Monday, February 12, 2007

Unintended Consequences

Greenman Tim at Walking the Berkshires has a cogent post about unintended consequences. Boy are we humans full of them! Please read him and follow the links to get a good take on the global warming affray. It's my springboard to:

Del began working as a deck hand on tugs while still in high school just after WWII. Through college he worked his way into the engine room and then up to the wheel house as skipper. He was there when his tug company was bought by Foss. Foss painted thir boats yellow and green. The old company painted the boats blue and red. Foss had the yard paint all the boats the Foss colors. Out they'd go as smart as can be. So soon as they cleared the breakwater the deck hands would open the paint locker. When the tug returned it was a sparkling blue and red. Foss tried reason, bribery, spies, rotating crews, confiscating paint lockers and brushes. After some months of this they gave up. They were spending their profit on paint for well painted boats.

But the story with the unintended consequences happened when Del was chief engineer. He had a layover with not much to do, so he did some routine -- and not so routine -- maintenance. His engineering skills convinced him that the engine would run more efficiently at a couple hundred rpm more than it was used to. When the Skipper -- an old timer -- came aboard Del reported the change. But he didn't explain it. This Captain did not suffer explanations gladly. With a laconic "Very well" (or whatever) he turned back to the boatsun and ordered engines to standby. Del dove for the engine room two decks below and off they went up the sound.
Some hours later they were threading a narrow channel between islands -- possibly Drayton Passage -- When Del took a break on deck. He recognized the trees where they were. He checked the time. It was what he knew it to be. That meant the state of the tide was not able to serve. He dove for the engine room once again and threw the engines in reverse just as the keel slid firmly into the mud at the peak of the channel. The air was already turning blue from the wheel house, outwards and mostly downwards.
They sat there in splendor an hour or two until the flow of the high tide floated them off. They were fully visible to that part of the fleet that happened to pass by on the other side of the island.
How this happened is that the Skipper knew the channel, he knew the tides and he knew the speed of his boat. He planned to take a short cut through a shoal channel which he knew he could pass provided the tide was not too far out. At the regular speed there would be no problem.
Del changed the speed of the boat by increasing the rpms of the prop. So the tug arrived sooner than the Skipper planned.
A more efficient engine and an unintended consequence.
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