Who wants to ship by sail?
February 5, 2007 3:42 PM   Subscribe

In reading Jim Kunstler's latest column, one of his claims piqued my interest.

While discussing the shipping industry's metamorphosis after Peak Oil, Kunstler claims, "Right now, programs are underway to restore maritime shipping based on wind -- yes, sailing ships. It's for real." I call bullshit. My Google-fu returns nothing. However, if such a program exists, I want to know about it. Has the Hivemind heard of anything?
posted by quite unimportant to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, I read an article in Yachting World a couple of years ago about attaching half-a-dozen vast kites, flying at an altitude of a couple of hundred feet, to a container ship. Fuel consumption could be reduced, to some extent, though the engines would still be running as the kites (/sails) couldn't provide enough power on their own. Obviously this only works when winds coincide with trade routes (presumably about 50% of the time). It had a bit of a pie-in-the-sky feel to it, and I don't remember any real-world implementations being mentioned — there were lots of shiny computer graphics though.
posted by matthewr at 3:49 PM on February 5, 2007

here's a cnn article that was the first google hit for "'wind power' shipping"
posted by contraption at 3:51 PM on February 5, 2007

There was also the Shin Aitoku Maru, a sail-assisted Japanese tanker - although I think that design is not super-recent (at least a decade or two old).
posted by kickingtheground at 3:56 PM on February 5, 2007

SkySails looks fairly credible.
posted by contraption at 3:58 PM on February 5, 2007

Economically shipping will run on coal or wood before it goes back to the age of sail. More than likely it will run on coal converted into oil before it turns to sail. That is not to say that there will be so-called alternative energy assisting things such as SkySails.
posted by geoff. at 4:01 PM on February 5, 2007

Every article I found about this deals with reducing energy cost via wind power, but not replacing diesel entirely. Container shipping as we know it would be nigh impossible without fossil fuels, but then so would the manufacturing that creates a need for container shipping.

I, for one, eagerly await the day I can buy a title and manse with a sack of cloves.
posted by bobot at 4:30 PM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

George Dyson discusses the return of sail in his comment on the Edge's World Question Center for 2007.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:08 PM on February 5, 2007

There have been a number of sail-based cargo ideas - most with unconventional sail or hull configurations.

Using one or more very tall solid airfoils instead sails is an option, and requires little "rigging" and behaves more like an airplane wing with control surfaces. Giant robotic-winched kites are another idea, probably in dual or quad line for pitch, speed and tack control.

I've even seen concept art for a gigantic cargo-container catamaran, the twin booms composed of cargo container ships with gigantic struts between, ridiculously keeling over under sail on one ship like some mad industrialist's Godzilla-sized Hobie Cat. That one was Popular Mechanics or something silly, I believe. Not impossible, but highly improbable.

But not all of it is really so improbable as to be economically unfeasible, not in the energy-starved "slow crash" Kunstler basis his projections on - if someone was smart enough to do it before energy became too scarce to build big ships, or did it on smaller scales.

The reason why many of the proposals have odd or non-traditional sail or hull designs is because the traditional sail-boom-mast-jib arrangement is terribly complicated, heavy and fragile and otherwise prone to failure. It doesn't scale well.

Anyway, if fuel becomes expensive enough and some sort of global economy exists you can bet that there will be sails or wind power for cargo once again.

If fuel becomes really, truly and dearly expensive it might even be small, hand-built, nearly-traditional cloth-sailed ships. But if that's the case, I'm sure we will have and will have recently had plenty else to worry about.
posted by loquacious at 2:20 AM on February 6, 2007

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