where does it go and how does it move? Imagine what it feels like to be that single drop of water, . . .just imagine!

Up and down, real simple. Just like a wave. The hull displaces water in the most convenient direction. Downward. Initially with a great deal of motion which slows as the hull passes overhead. That motion eases into a smooth transition zone of laminar flow as the molecules next to the hull are dragged along with it by surface drag. Very low turbulance. The larger -or longer, -or slower a vessel in motion, the thicker that boundary layer of laminar flow. Towards the stern, as the hull form lifts away from it’s immersion and water is free to rise into the area previously displaced, turbulence boils.

Georg and I spent hours in conversation on flow, turbulence and motion, even hanging our heads over the side to get up close and personal with that boundary layer. Watching the motion of the water, over the bow, amidships and hanging over the transom, eyes on the water, watching the movement and flow, . . . Design Research! One of my first real world encounters with the principles of observation and understanding.

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