Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The airplane and the sailboat

Always wanted to learn to fly. I've ridden in planes, both large and small. The small ones are a lot more fun. In fact, ever since they put in the new security procedures, my desire to fly commercial has plummeted. Small planes, however, that's where the excitement is. They fly low enough and slow enough to really see things. You can feel the air. If something on the ground looks interesting, just turn the plane and take a look. That's not something that can happen flying commercial.

In some ways, it's easier to fly than ever. Ultralight planes don't require a license. If that's too much like flying a kite for your tastes, there's the new sport plane license. It's not much harder to get one of those than a driver's license for a car. The planes in that class are on the small size, but look and handle like real planes. If you've got a regular driver's license, you don't need to pass a special physical.

There are two big problems with flying, however. One thing is the concentrated energy needed to make it work. Gasoline is a really concentrated form of energy. That's what's needed to fly: energy density. There are a few small planes that use electric motors and high end batteries, but they don't have a lot of range. The second problem is the infrastructure required. Even simple aircraft need a lot of things to keep them in the air: airports, fuel, and specialized parts. They require top notch maintenance.

One of my other dreams is to buy a sailboat in the 25 - 30 foot range, or maybe even a bit bigger. I'd love a craft capable of being lived aboard for days or weeks at a time. There are plenty of decent sailboats on the market today. As people cut back on expenses, the toys are put up for sale. I've the skills necessary to repair and refit an older boat, so the cost could be quite reasonable.

The energy to run a sailboat is free -the wind. Unlike gasoline, it's not a concentrated energy supply, but it's good enough. Sailboats have always had make the most of available wind. Boat designed has evolved over thousands of years. That's a good thing. There are sailboats for a whole range of activities and needs, and they are efficient at what they do.

For every modern high tech material and technique, there's probably simpler materials and methods to do the same job. The key is to get a boat that's adaptable. If the aluminum spar is damaged, a wood one must be able to do the job. You don't take a modern airplane and replace the aluminum struts with bits of wood or bamboo.

Concentrated energy is getting more expensive all the time. Better to use a mode of transportation that uses the free energy of the wind. I'm thinking of a boat that uses a lot of natural materials. One that can be beached and doesn't have to rely on fancy marinas is the way to go. Sailboats are designed to be self contained and self reliant. A sailboat that's used for more than a few hours has to have a way of handling food, water, wastes, and gathers its own energy. They can use a lot fewer outside resources than an airplane.

It appears that planes may are becoming the toys of the rich once more. Sailboats, however, have a future. They can be a cheap way to travel, move goods, and to harvest the bounty of the sea. There's a place for the simple working boat.

Good thing I like sailing as much as flying.


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