I am not sure if I have ever expounded on my theory on the path to the middle class in the M&O blog. The theory is simple: Only maritime provides a reliable path to the middle class for those who seek it. There are very good technical and economical reasons for that assertion, which I may make the subject of another blog some time in the future. Meanwhile, find me a solid middle class anywhere in the world, and I will bet that maritime had an important role in it.


Unfortunately, in the US, we have lost our connection with that reality, and our middle class is weakening as I am writing this, but, fortunately, there are people out there who are willing to make an effort to fix the problem.

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The collapse of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge will undoubtedly result in some serious soul searching by the engineering community. In looking at it from the outside, my first gut instinct tells me that there was an error in the structural analysis of this rather pretty, but really quite complex structure, while it was only partially installed. I suspect this structure was designed with the use of a finite element (FEM) program, and since it is a non-conventional reinforced concrete structure, the analysis is far from straight forward. I could very well be wrong, but, at this stage, I suspect that the program misinterpreted, or did not recognize, a failure mode in the erection stage that eventually resulted in the collapse.


I am tending towards such a conclusion, because in the last few weeks I have been struggling with a weird result in a fancy hydrostatics program. We were analyzing the sinking of a small sportfishermen and trying to determine what happened in the last few seconds before sinking. 

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As American parents, my wife and I went through the usual terrors of teaching the offspring to drive.


Once we were reasonably sure our youngest could drive on her own, she asked us if we would pay for her Street Survival class. We had never heard of this program, and this is a shame, because it turned out it is one of the greatest training programs I have ever seen.


Street Survival was the brain child of sports car enthusiast in the US who realized that, because young drivers never had driven their car at the performance edge, they were bound to fail if they found themselves at a performance edge emergency.  (Think of a young driver flipping the car while trying to avoid a deer crossing the road.)


With support of a number of automotive supply companies, these sports car enthusiasts developed a one day program that they run themselves. For very little money ($95), young drivers will be exposed to an effective and fun learing experience that can truly save their lives, but, besides that, the program also provides useful training ideas for other training programs, including maritime.

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Capt. Terry Ogg published a thoughtful article on safety culture and training on LinkedIn. The title is “Why it's time to deep-six our current safety culture,” but within the article he provides an even better meme: The Whac-a-Mole Safety Game.


The meme explains the tendency to simply hit at every possible human error that occurs and to paper it over with new procedures. Capt. Ogg, instead, advocates the cognitive approach. He is speaking about training highly functioning humans who have a desire to stay alive and can figure out how to do that regardless of the situation they find themselves in. To me that is the classic definition of a mariner: A human who goes away on ships and through training, experience and intelligence manages to deal with the natural unpredictability and complexity of the seas and make it back in one piece, and does this time and time again.

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By traditional training I am not a Naval Architect. I actually studied to become an Aerospace and Ocean engineer. My education at Virginia Tech as an Aerospace and Ocean engineer was nothing more than a lucky coincidence, since it allowed me to indulge my youthful passions of sailing, flight and space.


Over the years I ended up spending much more time on the water, but that path was not so clear at the time of my graduation. My senior project was a self launched home buildable glider, not a boat.


My team won a national award for the design and after that it was shelved and I went the maritime way.


However, recently, I have decided to reopen my personal path to flight, mostly to re-experience what it feels like to learn something from scratch.


Last fall, I started taking soaring lessons at Jersey Ridge Soaring in Blairstown, NJ. Jersey Ridge Soaring is one of those unexpected New Jersey gems; a surprisingly good soaring location with excellent staff, and instructors on a lovely airport with an excellent diner.


While it is a rather long drive for me, the last part of the drive is a truly pretty country drive and the return drive always gives me the chance to mentally go over my old man feeble attempts at learning a new eye hand coordination routine.


Especially as an engineer, I generally feel I am overthinking the task at hand, and that tends to make a mess of things when it requires rapid eye, hand, feet, and instrument feedback response. Stick and rudder coordination is no different than riding a bike or sailing a sailboat. The only difference is that I learned to ride a bike, and sail a sailboat when I was quite young with a blank slate brain and felt little social pressure or embarrassment when I made a mess of things. Today, I have to deal with a brain that is mostly prewired for not flying gliders.

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Rik van Hemmen's picture
Friday, December 29th, 2017

Baby It's Cold Out There

Maybe I am getting old, or maybe I am getting less stupid.


But looking out of the aft cabin hatch for a quick run from Slaughter Beach to a ship at Big Stone Anchorage, I did worry a little about the ice building up on deck.


I started thinking, "Am I nuts? Are we all nuts for doing this?"


Ice building on deck, freezing water, a down wind trip so the waves will be bigger at the ship, and the return trip is in the dark.


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I have been making these lists since 2012, and so I feel compelled to add another one this year. Maybe I have not been paying attention as closely as usual, but somehow I did not see as many milestones as prior years. This should not be interpreted as gloom and doom. I just think that 2017 was a pregnant pause.

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I wrote this story many years ago, back when .PDF readers were still very confusing to use and cell phone systems were analog. It deals with what, today, I call "hyperventilation control," a timely subject, I would say.


I hope our clients, colleagues, associates, friends, and family will enjoy it as a heartfelt Martin & Ottaway holiday present.


Happy Holidays and a Prosperous 2018 to All!



There once was a King who tried very hard to be just and fair. But, because he tried to be just and fair, he was often asked to judge.


This King originally held public court on Monday mornings, but once his subjects discovered that their King would try to be just and fair when he held court, more and more subjects appealed to him to resolve their grievances and disputes.


Soon he was holding court deep into Friday afternoon. He already had to stop playing golf with his advisors and ministers on Thursdays, and he realized that in a few more weeks he would not be able to play with his kids over the weekend.

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Rik van Hemmen's picture
Monday, November 20th, 2017

Thank You, Union Drydock


A few weeks ago we surveyed the No.4 Union Drydock for purchase by Bayonne Drydock. The deal was consummated, and now the No. 4 drydock is in Bayonne. By now most of Union Drydock in Hoboken has been liquidated. We are sorry to see this 100 year old company go, but, on the positive side, it looks like the site itself will continue to serve the New York City marine industry as a New York Waterways yard.


We enjoyed our work at Union Drydock, it always seemed that the interactions between the shipyard, the surveyors, USCG, ABS, and the owners took place in a, funkier, more freewheeling setting that reached back to earlier days. Whenever we had a job there, we had the chance to do some real negotiating, which meant you always had to bring your A game. That high standard was mostly driven by Bruce Southern the yard’s long serving manager. Bruce would drive you, but never leave you hanging. Most of all, when the deal was done, it was fun to reminisce with him about prior jobs, or to exchange some waterfront stories.


It was no different when we did the drydock survey. We were given documents that reached back for decades and Bruce and his yard personnel provided us with insights into the drydock operations that were deeply practical and allowed us to get our head around the issues that a new Owner would encounter.


We had most of these discussions in Bruce’s famous office trailer. I suppose that soon that trailer will be gone, which means that a huge storehouse of New York City waterfront trivia will have disappeared since the trailer’s walls were decorated with hundreds of pictures and memorabilia.

Before I left, I got a chance to take a picture of my father’s picture that Bruce had pinned on the wall. read more »

I try to attend the SNAME annual meetings every year. Mustering the energy to attend can be daunting, but once I am there, I realize that there are so many benefits to attending the annual meeting that the cost and time are well worth it.


At every meeting I try to attend as many technical paper presentations as possible, but it is very difficult to get in more than about 8 presentations because there are so many other important activities. These activities range from my very satisfying involvement on the (mt) editorial board, to meeting with other professionals (which through a bizarre set of circumstances included Chris Kraft, the NASA legend), mining for new technical solutions at the exposition, re-establishing old contacts, and making new contacts (especially with the very committed young professionals who have decided to attend).


Regardless, central to all of this is the ability to learn, and at the end of each annual meeting I always ask myself: "What was the most important thing I learned?"


This year the outstanding learning experience was the paper by Dr. Doerry and Dr. Koenig: "Framework for Analyzing Modular, Adaptable and Flexible Surface Combatants." read more »