Developed in the mid to late 20th century, the ‘wingsail’ is a rigid airfoil structure designed to replace fabric sails on sailing vessels. Though not as entirely adaptable as sail systems used on racing yachts, the wingsail offers very high efficiency and simplicity, eliminating the manual skills traditionally associated with managing fabric sail systems and allowing the sail vessel to be operated little different from a convention motor vessel. During the height of the 1970s Energy Crisis, many designers looked to the wingsail as a key technology for reducing the fuel costs of large vessel marine transport –though commercial shipbuilders remained reluctant to even experiment with the technology. Others were not so timid, however, and a variety of yacht class wingsail vessels have been built to date, even by the likes of the Cousteau Society, well demonstrating the practicality of the technology. In fact, by the end of the 20th century it had even enabled the first solitary circumnavigation of the globe by a wheelchair-bound sailor. However, to date the technology has remained poor in commercial success largely because the yachting community now sees sailing as a cultural tradition rather than a strictly practical means of propulsion and associates that tradition entirely with the fabric sail and the set of special skills required to manage them. Meanwhile, commercial shipping still doesn’t ‘get it’ –and probably never will given its compulsion to pursue systems of increasing economies of scale.
Aquarius, of course, has a somewhat different rationale to its pursuit of vehicle technology. For marine colonization to succeed, the marine colony needs freely scalable commercial intercontinental transit systems free of the economic and political shackles of contemporary fossil fuel energy, relying instead upon renewable energy that can be exploited locally and independently. This, of course, is a great challenge for the early Seed settlement unable to employ OTEC systems and so limited in scale. In this context, the wingsail vessel offers a logical solution to providing long-range transportation relying on renewable energy. It is not clear if vehicles of sailing vessel speed may be sufficient for routine transportation –affording a link to the marine settlement that may afford it earlier access to beyond-EEZ open sea locations. Equatorial locations would most definitely be difficult to support by vehicles with low speeds unless they were of truly gigantic scale –and even then their role may be limited to cargo applications as with today’s relatively slow (20mph) container ships. But it is a logical avenue of exploration, makes a powerful cultural statement in its own right, offers a transitional technology for pursuing intercontinental transit, and would offer a practical bridge between marine and aerospace engineering. Such vessels also have a largely overlooked but viable market among ‘working watermen’ and tourism sailing which currently employ modest scale sailing vessels for small business use and for whom the limitations of fabric sail systems have a real impact on bottom-line economic performance.
Like most Aquarian vehicles, the Solar Wingsail Cruiser would be a multi-use vessel that advances upon the technology of the wingsail through the addition of integral photovoltaic panels and a backup fuel cell or gas turbogenerator, allowing the vessel to operate in a hybrid fashion. Though a horizontal or tracking mount is optimal for photovoltaics, reflection of sunlight off of water is effective enough to afford a vertical solar panel effective insolation independent of sun angle. With this combination the Solar Wingsail Cruiser can operate in a variety of energy modes, increasing its potential cruising speed over vehicles powered purely by sail and perhaps letting it match the performance of typical commercial intercontinental vessels.
The vessel would employ a minimalist catamaran or outrigger trimaran SWATH (small water area twin/tri hull) structure employing two to four large solar wingsail units in axial or corner positions. Solar power would be further supplemented using horizontal panels integrated into canopy and cabin structures. Like the earlier Solar Ferry, it would feature a large flat deck supported by a space frame structure designed both for easy initial construction and design and easy reconfiguration through the use of various plug-in fittings. This deck system would afford RoRo access for containerized cargo and spontaneous adaptation by plug-in canopy, container, and cabin modules. This would not only make it very effective as a multi-use vessel for community transit needs, but probably also very popular for marine research applications while the elegant and sleek appearance of the wingsails coupled to a profile in many ways similar to ancient Polynesian tribal flagship canoes may make it quite popular as an alternative cruise liner. Many versions of the vessel may be developed starting at 40-50’ lengths but the more functional vessels would exceed 100’ and could easily be scaled to twice that size.
Whether practical or not as a primary form of transit long-term, the Solar Wingsail Cruiser is very likely to evolve into a key cultural icon of Aquarius –a physical and aesthetic expression of its lifestyle and ideology– and may be employed in various forms well into the distant Solaria period.
- Solar Ferry
- Relay Archipelago
- Aquarian Airship
- Aquarian Personal Rapid Transit System
- Aquarian Personal Packet Transit and SuperStore
- Aquarian SE Downstation
- Circum-Equatorial Transit Network