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Friday, August 14, 2009

Directional Instability

As I have mentioned before, my brother Andy has a small houseboat. He has it parked in a marina on the Mississippi River. We took it out a couple of times while I was visiting and he let me take the helm, as you can see from the picture in top right corner of this page.

Watching him drive it looks like no big deal, but when I got ahold of the wheel I found it a little difficult. I had a devil of a time just getting the boat pointed in the right direction, and when I did, it was a real trick to keep it pointed there.

After a while I did get the hang of it, but it was all I could do to keep the boat pointed straight on. I had to pick a point to steer for and focus on that point to the exclusion of all else. Looking around for any reason was out of the question. Take my eyes off the target point and the boat falls off the track. By remaining focused on the target point and reacting to any slight sideways motion of the bow with a couple of spokes of the wheel, I was able to maintain our heading.

Tedious and tiring. I finally figured out that it was kind of like balancing a broom stick on end in the palm of your hand. As long as you concentrate and keep making small compensating movements, you can keep the broomstick upright, but look away for a moment and it is almost surely going to fall. That's what steering this boat was like.

Now I am trying to figure out how to remedy this problem. I have several ideas, but they would all take some expense and some effort to implement, and I really don't know if any of them would work, much less which one would work best. If you have ideas, drop me a line. I'd like to hear them.

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