Another trip around the Sun, and a few moments to ponder it. This is my take for 2021.
1. Lack of Cooperation and Discipline
I try to be diplomatic in my public pronouncements, but I will go full Dutch Uncle here. Our misery in 2021 was completely related to decisions by individuals who somehow have become disconnected from being human. Not wearing masks, not practicing social distancing, and not getting vaccinated, at best, is cowardly, but more probably, ignorant, antisocial, unpatriotic, and pathetic. If everybody had stepped on the vaccination train, and followed proper anti transmission practices in 2021, we would have pretty much shut COVID down in the first world, and made huge headway in the rest of the world. Shame on those who did not do their best to help out, you have caused untold misery to the world.
2. Doing; Not Studying
In maritime, things get done, although probably still not as quickly as needed. Whenever, I get embroiled in government or land based work, the lack of doing is astonishing. At the highest level this is exemplified with too much time and money studying sustainable energy, and not enough doing. The same happens with COVID containment. And that becomes even more pathetic where people who have no expertise claim to need to do more studying on whether vaccines are safe, etc. It simply makes no sense, at a certain stage the knowledge exists and doing is next. We got to the moon in a decade. That was a huge leap and, by comparison, sustainable energy is just a bunch of steps. If we just do, we can have sustainable energy in a decade.
Occasionally I despair, but thankfully I got to divert my attention with SHEWAC Aberration. Soup to nuts Scarano Boats and I designed, built, and commissioned a Solar Hybrid Electric Wheelchair Accessible Catamaran in seven months. The Scarano team partially restored my faith in humanity. We Can Do It. So Just Do it!
3. Car and Maritime Interaction
This is new and different. Possibly for the first time ever, large maritime is getting technology that flows from the car industry to maritime. Since electric drive is inherently scalable, the concepts and technologies designed for cars can readily transfer to maritime. In particular, mass produced motor and battery technology transfer will have wonderful effects in the adoption of electric drive in maritime.
4. Ford’s Product Line Up
I am a Stellantis (Chrysler) fan, also own a Chevy Bolt (because it was dirt cheap with all the incentives), think Elon Musk is a Do It God, and have never owned a Ford. But I am deeply impressed with Ford’s present design approach. It is bold, clever, and potentially the winning strategy. I don’t need a pick-up truck at the moment but their Maverick, which is rather old school as a standard hybrid, is a great and efficient package at a great cost. The Ford F-150 Lightning will convince many truck users that under the right circumstances (short haul work) an EV truck is a killer deal. And to put your best known nameplate on the line with the Mustang Mach-E would certainly have given me pause. But it seems to be working and, since they are doing, I will be cheering at the side line.
5. Strange Recreational Boating Investment
Doing still exists in commerce and the most visible center of today’s doing is Silicone Valley. While I am not convinced they are superefficient at doing it, they are always looking for the next great thing. Too much cash does result in strange projects though. There are electric boat ventures funded by big silicone valley money ($25M and up) that intend to capture certain segments of the boating market. As a maritime player I see uninspired designs with limited capabilities for inherently small markets. Some may think of this as the Tesla of boating. Unfortunately there is no, and will never be, such a thing as Tesla in boating. Just back of the envelope calculations will show that the level of investment can never provide the returns. There is really interesting stuff out there though, especially the electric drive foilers. These efforts are also getting investment, but apparently by more sober investors with a firmer grasp of reality.
6. Fuel Prices
US middle class consumers have no right to bitch about the price of gas. If you spend too much on gas you have not taken advantage of the alternatives. This is America; the home of rugged individualists and free enterprise. If you refuse to play that game, you are not a true American; you are a socialist who wants the government to control the free market. High gas prices can be a severe burden on low income earners who do not have access to EV’s and other economical transportation options. Hopefully the infrastructure bill will be a tide that lifts all ships. Meanwhile, as a rugged individualist free enterpriser, I see too many interesting opportunities with high fuel prices. Keep it up!
7. Ocean Transportation Costs
To me, this is a chuckle. Something that is vital to our present lives and totally ignored, has a hick-up, and containerization suddenly becomes visible to the public at large. Hyperventilation and confusion ensues. My reaction: “Eh, this too will pass”. Hopefully it will be solved by taking a closer look at whole system improvements rather than simply building more ships, containers and terminals. The ocean transportation congestion is undoubtedly a factor in the inflation we are seeing (together with fuel costs, labor shortages, and excess disposable income in higher social strata). While the increased cost of transportation itself is only a tiny component in product cost, the cost of delays, delivery unpredictability, and product scarcities inherently results in inflated product prices.
8. Maritime Byways
My recent travels up and down the Hudson River in SHEWAC Aberration have gotten me involved in micro marine transportation. It involves transporting locally produced products on sustainably powered small craft between small ports. It envisions much enhanced public cargo, passenger and recreational vessel access to Hudson basin ports to facilitate transportation and recreation. As an engineer I know that this is not necessarily the most efficient or effective way to move people and cargo, but it will be fun, community oriented, provide focus on sustainability and mutually promotes maritime recreation and trade. Most of all it is low cost doing. And doing is the core of: build a little, test a little, and learn a lot.
9. Making Old New Again
Maritime Byways may prove that old methods may be useful in new ways. But for engineers to jump back into history to re-evaluate old concepts can have its own benefits. At the moment I am re-evaluating paddlewheels. Paddlewheels are inherently quite efficient and effective and have fallen by the way side because the engine/reduction gear/propeller approach became lower cost than steam plants with paddlewheels. Diesel engines and paddlewheels are not the best combination due to a paddlewheel’s high inertia and a diesel engine’s limited torque. But sidewheels and electric drive provide a lot of promise. Solar on a paddlewheeler also has its own benefits because sidewheelers tend to have the most deck area on a monohull and batteries provide the low required VCG. Pause for thought.
10. 250 Years Declaration of Independence 2026
Hopefully in 5 years the United States will celebrate the semi quincentennial of the Declaration of Independence. Preliminary efforts to commemorate that event consist of an organization named America250, which is an awkward and incorrect designation to start with, and has not yet suggested anything interesting for the celebration. First we need a name change. Semi Quincentennial does not really have a ring. Maybe DOI250 (Declaration Of Independence 250th). It is accurate and does not make any inaccurate claims regarding the age of America. The prime Bicentiennial event was OpSail in New York harbor. Let’s start thinking of a similarly magnificent event. Locally I am starting to think along a solar hybrid electric paddlewheel steamer (SHEPS) that will participate in such an event. It will show what we did in our past and what we can do in the future.
Best for 2022, go do something to make it special.