The shape of the vessel

Swimming coach Bill Boomer’s once said something that turned iconic – the shape of the vessel matters more than the size of the engine. I saw this statement in action at the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin.

What we see here is a tug of war between a paddle wheel and a tiny propeller with equal power. At first, it seems like the paddle wheel would win this competition – it seems to displace more water and get more work done. In this experimental setup as well, the paddle wheel seems to pull faster at first, but the propeller soon overpowers it as the water column increases.

This experiment was publicly replicated with full-size vessels in 1845 and 1849, where much to the audience’s amazement propellers beat paddle wheels and replaced them for good. The propellers allow for a much sleeker and efficient design, with lesser drag than bulky paddle wheels.

The corollary of Bill Boomer’s statement is applicable to most professionals – appearing to do more work doesn’t necessarily correspond to actually getting things done.

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