Separating Rotzooi from Technical Reality


Note: The Waterpomptang family is fictitious and occasionally a Waterpomptang story appears on the M&O website. Some say their adventures resemble real events, but that is just a coincidence.


Bolle was comfortably seated in one of the creaky white oak surplus Liberty ship chairs in Willem’s office above the BuyLo Packy in Red Bank. They were discussing a design detail on Willem’s new solar powered hybrid 35 foot catamaran. Wim (Bolle) had just sung the praises of Garolite as a better alternative to hardwood in certain composite structure details, when Marina walked in.

“Garolite?” Marina said, “Never heard of it”

“You are not old enough” Wim said, “It is one of the world’s original composites. Lovely material, used to make racing sailboat blocks out of it. It was invented in the 1920’s or 30’s.”

Marina chuckled: “Funny thing Opa, I was just asked to evaluate something that was invented in the 1930’s. Some VC’s were provided with this design by one of their analysts who has been mining old ideas for application with new technologies and materials. The analyst thinks it shows a lot of promise in today’s sustainable energy market, and they asked me to take an independent look at it.”

She handed Wim a copy of a single page from the January 1932 Popular Science.

“Interesting”, Wim said, and handed it to Willem to study.

Willem looked at it for less than a minute and handed it back to Marina.

“Won’t ever make any money”, Willem said.

Marina rolled her eyes in exasperation, “Dad you only looked at it for a second. How can you be so dismissive so fast?”

“Looks technically feasible”, Wim said.

Willem leaned back in his Aeron chair. When he moved into Bolle’s office a number of years ago he changed very little, but had to get rid of the 1930’s wooden tilt back desk chair that Bolle used. Somehow Bolle managed to be comfortable in it, but the chair was killing Willem at the back of his legs. It was a human factors design problem. Bolle never tilted back in the chair, but Willem was a major chair sloucher and the old chair would tip up at the edge of the seat and put pressure on the back of WIllem’s legs to an extent he started to worry about blood clots. His purchase of the Aeron chair was a cathartic event in the office and started a chain reaction where everybody now had modern desk chairs, but the old Liberty chairs remained as guest chairs in each office.

Once he got the chair to lean back to its maximum extent, he said: “Old fashioned Dutch windmills are totally technically feasible, but will never make money. Too much stuff for too little gain in today’s economy. This one is no different.”

“Wait” Marina said, “How did you figure that out so quickly though?”

“Well to coin a phrase: It is fundamental my dear Marina.” Willem went on:

“The goal is to capture energy. You can only produce sustainable power from three types of energy; solar radiation, potential energy and kinetic energy.

Potential energy is very basic; it is basically hydropower and the main idea is civil engineering simple. Nobody seems to be confused about how much energy you can capture and generally the cost to turn it into power is easy too. Solar energy is pretty easy too, as long as you do not get confused about the fact that there is only so much insolation at any point and time on earth, and that you can never get more than a fraction of that. Even that confuses a lot of people because, today, PV solar can capture a higher percentage of solar energy per square meter than even the most efficient plants. Hence commercially viable corn ethanol is snake oil.

But once we are dealing with kinetic energies from wind, waves, and tides everybody and their brother and sister get confused. And it is so simple. Kinetic energy equals 1/2 mass times velocity squared. So if I am dealing with wind, I cannot capture more energy than the part of the device that is exposed to the air flow. If I make a very large device without too many bells and whistles, such as a modern wind turbine, I can do it cost effectively. What really bugs me is when I see people promoting fancy wind devices in all shapes and forms with claims of greater effectiveness and efficiencies and meanwhile the actual swept area of the device is tiny and therefore limited in the amount of energy it can capture. The same problem exists with wave energy, but there it gets weirder because it becomes a three dimensional interface problem. Which makes it very difficult to determine what chunk of energy you are capturing. As a result wave energy, to date, has been nothing but a bunch of false starts based on flawed assumptions. Only Mike Raftery and the SurfWEC approach stands a chance because he actually has figured out how to harvests kinetic energy”

Willem took a breath and then bolted up from his reclining position, leaning in towards Marina: “But never forget! You can never capture more than the combination of potential and kinetic energy that exists within the harvesting area or volume of the capture device, and when I look at this device, despite the fact that they are Flettner rotors, the harvesting area is small and there are a ton of bells and whistles needed to do it.”

Marina smiled at Willem, “Well thank you for that Dutch Uncle”.

Willem tossed the picture on the desk. Wim picked it up again, “I love the drawing though. It is so romantic and optimistic, so different from today’s computerized images.”

Marina took the picture from her grandfather, “Let me say it for you Opa; this thing is rotzooi, and unfortunately my report to explain it will be short and therefore not terribly profitable”



Wim (Willem Fokko) Waterpomptang, originally a blacksmith, but became a Chief Engineer in the Dutch Merchant Marine (this would be Hoofdscheepswerktuigkundige Waterpomptang) and mostly sailed to the Great Lakes and the Mediterranean. No fan of the English, but loved the Scots. Referred to as Oudopa by his descendents. Passed away in 1992.

Wim Waterpomptang, President Emeritus, Watt & Fulton, Ship Surveyors and Engineers

Started as a sailing engineer at Holland America Line and then started to work for an American Ship surveying company in Rotterdam.

Transferred to the United States with his family just before the Bicentennial.

Joined Watt & Fulton in 1980 and bought the company with his son, Willem, in 1993.

Owns a 28 foot Olson Sea Skiff named “Froetjers” and drives a 1993 Dodge K car. Hates cars. Keeps his boat at the Molly Pitcher.

Nicknamed “Bolle” by his old friends (Means “round one”). Called Pa by his kids and Opa by his grandchildren.

Any stranger he meets he calls “My Friend”. Anytime somebody says something that makes no sense he says: Rotzooi! (A not too rude word for mess, mix-up or confusion)

Loves his wife Truus and bacon, hates to travel. Drinks Lairds and cold beer. Is distrustful of people that eat porridge and oatmeal for breakfast. Hates melted cheese.

Willem (Willem Fokko) Waterpomptang President Watt & Fulton, Wim’s son

Sails and iceboats. Aerospace and Ocean engineer and Professional Engineer. Is somewhat autistic and sometimes has trouble figuring out what people mean. Helped by his partners and office staff in maintaining human contact.  Nicknamed “Dutch Uncle” due to his inability to behave tactfully. Married to Anne Gardiner, fortunately of Scottish descent.

Marina (Marina Gretchen) Waterpomptang. Economist and Environmental Scientist with a Masters degree in System Engineering from Columbia.

Daughter of Willem. Works for the company as an independent consultant. Travels the world and does weird things, sometimes for W&F.

Will (Willem James) Waterpomptang

Son of Willem. Mysterious Character. Also an engineer but now works as a lawyer in mysterious acquisitions and deals. Married to Shruti a big data engineer from India.

Polara (Polara Ruth) Waterpomptang

Daughter of Willem, marine biologist, artist and environmental activist.

Watt & Fulton, an ancient ship surveying and engineering company, founded by descendants of James Watt and Robert Fulton and world renown for dealing with the thornier maritime issues.

The company used to be based in New York City, but moved to Red Bank, NJ after the Whitehall Club closed.

­­Today W&F is located across the railroad station above a packy store in the Mexican section of town.