A Sailor’s Best Friend

Design in Nature

It’s easy to see why dogs are a hunter’s best friend. But sailors? Go topside to examine a swabbie’s shoe, and you’ll find your answer.

Paul Sperry (1894–1982) was an avid New England sailor and inventor. But he kept running into a problem common to yachtsmen of his day: the boat deck became slippery and dangerous when wet. After nearly drowning in a boating accident, Paul set out to solve the problem by applying various coatings to his boat deck and shoes. However, his success was limited and temporary.

One wintry day in 1935 Paul was walking his cocker spaniel, Prince, along an icy path. He found walking difficult, but Prince moved with ease across the ice and remained sure-footed. Arriving back home Paul examined the dog’s feet. On each paw he noticed separate pads of skin, each covered with fingerprint-like grooves. As an experiment Paul cut grooves in a sheet of rubber and attached it to his shoe. The angled slits resembled what is called a herringbone pattern.1 When he stepped outside on the ice, the greater shoe traction was obvious.

Paul Sperry went on to form a company that designed non-skid shoes called Sperry Top-Siders. The US Navy caught wind of the idea of a safety tread on shoes, and Top-Siders quickly became standard issue. Today, all athletic shoes, as well as vehicle tires, benefit from the safety design of a grooved surface. This feature allows the shoe sole to deform slightly and better grasp the ground surface. And when the surface is wet, the grooves channel water outward from under the shoe.

“Authentic Original Sperry” shoes are still worn worldwide by sailors and as casual street shoes. Where did this safety idea originate? On a dog’s paw! God planned all parts of nature with care, and many of these details have practical value as we explore creation.

The application of ideas from God’s creation to develop new products and solve problems is popularly called biomimicry or biomimetics. Both terms come from two Greek roots meaning “life” (bios) and “imitation” (mimesis). The endeavor might better be called creation research. It suggests an entirely new approach to science, the searching out of secrets that God put in place for our discovery and benefit.2

Dr. Don DeYoung is chairman of science and math at Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana. He is an active speaker for AiG and has written 20 books on Bible-science topics. Dr. DeYoung is currently president of the Creation Research Society with hundreds of members worldwide. His website is DiscoveryofDesign.com.

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  1. http://www.sperrytopsider.com/en/our-story/
  2. Don DeYoung and Derrik Hobbs, Discovery of Design (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2009).


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