Sounding the Depth, Sea Marks and Bridge Lights

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 11th, 2013

Technology 101

It’s Important to know both the Depth of the Water beneath you and the Hidden Dangers below the Surface

On November 10, 1975, the Great Lakes bulk ore carrier S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a powerful Lake Superior storm.  Waves of 35 feet crashed green water across her deck.  But time and again she bobbed back up from under the waves.  Until she began to lose her buoyancy.  No one knows for sure what happened but the Fitzgerald was taking on water prior to her sinking.  One theory said that she bottomed out on Six Fathom Shoal off of Caribou Island.  As she fell into the trough between two huge waves.

A fathom is 6 feet.  So six fathoms would be 36 feet.  Though the water over Six Fathom Shoal could be as shallow as 26 feet.  Which is pretty deep.  But is dangerously shallow for a ship like the Fitzgerald.  For she had a draft of 25 feet.  At best she had 11 feet (36-25) of clearance between the shoal and her hull.  Or in the worst case, 1 foot (26-25).  With the gale force winds pushing the waves as high as 35 feet that would put the trough approximately 17.5 feet (35/2) below the ‘calm’ surface level of the lake.  Which would bring the top of the shoal above the hull of the Fitzgerald.  Thus making a strong case that she bottomed out and fractured her hull and began to take on water.

The theory continues that as she took on water she settled deeper and deeper into the water.  Growing heavier.  And less buoyant.  Until a wall of water swept across her that was too great for her to shake off.  Sending her to the bottom of Lake Superior so quickly that the propeller was still spinning when the bow hit bottom.  Causing the hull to break.  With the torque of the spinning shaft rotating the stern over until she rested hull-up on the bottom.  This is only one theory of many.  People still debate the ultimate cause of her sinking.  But this theory shows the importance of knowing the depth of the water beneath you.  And the great danger of unseen objects below the surface of the water.

Ships use Sea Marks to guide them Safely through Navigable Channels

Those mariners who first crossed the oceans were some of the bravest ever to live.  For if a ship sank in the middle of the ocean chances are people never saw those sailors again.  For there’s nothing to sustain life in the middle of the ocean.  Everything you ate or drank you brought with you.  And crossed at the greatest speed possible to get to your destination before your supplies ran out.  Which was easy to do in the deep waters of the middle of the ocean.  But very dangerous when the water grew shallower.  As you approached land.  Especially for the first time.

If a ship struck a submerged object it could break up the hull and sink the ship.  Especially if you hit it at speed.  This is why they had lookouts high up in the crow’s nest looking for land.  Or indications that the water was growing more shallow.  And they would ‘heave the lead’.  Big burly men (leadsmen) would throw a lead weight on a rope as far out in front of the ship as possible.  Once the lead hit bottom they’d pull it up.  Counting the knots in the rope spaced at 6-foot intervals.  Or fathoms.  Sounding the depth of the water beneath them.  As the sea bottom raced up to the water’s surface they furled their sails to catch less wind.  And slow down.  As they approached land they would approach only so far.  And safely anchor in a safe depth of water near a promising location for a harbor.  Some sailors would then board a dinghy and row into the shallow waters.  Sounding the depth.  And making a chart.  Looking for a safe channel to navigate.  And a place suitable to build a deep-water dock.  Deep enough to sail in to and moor the large sailing vessels that would sail to and from these new lands.

Of course, we could do none of this during the night.  It may be safe to sail in the middle of the ocean at night but it is very dangerous in the shallow waters around land.  At least, for the first time.  After they built a harbor they may build a lighthouse.  A tall building with a beacon.  To guide ships to the new harbor in the dark.  And even add a fog horn to guide ships in when fog obscures the light.  This would bring ships towards the harbor.  But they needed other navigational aids to guide them through a safe channel to the dock.  As time passed we made our navigational aids more advanced.  As well as our ships.  Today a ship can enter a harbor or river in the black of night safely.  Thanks to sea marks.

If Ships wander just Inches off their Course the Results can be Catastrophic

Landmarks are navigational aids on land.  Such as a lighthouse.  While a sea mark is a navigational aid in the water.  Typically a buoy.  A buoyant vessel that floats in the water.  But held in place.  Typically with a chain running from the bottom of the buoy to an anchorage driven into the bottom of the water channel.  Holding it in place to mark the edge of the navigable channel.  In North America we use the colors green and red to mark the channel.  With the “3R” rule “Red Right Returning.”  Meaning a ship returning from a larger body of water to a smaller body of water (and ultimately to a dock) would see red on their right (starboard).  And green on their left (port).  If you’re leaving dock and heading to open water the colors would be the reverse.

As ships move up river the safe channel narrows.  And there are bridges to contend with.  Which compounds the problem of shallow waters.  Fixed bridges will have red lights on piers rising out of the water.  And a green light over the center of the safe channel.  A vertical lift span bridge or a double leaf (lift) bascule bridge will have red lights at either end.  And red lights over the center of the channel when these bridges are closed.  When the center span on a lift bridge is open there will be a green light marking the center of the channel on the lifted center span.  Showing the center of the channel and the safe height of passage.  When the bascule bridge is open there will be a green light on the tip of each open leaf.  Showing the outer edges of the safe channel.

Ships are massive.  And massive things moving have great momentum (mass multiplied by velocity).  The bigger they are and the faster they go the harder it is to stop them.  Or to turn them.  Which means if they wander out of that safe channel they will probably hit something.  And cause great damage.  Either to the ship.  Or to the fixed structures along the waterway.  Like on an Alabaman night.  When a river barge made a wrong turn in poor visibility and entered an un-navigable channel.  Striking a rail bridge.  Pushing the bridge out of alignment.  But not enough to break the welded rail.  Which left the railroad block signal green.  Indicating the track was clear ahead.  The river pilot thought that one of the barges had only run aground.  And was oblivious to what he did.  And when Amtrak’s Sunset Limited sped through and hit that kink in the track it derailed.  Killing 47 people.  About twice the loss of life when the Fitzgerald sank.  Showing the importance of navigation charts, sea marks and bridge lights.  For if ships wander just inches off their course the results can be catastrophic.

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Archimedes’ Principle, Buoyancy, Spar Deck, Freeboard, Green Water, Bulkheads, Watertight Compartments, RMS Titanic and Edmund Fitzgerald

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 2nd, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published April 4th, 2012)

The Spar Deck or Weather Deck is Where you Make a Ship Watertight

Let’s do a little experiment.  Fill up your kitchen sink with some water.  (Or simply do this the next time you wash dishes).  Then get a plastic cup.  Force the cup down into the water with the open side up until it rests on the bottom of the sink.  Make sure you have a cup tall enough so the top of it is out of the water when resting on the bottom.  Now let go of the cup.  What happens?  It bobs up out of the water.  And tips over on its side.  Where water can enter the cup.  As it does it weighs down the bottom of the cup and lifts the open end out of the water.  And it floats.  Now repeat this experiment.  Only fill the plastic cup full of water.  What happens when you let go of it when it’s sitting on the bottom of the sink?  It remains sitting on the bottom of the sink.

What you’ve just demonstrated is Archimedes’ principle.  The law of buoyancy.  Which explains why things like ships float in water.  Even ships made out of steel.  And concrete.  The weight of a ship pressing down on the water creates a force pushing up on the ship.  And if the density of the ship is less than the density of the water it will float.  Where the density of the ship includes all the air within the hull.  Ships are buoyant because air is less dense than water.  If water enters the hull it will increase the density of the ship.  Making it heavier.  And less buoyant.  As water enters the hull the ship will settle lower in the water.

The spar deck or weather deck is where you make a ship watertight.  This is where the hatches are on cargo ships.  We call the distance between the surface of the water and the spar deck freeboard.  A light ship doesn’t displace much water and rides higher in the water.  That is, it has greater freeboard.  With less ship in the water there is less resistance to forward propulsion.  Allowing it to travel faster.  However, a ship riding high in the water is much more sensitive to wave action.  And more susceptible to rolling from side to side.  Increasing the chance of rolling all the way over in heavy seas.  (Interestingly, if the ship stays watertight it can still float capsized.)  So ship captains have to watch their freeboard carefully.  If the ship rides too high (like an empty cargo ship) the captain will fill ballast tanks with water to lower the ship in the water.  By decreasing freeboard the ship is less prone to wave action.  But by lowering the spar deck closer to the surface of the water bigger waves can crash over the spar deck.  Flooding the spar deck with ‘green water’.  Common in a storm with high winds creating tall waves.  As long as the spar deck is watertight the ship will stay afloat.  And the solid water that washes over the spar deck will run off the ship and back into the sea.

The Titanic and the Fitzgerald were Near Unsinkable Designs but both lost Buoyancy and Sank

Improvements in ship design have made ships safer.  Steel ships can take a lot of damage and still float.  Ships struck by torpedoes in World War II could still float even with a hole below their waterline thanks to watertight compartments.  Where bulkheads divide a ship’s hull.  Watertight walls that typically run up to the weather deck.  Access though these bulkheads is via watertight doors.  These are the doors that close when a ship begins to take on water and the captain orders, “Close watertight doors.”  This contains the water ingress to one compartment allowing the ship to remain buoyant.  If it pitches down at the bow or lists to either side they can offset this imbalance with their ballast tanks.  Emptying the tanks where the ship is taking on water.  And filling the tanks where it is not.  To level the ship and keep it seaworthy until it reaches a safe harbor to make repairs.

They considered RMS Titanic unsinkable because of these features.  But they didn’t stop her from sinking on a calm night in 1912.  Why?  Two reasons.  The first was the way she struck the iceberg.  She sideswiped the iceberg.  Which cut a gash below the waterline in five of her ‘watertight’ compartments.  Which basically removed the benefit of compartmentalization.  They could not isolate the water ingress to a single compartment.  Or two.  Or three.  Even four.  Which she might have survived and remained afloat.  But water rushing into five compartments was too much.  It pitched the bow down.  And as the bow sank water spilled over the ‘watertight’ bulkheads and began flooding the next compartment.  Even ones the iceberg didn’t slash open.  As water poured over these bulkheads and flooded compartment after compartment the bow sank deeper and deeper into the water.  Until the unsinkable sank.  The Titanic sank slowly enough to rescue everyone on the ship.  She just didn’t carry enough lifeboats.  For they thought she was unsinkable.  Because of this lack of lifeboats 1,517 died.  Of course, having enough lifeboats doesn’t guarantee everyone will survive a sinking ship.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was the biggest ore carrier on the Great Lakes during her heyday.  These ships could take an enormous amount of abuse as the storms on the Great Lakes could be treacherous.  Like the one that fell on the Fitzgerald one November night in 1975.  When 30-foot waves hammered her and her sister ship the Arthur Andersen.  No one knows for sure what happened that night but some of the clues indicate she may have bottomed out on an uncharted shoal.  For she lost her handrails indicating that the ship may have hogged (where the bow and stern bends down from the center of the ship held up by that uncharted shoal).  The handrails were steel cables under tension running around the spar deck.  If the ship hogged this would have stretched the cable until it snapped.  She had green water washing across her deck.  Lost both of her radars.  A vent.  Maybe even a hatch cover.  Whatever happened she was taking on water.  A lot of it.  More than her pumps could keep up with.  Causing a list.  And the bow to settle deeper in the water.  Waves crashed over her bow as well as the Andersen’s.  The ships disappeared under the water.  Then reemerged.  As they design ships to do.  Then two massive waves rocked the Andersen.  She was following the Fitzgerald to help her navigate by the Andersen’s radar.  So these two waves had hit the Fitzgerald first.  The Fitzgerald had by this time taken on so much water that she lost too much freeboard.  When she disappeared under these two waves she never came back up.  It happened so fast there was no distress call.  The ship was longer than the lake was deep.  So her screw was still propelling the ship forward when the bow stuck the bottom.  She had lifeboat capacity for all 29 aboard.  But the ship sank too fast to use them.  Or even for the Andersen to see her as she sailed over her as she came to a rest on the bottom.

Our Ships have never been Safer but Ship Owners and Merchants still need to Protect their Wealth with Marine Insurance

We build bigger and bigger ships.  And it’s amazing what can float considering how heavy these ships can be.  But thanks to Archimedes’ principle all we have to do to make the biggest and heaviest ships float is too keep them watertight.  Keeping them less dense than the water that makes them float.  Even if we fail here due to events beyond our control we can isolate the water rushing in by sealing watertight compartments.  And keep them afloat.  So our ships have never been safer.  In addition we have far more detailed charts.  And satellite navigation to carefully guide us to our destination.  Despite all of this ships still sink.  Proving the need for something that has changed little since 14th century Genoa.  Marine insurance.  Because accidents still happen.  And ship owners and merchants still need to protect their wealth.

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Flat-Bottomed Boat, Keel, Standing Rigging, Chinese Junk, Daggerboard, Balanced Rudder, Compartment and Junk Rig

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 16th, 2012

Technology 101

Typical River Transport has a Flat Bottom and a Shallow Draft with Little Freeboard

What do most of the oldest and greatest cities in the world have in common?  Madrid.  Lisbon.  Paris.  London.  Amsterdam.  Belgrade.  Vienna.  Rome.  Cairo.  Kiev.  Moscow.  Baghdad.  New Delhi.  Shanghai.  Ho Chi Minh City.  Bangkok.  Hong Kong.  São Paul.  Buenos Aires.  Santiago.  Quebec City.  Montreal.  Detroit.  Boston.  New York.  Philadelphia.  Pittsburgh.  What do these cities have in common?  Rivers.  Coastal water.  Or safe harbors on the oceans.

Why is this?  Is it because their founders liked a good view?  That’s why people today pay a premium to live on the water’s edge.  But back then it was more necessity than view.  These were times before railroads.  Even before roads connected these new cities.  Back then there was only one way to transport things.  On the water.  And rivers were the early highways that connected the cities.  Which is why we built our cities on these rivers.  To transport the food or raw materials a city produced.  And to transport to these cities the things they needed to survive and grow.  And some of the earliest river transports were flat-bottomed boats.  Like the scow.  Punt.  Sampan.  And the barge.

Rivers are calm compared to the oceans.  Which allows a different boat design.  River transport doesn’t have to be sturdy to withstand rolling waves and high winds.  Which allows the design to focus on the main purpose of a boat.  Hauling freight.  Typical river transport has a flat bottom.  A shallow draft with little freeboard (i.e., sitting very low in the water with the top deck very close to the surface of the water).  And a square bow.  This allows these boats to operate in shallow waters.  Allowing them to run up right onto a river landing or beach.  Where they can be easily loaded with their cargoes.  Or unloaded.  And their flat, rectangular shapes maximize the cargo they can carry.  Propulsion is simple.  A man can push a small boat along with a pole.  Animal power can pull larger barges.  Or, later, motors were able to power them.  Or a tugboat could pull or push them.

The Chinese Junk had a Flat Bottom with no Keel allowing them to Carry a Lot of Cargo

These flat-bottomed boats are great for hauling freight.  But they are not very seaworthy.  Because the ocean’s waves will toss around any boat with a shallow draft and little freeboard.  Breaking it up and sending it and its cargo to the bottom of the ocean.  Which has confined these to the calm of rivers, bays and coastal waterways.  Cargoes that have to travel further than these allow are loaded onto an ocean-going vessel with a deeper draft.  And a higher freeboard.  With a keel.  That can withstand the leeward force of the wind.  So instead of being pushed sideways (or simply rolling over) the keel allows those sideway winds to fill a sail and propel a ship forward.  By sticking deeper into the water.  So as the wind tries to push the boat sideways the large amount of water in contact with the keel pushes back against that leeward force.  Allowing it to sail across the wind.

But there is a tradeoff.  The curved sections of the hull that form the keel reduces the amount of cargo a ship can carry in its hull.  Also, these ocean-going vessels have a lot of sail.  And a lot of rigging to hold it in place.  Standing rigging.  While the sails required running rigging.  To raise and lower sails depending on the wind conditions.  Which takes up space that can’t be used for cargo.  And requires a lot of sailors.  In fact, much of the upper deck is full of rigging and sailors instead of cargo.  But this was the tradeoff to sail into the rougher waters of the ocean.  You had to sacrifice revenue-earning cargo.  But there was one ship design that brought together the benefits of the flat-bottomed river scow and the ocean-going fully rigged sailing ship.  The Chinese junk.

The Chinese junk dates as far back as the 3rd century BC.  And began crossing oceans as early as the second century AD.  Long before the Europeans ventured out in their Age of Discovery.  The junk has a flat bottom with no keel.  But a high freeboard.  Which lets it carry a lot of cargo.  And operate in shallower waters than a fully rigged sailing ship.  But it could also sail in the rougher seas of the ocean.  When it did it lowered a daggerboard.  A centerboard that can lower from a watertight trunk within the hull into the water to act like a keel.  To resist those leeward forces.  Often installed forward in the hull so as not to take up valuable cargo space in the center of the ship.  Because they mount this forward the leeward forces could cause the back end of the ship to torque around the daggerboard. To counteract this force they use an oversized rudder on the stern.  To balance the resistance to those leeward forces.  Because the rudder was so large and had to deflect a lot of water it was difficult to turn.  Taking a team of men to operate it.   To help turn such a large rudder they developed ‘powered’ steering.  With a balanced rudder.  The axis the rudder turned on was just behind the leading edge of the rudder.  So when they turned the rudder the water hitting the part in front of the turning axis helped turn the rudder in the direction the crew was trying to turn it.  So the large rudder area past the turning axis could deflect the large volume of water necessary to turn the ship.

The Chinese gave us Papermaking, Printing, the Compass and Gunpowder but the Europeans Conquered the World

So the junk could travel in the shallow waters of harbors and rivers.  And the deep water of the ocean.  It was the first ship to compartmentalize the hull.  Making it very seaworthy.  Especially if it struck bottom and punched a hole in the hull.  Because of the compartments the flooding was contained to the one compartment.  Allowing the ship to remain afloat.  A design all ships use today.  The junk also used a different sailing rig.  The junk rig.  It’s low tech.  Was inexpensive.  And required smaller crews.

A three-mast junk has three masts.  And three sails.  One sail per mast.  And the masts are free standing.  They don’t need any standing rigging to hold them in place.  Because they don’t carry heavy loads of running rigging and sailors.  The sail is stretched between a yard and a boom.  The yard is at the top.  The boom is along the bottom.  Between the yard and the boom battens give the sail strength and attach it to the mast.  Think of a batten as that stick in the bottom of a window shade.  Grabbing this batten allows you to apply an even force on that window shade when pulling it down.  If this stick wasn’t there and you pulled down on the window shade the uneven forces across the shade would tear it.  Same principle on a junk rig.  Which allows them to use less expensive sail material.  To raise this sail up the mast you pulled up the yard via a block and tackle at the top of the mast.  From the deck.  With fewer crew members.  The sail is attached to the mast near one edge.  It’s pivoted to catch and redirect wind to the stern.  Propelling the ship forward.  And the battens will bend in strong enough winds to curve the sail.  Creating lift on the other side of the sail to pull the ship forward.

The Chinese gave us papermaking, printing, the compass and gunpowder.  But it was the Europeans that used these inventions to conquer the world.  For the Chinese had no interest in civilizations outside of China.  For when you had the best, they thought, what was the point?  So the Europeans came to them.  Even took Hong Kong from them.  When it was the Chinese that could have had the technologically advanced civilization.  An army fielding muskets and cannon.  And a navy of junk warships that could have gone anywhere the Europeans could have gone.  And farther.  Into the shallow waters and up the rivers where the European warships could not go.  They could have sailed up the Thames to London.  Up the Seine to Paris.  Even into Amsterdam.  Home of the Dutch East India Company.  That took such a great interest in all those Asian goods in the first place.   That brought the British to China to compete against the Dutch.  Leading to the Opium Wars.  And the loss of Hong Kong.  Imagine how different the world would be had China embraced their technology.  Like they are today.  Perhaps we will soon see the answer to that great ‘what if’ question.

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Corduroy Roads, Positive Buoyancy, Negative Buoyancy, Carbon Dioxide, Crush Depth, Pressurization, Rapid Decompression and Space

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 9th, 2012

Technology 101

Early Submarines could not Stay Submerged for Long for the Carbon Dioxide the Crew Exhaled built up to Dangerous Levels

People can pretty much walk anywhere.  As long as the ground is fairly solid beneath our feet.  Ditto for horses.  Though they tend to sink a little deeper in the softer ground than people do.  Carts are another story.  And artillery trains.  For their narrow wheels and heavy weight distributed on them tend to sink when the earthen ground is wet.  Early armies needing to move cannon and wagons through swampy areas would first build roads through these areas.  Out of trees.  Called corduroy roads.  It was a bumpy ride.  But you could pull heavy loads with small footprints through otherwise impassable areas.  As armies mechanized trucks and jeeps with fatter rubber tires replaced the narrow wheels on wagons.  Then tracked vehicles came along.  Allowing the great weights of armored vehicles with large guns to move across open fields.  The long and wide footprints of these vehicles distributing that heavy weight over a larger area.  Still, nothing can beat the modern rubber tire on a paved road for a smooth ride.  And the lower resistance between tire and road increases gas mileage.  Which is why trucks like to use as few axles on their trailers as possible.  For the more tires on the road the more friction between truck and road.  And the higher fuel consumption to overcome that friction.  Which is why we have to weigh trucks for some try to cheat by pulling heavier loads with too few axles.  When they do the high weight distributed through too few wheels will cause great stresses on the roadway.  Causing them to break and crumble apart.   

Man and machine can move freely across pretty much anything.  If we don’t carry food and water with us we could even ‘live off the land’.  But one thing we can’t do is walk or drive on water.  We have to bridge streams and rivers.  Go around lakes.  Or move onto boats.  Which can drive on water.  If they are built right.  And are buoyant.  Because if a boat weighed less than the water it displaced it floated.  Much like a pair of light-weight, spongy flip-flops made out of foam rubber.  Throw a pair into the water and they will float.  Put them on your feet and step into the deep end of a pool and you’ll sink.  Because when worn on your feet the large weight of your body distributed to the light pair of flip-flops makes those flip-flops heavier than the water they displace.  And they, along with you, sink.  Unlike a boat.  Which is lighter than the water it displaces.  As long as it is not overloaded.  Even if it’s steel.  Or concrete.  You see, the weight of the boat includes all the air inside the hull.  So a large hull filled with cargo AND air will be lighter than the water it displaces.  Which is why boats float. 

Early sail ships had great range.  As long as the wind blew.  Their range only being limited by the amount of food and fresh water they carried.  Later steam engines and diesel-electric engines had greater freedom in navigation not having to depend on the prevailing winds.  But they had the same limitations of food and water.  And when we took boats under the water we had another limitation.  Fresh air.  Early submarines could not stay submerged for long.  For underwater they could not pull air into a diesel-electric engine.  So they had to run on batteries.  Which had a limited duration.  So early subs spent most of their time on the surface.  Where they could run their diesel engines to recharge their batteries.  And open their hatches to get fresh air into the boat.  For when submerged the carbon dioxide the crew exhaled built up.  If it built up too much you could become disoriented and pass out.  And die.  If a sub is under attack staying under water for too long and the levels of carbon dioxide build up to dangerous levels a captain has little choice but to surface and surrender.  So the crew can breathe again.

Rapid Decompression at Altitude can be Catastrophic and Violent

Being in a submarine has been historically one of the more dangerous places to be in any navy (second to being on the deck of an aircraft carrier).  Just breathing on a sub had been a challenge at times while trying to evade an enemy destroyer.  But there are other risks, too.  Some things float.  And some things sink.  A submarine is somewhere in between.  It will float on the surface when it has positive buoyancy.  And sink when it has negative buoyancy.  But submarines operate in the oceans.  Which are very deep.  And the deeper you go the greater the pressure of the water.  Because the deeper you go there is more ocean above you pressing down on you.  And oceans are heavy.  If a sub goes too deep this pressure will crush the steel hull like a beer can.  What we call crush depth.  Killing everyone on board.  So a sub cannot go too deep.  Which makes going below the surface a delicate and risky business.  To submerge they flood ballast tanks.  Replacing air within the hull with water.  Making it sink.  Other tanks fill with water as necessary to ‘trim’ the boat.  Make it level under water.  When under way they use forward propulsion to maintain depth and trim with control surfaces like on an airplane.  If everything goes well a submarine can sink.  Then stop at a depth below the surface.  And then resurface.  Modern nuclear submarines can make fresh water and clean air.  So they can stay submerged as long as they have food for the crew to eat.

An airplane has no such staying power like a sub.  For planes have nothing to keep them in air but forward propulsion.  So food and water are not as great an issue.  Fuel is.  And is the greatest limitation on a plane.  In the military they have special airplanes that fly on station to serve as gas stations in the air for fighters and bombers.  To extend their range.  And it is only fuel they take on.  For other than very long-range bombers a flight crew is rarely in the air for extended hours at a time.  Some bomber crews may be in the air for a day or more.  But there are few crew members.  So they can carry sufficient food and water for these longer missions.  As long as they can fly they are good.  And fairly comfortable.  Unlike the earlier bomber crews.  Who flew in unpressurized planes.  For it is very cold at high altitudes.  And there isn’t enough oxygen to breathe.  So these crew members had to wear Arctic gear to keep from freezing to death.  And breathe oxygen they carried with them in tanks.  Pressurizing aircraft removed these problems.  Which made being in a plane like being in a tall building on the ground.  Your ears may pop but that’s about all the discomfort you would feel.  If a plane lost its pressurization while flying, though, it got quite uncomfortable.  And dangerous. 

Rapid decompression at altitude can be catastrophic.  And violent.  The higher the altitude the lower the air pressure.  And the faster the air pressure inside the airplane equals the air pressure outside the airplane.  The air will get suck out so fast that it’ll take every last piece of dust with it.  And breathable air.  Oxygen masks will drop in the passenger compartment.  The flight attendants will scramble to make sure all passengers get on oxygen.  As does the flight crew.  Who call in an emergency.  And make an emergency descent to get below 10 thousand feet.  Almost free falling out of the sky while air traffic control clears all traffic from beneath them.  Once below 10 thousand feet they can level off and breathe normally.  But it will be very, very cold.

Man’s Desire is to Go where no Man has Gone before and where no Human Body should Be

Space flight shares some things in common with both submarines and airplanes.  Like airplanes they can’t fly without fuel.  The greatest distance we’ve ever flown in space was to the moon and back.  The Saturn V rocket of the Apollo program was mostly fuel.   The rocket was 354 feet tall.  And about 75% of it was a fuel tank.  In 3 stages.  The first stage burned for about 150 seconds.  The second stage burned for about 360 seconds.  The third stage burned for about 500 seconds (in two burns, the first to get into earth orbit and the second to escape earth orbit).  Add that up and it comes to approximately 16 minutes.  After that the astronauts were then coasting at about 25,000 miles per hour towards the moon.  Or where the moon would be when they get there.  The pull of earth’s gravity slowed it down until the pull of the moon’s gravity sped it back up.  So that’s a lot of fuel burned at one time to hurl the spacecraft towards the moon.  The remaining fuel on board used for minor course corrections.  And to escape lunar orbit.  For the coast back home.  There was no refueling available in space.  So if something went wrong there was a good chance that the spacecraft would just float forever through the universe with no way of returning home.  Much like a submarine that can’t keep from falling in the ocean.  If it falls too deep it, too, will be unable to return home.

Also like in a submarine food and fresh water are critical supplies.  They brought food with them.  And made their own water in space with fuel cells.  It had to last for the entire trip.  About 8 days.  For in space there were no ports or supply ships.  You were truly on your own.  And if something happened to your food and water supply you didn’t eat or drink.  If the failure was early in the mission you could abort and return home.  If you were already in lunar orbit it would make for a long trip home.  The lack of food and hydration placing greater stresses on the astronauts making the easiest of tasks difficult.  And the critical ones that got you through reentry nearly impossible.  Also like on a submarine fresh air to breathe is critical.  Even more so because of the smaller volume of the spacecraft.  Which can fill up with carbon dioxide very quickly.  And unlike a sub a spacecraft can’t open a hatch for fresh air.  All they can do is rely on a scrubber system to remove the carbon dioxide from their cramped quarters.

While a submarine has a thick hull to protect it from the crushing pressures of the ocean an airplane has a thin aluminum skin to keep a pressurized atmosphere inside the aircraft.  Just like a spacecraft.  But unlike an aircraft, a spacecraft can’t drop below 10,000 feet to a breathable atmosphere in the event of a catastrophic depressurization.  Worse, in the vacuum of space losing your breathable atmosphere is the least of your troubles.  The human body cannot function in a vacuum.  The gases in the lungs will expand in a vacuum and rupture the lungs.  Bubbles will enter the bloodstream.  Water will boil away (turn into a gas).  The mouth and eyes will dry out and lose their body heat through this evaporation.  The water in muscle and soft tissue will boil away, too.  Causing swelling.  And pain.  Dissolved nitrogen in the blood will reform into a gas.  Causing the bends.  And pain.  Anything exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation will get a severe sunburn.  Causing pain.  You will be conscious at first.  Feeling all of this pain.  And you will know what is coming next.  Powerless to do anything about it.  Brain asphyxiation will then set in.  Hypoxia.  The body will be bloated, blue and unresponsive.  But the brain and heart would continue on.  Finally the blood boils.  And the heat stops.  In all about a minute and half to suffer and die.

Man is an adventurer.  From the first time we walked away from our home.  Rode the first horse.  Harnessed the power of steam.  Then conquered the third dimension in submarines, airplanes and spacecraft.  We are adventurers.  It’s why we crossed oceans and discovered the new world.  Why we climbed the highest mountains.  And descended to the oceans’ lowest depth.  Why we fly in airplanes.  And travelled to the moon and back.  When things worked well these were great adventures.  When they did not they were horrible nightmares.  While a few seek this adventure most of us are content to walk the surface of the earth.  To feel the sand through our toes.   Or walk to the poolside bar in our flip-flops.  To enjoy an adult beverage on a summer’s day.  While adventurers are still seeking out something new.  And waiting on technology to allow them to go where no man has gone before.  Especially if it’s a place no human body should be.

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Archimedes’ Principle, Buoyancy, Spar Deck, Freeboard, Green Water, Bulkheads, Watertight Compartments, RMS Titanic and Edmund Fitzgerald

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 4th, 2012

Technology 101

The Spar Deck or Weather Deck is Where you Make a Ship Watertight

Let’s do a little experiment.  Fill up your kitchen sink with some water.  (Or simply do this the next time you wash dishes).  Then get a plastic cup.  Force the cup down into the water with the open side up until it rests on the bottom of the sink.  Make sure you have a cup tall enough so the top of it is out of the water when resting on the bottom.  Now let go of the cup.  What happens?  It bobs up out of the water.  And tips over on its side.  Where water can enter the cup.  As it does it weighs down the bottom of the cup and lifts the open end out of the water.  And it floats.  Now repeat this experiment.  Only fill the plastic cup full of water.  What happens when you let go of it when it’s sitting on the bottom of the sink?  It remains sitting on the bottom of the sink.

What you’ve just demonstrated is Archimedes’ principle.  The law of buoyancy.  Which explains why things like ships float in water.  Even ships made out of steel.  And concrete.  The weight of a ship pressing down on the water creates a force pushing up on the ship.  And if the density of the ship is less than the density of the water it will float.  Where the density of the ship includes all the air within the hull.  Ships are buoyant because air is less dense than water.  If water enters the hull it will increase the density of the ship.  Making it heavier.  And less buoyant.  As water enters the hull the ship will settle lower in the water.

The spar deck or weather deck is where you make a ship watertight.  This is where the hatches are on cargo ships.  We call the distance between the surface of the water and the spar deck freeboard.  A light ship doesn’t displace much water and rides higher in the water.  That is, it has greater freeboard.  With less ship in the water there is less resistance to forward propulsion.  Allowing it to travel faster.  However, a ship riding high in the water is much more sensitive to wave action.  And more susceptible to rolling from side to side.  Increasing the chance of rolling all the way over in heavy seas.  (Interestingly, if the ship stays watertight it can still float capsized.)  So ship captains have to watch their freeboard carefully.  If the ship rides too high (like an empty cargo ship) the captain will fill ballast tanks with water to lower the ship in the water.  By decreasing freeboard the ship is less prone to wave action.  But by lowering the spar deck closer to the surface of the water bigger waves can crash over the spar deck.  Flooding the spar deck with ‘green water’.  Common in a storm with high winds creating tall waves.  As long as the spar deck is watertight the ship will stay afloat.  And the solid water that washes over the spar deck will run off the ship and back into the sea.

The Titanic and the Fitzgerald were Near Unsinkable Designs but both lost Buoyancy and Sank

Improvements in ship design have made ships safer.  Steel ships can take a lot of damage and still float.  Ships struck by torpedoes in World War II could still float even with a hole below their waterline thanks to watertight compartments.  Where bulkheads divide a ship’s hull.  Watertight walls that typically run up to the weather deck.  Access though these bulkheads is via watertight doors.  These are the doors that close when a ship begins to take on water and the captain orders, “Close watertight doors.”  This contains the water ingress to one compartment allowing the ship to remain buoyant.  If it pitches down at the bow or lists to either side they can offset this imbalance with their ballast tanks.  Emptying the tanks where the ship is taking on water.  And filling the tanks where it is not.  To level the ship and keep it seaworthy until it reaches a safe harbor to make repairs.

They considered RMS Titanic unsinkable because of these features.  But they didn’t stop her from sinking on a calm night in 1912.  Why?  Two reasons.  The first was the way she struck the iceberg.  She sideswiped the iceberg.  Which cut a gash below the waterline in five of her ‘watertight’ compartments.  Which basically removed the benefit of compartmentalization.  They could not isolate the water ingress to a single compartment.  Or two.  Or three.  Even four.  Which she might have survived and remained afloat.  But water rushing into five compartments was too much.  It pitched the bow down.  And as the bow sank water spilled over the ‘watertight’ bulkheads and began flooding the next compartment.  Even ones the iceberg didn’t slash open.  As water poured over these bulkheads and flooded compartment after compartment the bow sank deeper and deeper into the water.  Until the unsinkable sank.  The Titanic sank slowly enough to rescue everyone on the ship.  She just didn’t carry enough lifeboats.  For they thought she was unsinkable.  Because of this lack of lifeboats 1,517 died.  Of course, having enough lifeboats doesn’t guarantee everyone will survive a sinking ship.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was the biggest ore carrier on the Great Lakes during her heyday.  These ships could take an enormous amount of abuse as the storms on the Great Lakes could be treacherous.  Like the one that fell on the Fitzgerald one November night in 1975.  When 30-foot waves hammered her and her sister ship the Arthur Andersen.  No one knows for sure what happened that night but some of the clues indicate she may have bottomed out on an uncharted shoal.  For she lost her handrails indicating that the ship may have hogged (where the bow and stern bends down from the center of the ship held up by that uncharted shoal).  The handrails were steel cables under tension running around the spar deck.  If the ship hogged this would have stretched the cable until it snapped.  She had green water washing across her deck.  Lost both of her radars.  A vent.  Maybe even a hatch cover.  Whatever happened she was taking on water.  A lot of it.  More than her pumps could keep up with.  Causing a list.  And the bow to settle deeper in the water.  Waves crashed over her bow as well as the Andersen’s.  The ships disappeared under the water.  Then reemerged.  As they design ships to do.  Then two massive waves rocked the Andersen.  She was following the Fitzgerald to help her navigate by the Andersen’s radar.  So these two waves had hit the Fitzgerald first.  The Fitzgerald had by this time taken on so much water that she lost too much freeboard.  When she disappeared under these two waves she never came back up.  It happened so fast there was no distress call.  The ship was longer than the lake was deep.  So her screw was still propelling the ship forward when the bow stuck the bottom.  She had lifeboat capacity for all 29 aboard.  But the ship sank too fast to use them.  Or even for the Andersen to see her as she sailed over her as she came to a rest on the bottom.

Our Ships have never been Safer but Ship Owners and Merchants still need to Protect their Wealth with Marine Insurance

We build bigger and bigger ships.  And it’s amazing what can float considering how heavy these ships can be.  But thanks to Archimedes’ principle all we have to do to make the biggest and heaviest ships float is too keep them watertight.  Keeping them less dense than the water that makes them float.  Even if we fail here due to events beyond our control we can isolate the water rushing in by sealing watertight compartments.  And keep them afloat.  So our ships have never been safer.  In addition we have far more detailed charts.  And satellite navigation to carefully guide us to our destination.  Despite all of this ships still sink.  Proving the need for something that has changed little since 14th century Genoa.  Marine insurance.  Because accidents still happen.  And ship owners and merchants still need to protect their wealth.

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