Here is the ultimate boat rental: Hundreds of millions of tons of cargo shipped by a mega-tanker under sail. Massive sails.
It’s part of a long-term effort to improve “rigid wing wind” transportation by ship. An earlier blog showed that in terms of fuel consumed per ton-mile, a tugboat moving a barge is 2.5 times more efficient than a train and neary 9 times more efficient than a truck. Container ships are much more efficient than tugs. So if sea shipment is the best, just imagine the efficiency of reducing greatly the need for fuel.
Major shipping companies in Japan pioneered the concept under the Wind Challenger Project in collaboration with the University of Tokyo. To appreciate the magnitude of the concept, consider its very description: motor-assisted wind-powered vessel. Not the other way around.
One prototype is the UT Wind Challenger, equipped with nine huge rigid sails of fiberglass composite. The sails reef telescopically and self-rotate to adjust to rising and falling wind conditions. The prototype has enough thrust to sail a 180,000-ton load 14 knots. They ran the numbers for a theoretical shipment from Yokohama to Seattle and managed to exploit the wind 30% of the time. Put another way, fuel savings amounted to 30%. The cost savings is compounded by the reduced carbon footprint from burning less diesel or oil. The drawback is the enormous cost of researching and building the nine sails. And I wouldn’t want to ride out a Class 4 or 5 typhoon on the UT Challenger.
In another unique concept, the trade publication Marine Insight reports of a spinnaker propulsion for cargo ships. “The kite ship or the skysail technology has been proved to reduce fuel consumption of ships when the kite is used in strong winds. Aghia Marina–the largest bulk carrier ship to use skysail technology and Belluga Skysail are some examples wherein the kite technology has been used successfully.”
The video above shows how the Belluga Skysail works. The kite reduces fuel consumption by 10%-35%. The video below explains the technology in greater detail. The ROI is only three years, making it extremely efficient. The spinnaker flies high up off the bow ahead of the ship in a magnficent series of figure eights. What an adventure to watch!
These sail applications derive in part from the success of extreme sailing found in the America’s Cup behemoths. In the past two races, conventional sloops were scuttled for giant catamarans on air foils. Once they get up to speed, the pontoons rise completely out of the water as the small foils guide the boat. They can fly at 55 mph, astonishing for a sailboat.
Lucky for us, they make a smaller consumer version of the America’s Cup fleet. At $400,000 each, the boat is eminently affordable for the daring-do entrepreneur, but he’ll need more water than the York River and its 2-mile width.
Unidentified USNS ship stopped dead in the water on the York River in anticipation of the Coleman Bridge opening. Later it looked as if the ship went to Cheatham Annex, suggesting it’s a big supply ship.
Kim Barbano took her beau Chad Cassidy sailing on the York for his 34th birthday. They live in Arlington and work in Northern Virginia. She avoids costly commutes to work by working at home and taking road trips to see her PR clients. He commutes on the George Washington Parkway or I-66 to Tysons Corner. Their parents remember when Tysons was getting underway; today it is a mega-complex of stores and condos. Chad took a recent sailing lesson with a friend on the Magothy River in Annapolis. He held the helm well at 20 degrees in 15 mph winds. Then they went up on the bow for champagne as we took two long broad runs back to port.
Sailing to Dandy
Cindy Radcliffe of Hampton was bummed that she and her friend Julie Stiebell couldn’t go to the family house on the Outer Banks after Hurricane Dorian blasted through. So they went sailing instead on the York River, “Our house is in Rodanthe, and the main road in has been cut off for days because of the water damage.”
Cindy cheered up as we sailed diagonally across the river toward Dandy, tacking only three times to make it in stiff winds of 10 mph. She did such a good job on the helm that we caught up to and passed a larger catamaran that had an hour’s head start.
“My parents stayed through every storm in Dandy. My father worked on the water and was fearless. But Hurricane Isabel was different. He told our minister at Seaford Baptist Church, ‘You should have warned everyone to get out, the water rose so fast.’ Only one young man stayed to ride it out, and he said later it was the scariest thing he’d ever lived through.” I pointed out some dead pine trees that were still there 16 years later,
Also on board were Iva and John Vaeth, who drove from Mineral VA, where they live half the year on Lake Anna. “The lake is down 12 feet,” Iva said, “because they’re working on the nuclear plant. As a result, we can’t use our pontoon boat much, or my jet ski.” She marveled at the quietude of the York River as we were one of only a few sailboats out on the water, “It’s gotten so bad on Lake Anna that they’ve imposed restrictions on development. The rules are now more rigorous for putting in a dock because there are too many powerboats on the lake, especially on weekends.”
Eventually we turned and sailed back beam to broad. Cindy and Julie went up on the bow for the next hour as we sailed lazily home.
Sailing Cape Dorys
While touring Kilmarnock for the day, I fell upon the Rappahannock River Yacht Club, a delightful place where all the slips have plaques on the dock with the name of the boats and the owners. One fellow was in the water cleaning his Cape Dory, and several similar boats surrounded him. He was getting for the Wednesday night races. On another dock, I chatted briefly with Ron Myhills as he readied his Dory for the evening.
“We have 15 of these Cape Dorys here, the Typhoon class. There are more on the Piankatank and other nearby rivers. Altogether I think there are 82 in the region. We once held the Nationals here, with boats coming in as far as San Francisco.” His boat, like the others, was pristine. I asked about the racing conditions. “You know how people look at their watch as they approach the start line to cross it at just the right time? With these Typhoons, you watch your calendar. But they’re wonderful boats and it’s wonderful to be out here.
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Sailing on Megatankers
Here is the ultimate boat rental: Hundreds of millions of tons of cargo shipped by a mega-tanker under sail. Massive sails. It’s part of a long-term effort to improve “rigid wing wind” transportation by ship.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Let's Go Sail - Williamsburg Charter Sails
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