A Return to the Age of Sailing Ships: Nostalgia or Nonsense?

About the BBC article “Pioneering wind-powered cargo ship sets sail” by Tom Singleton.

The annals of history are dotted with examples of humanity looking to the past for inspiration. Yet, one has to chuckle when seeing modern behemoths of the sea considering the bygone era of sails as their next technological leap. The BBC’s recent article on this topic introduces a cargo ship attempting to cruise through modern logistics, not simply with roaring engines but with… sails?

Historic Enthusiasm or Mere Marketing Ploy?

Shipping firm Cargill seems to be floating the idea that British-designed WindWings might help reduce the industry’s carbon emissions, given shipping’s estimated 2.1% contribution to global CO2. But seriously, is this a genuine stride forward or just a quirky nod to yesteryears and or green fanatasies?

Claims in the Wind

For its flagship journey from China to Brazil, the Pyxis Ocean is set to test these majestic WindWings. Touting a height of 123ft and borrowing materials from wind turbines, there’s a claim in the air: a potential 30% reduction in a ship’s lifetime emissions. Sounds like someone may want to do a lifecycle analysis.

Savings or Just Hot Air?

BAR Technologies from the UK is behind this wind-inspired innovation, boldly claiming fuel savings of one-and-a-half tonnes per day. Magnify that with four wings and it seems we’re in for a six-tonne daily fuel reduction. But, with manufacturing outsourced to China, perhaps there’s probably more to these calculations than meets the eye.

A Windy Resolution?

While some experts see potential in harnessing the winds, the intent to cut down the 837 million tonnes of annual CO2 from shipping with kites, rotors, and sails might end up being a bit disappointing.

Reality Check with Numbers

Stephen Gordon, from Clarksons Research, offers a reality bite, highlighting the minuscule uptake of this wind-driven technology. Amidst the vast ocean of over 110,000 vessels, a mere 100 utilize such wind assistance. It’s akin to finding a needle in a… well, ocean.

A Step Forward or Two Steps Back?

The endearing image of ships going back to their wind-blown origins might evoke romantic tales of adventures on the high seas. But as a solution for modern-day shipping? The sails of the Pyxis Ocean might stand tall with hope, but the practicality of such a venture remains questionable at best. For now, the industry’s “back to the future” aspirations might need to stay anchored in fiction.

H/T Willie Soon

4.6 19 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
August 22, 2023 6:10 am

Waterworld and Mad Max, a couple of Bill Gates’ favorite movies .

John Hultquist
August 22, 2023 6:17 am

It’s akin to finding a needle in a… well, ocean.

How about: Finding a fish in the ocean.
An attempt is likely to lead to a find. Brilliant, right?
There is wind over the ocean. Who knew?
Color me unimpressed. 🙂

abolition man
Reply to  Charles Rotter
August 22, 2023 6:50 am

You go, Charles!
To quote the great Southern philosopher; Lynyrd Skynyrd: “You got that right!”

Beta Blocker
Reply to  Charles Rotter
August 22, 2023 8:32 am

Mixed metaphors can be thought of as linguistic diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Beta Blocker
August 22, 2023 11:56 am

Word Salad!

Rich Davis
Reply to  Charles Rotter
August 22, 2023 12:48 pm

Did you mean Son (as in First Son, offspring of The Big Guy)?

August 22, 2023 6:30 am

“A Return to the Age of Sailing Ships: Nostalgia or Nonsense?”


“claiming fuel savings”

So not really a bona fide sailing ship then, more of an hybrid; like the Toyota Pious.

“If the ancient ships had no wind, they could not move forward unless they rowed or got towed somehow. “

It’s kind of taking the Pyxis

Reply to  strativarius
August 22, 2023 7:38 am

They seem to ignore currents.

Michael 63
August 22, 2023 6:33 am

I wonder if those wingthings break if hit broadside by a strong gust of wind. Or maybe they just roll the ship.
In the age of sail one could furl the sails not required or too dangerous in current wind conditios.

Reply to  Michael 63
August 22, 2023 2:25 pm

These can also be “furled”

August 22, 2023 6:43 am

“Time is money.” And since the winds at any given time and place on an ocean surface can be variable in speed and direction, even non-existent, (with a nod to overall averages such as “trade winds”, “prevailing westerlies”, etc.) to make maximum advantage of wind-powered propulsion, ocean-going ships would simply have to travel too slowly in equivalent straight line path on average to be economically viable.

Reply to  ToldYouSo
August 22, 2023 3:15 pm

Not quite true. A wind from the side is always going to hit the side of the ship at the same speed, regardless of the forward speed of the vessel.

Capturing that sideways force and converting to forward thrust will still work.

Sailing 101

Reply to  Eng_Ian
August 22, 2023 4:26 pm

A wind from the side is always going to hit the side of the ship at the same speed, regardless of the forward speed of the vessel.

You should get your money back for your sailing 101 course. A beam wind when the ship is not moving moves forward of the beam once the ship is moving. That is vector maths.

If there is a true beam wind of 15kts and the ship is powering into it at 20kts The apparent wind will be just 36 degrees off the direction of travel blowing at 25 kts..

Reply to  RickWill
August 22, 2023 5:02 pm

Exactly! Aboard a surface vessel in motion, wind is always relative (i.e., needs vector math for proper calculation).

Also, flexible sails or airfoils can be designed/trimmed to provide forward thrust with the vessel pointing somewhat into the wind (known as being “close hauled” when using flexible sails) by dint of thrust vector reaction with the sailboat’s keel . . . the flat, vertical side of a vessel such as a massive cargo ship does not perform this function if the wind is hitting directly abeam or from a < 90° angle off the bow.

Reply to  ToldYouSo
August 22, 2023 7:10 pm

you all having this off-topic conversation; so tacky

Reply to  JBP
August 22, 2023 8:39 pm

The topic of the above article, as defined by its title, is “Pioneering wind-powered cargo ship sets sail”.

Yet you assert the discussions of relative wind as experienced by ships-with-sails and the inability of modern cargo ships “to sail” when pointing into the wind is off topic???

Speaking of tacky . . . yes, the subject of tacking into a wind is itself an appropriate discussion point for the subject article, so thank you for that.

Reply to  JBP
August 23, 2023 12:06 am

Good pun!

Reply to  RickWill
August 23, 2023 6:02 am

And do tell… What is the velocity of the wind in the two vectors, (one pointing in the direction of travel the other, 90 degrees off, from the side). The one from the front, I’m not interested in, so tell me the velocity vector from the side.

I’ll give you a clue the answer is in my post above. And remember, velocity is a vector, not a scalor and I did say “from the side”. If you don’t know vectors then stop replying.

Reply to  Eng_Ian
August 23, 2023 10:32 am

Decomposing a given wind vector into two orthogonal components really serves no practical purpose other than mathematical analysis . . . the only things that matter to a sailor is wind relative to the sails and to the instantaneous heading of the sailboat.

Richard Page
Reply to  ToldYouSo
August 23, 2023 3:01 am

Exactly. An engine gives the ship consistent speed, wind does not – it’s the same argument with wind turbines; barely adequate when the wind co-operates, useless when it’s too strong or too calm. It’s goldilocks engineering again and I don’t think that there will be enough times when the wind is ‘just right’ to justify this concept – just one more expensive boondoggle.

abolition man
August 22, 2023 7:04 am

What do you bet that the “potential 30% reduction in emissions” is vastly overstated, and may not even compensate for those created in the construction and installation of said sails!
If Greentards were really interested in reducing oceanic vessel emissions they would be strenuously advocating for the development of more modern nuclear propulsion systems; preferably a sealed system that is nearly indestructible, like some SMRs are reputed to be. The fact that they remain completely opposed to modern nuclear shows that they are not actually concerned about CO2, but are only trying to destroy the remnants of the free market system and impose an international command economy, controlled by the very politicians and bureaucrats who have brought us to this state! I fear for future generations of children; they may never know the freedoms we enjoy, speech or otherwise!

David Wojick
Reply to  abolition man
August 22, 2023 7:57 am

I think 5% would be optimistic. The sails are tiny, the ship enormous and the wind unlikely to be from a useful direction if blowing at all.

Bill Toland
Reply to  David Wojick
August 22, 2023 8:22 am

I have seen other articles hyping this nonsense. The claim in the other articles is that fuel savings could be up to 30%. Of course, the phrase “up to” contains the value zero. I suspect that any fuel savings will be on the order of 1% if they are lucky.

Reply to  David Wojick
August 22, 2023 10:42 am

This article does not say anything about how the wind is used but I would not be surprised if it has nothing to do with propulsion but is only to aid auxiliary systems such as lighting, heating, cooling, sanitation, cooking, and such — when the wind is blowing.

Reply to  AndyHce
August 22, 2023 2:26 pm

A detailed technical article says they tested them, and achieved a maximum speed of 5.5 knots, but were still accelerating at the end of the test.

Richard Page
Reply to  David Wojick
August 23, 2023 3:06 am

After developing this technology, I see them using it for one or two demonstration voyages then never using it again – the savings will be negligible if at all. This is just another widely publicised virtue signalling enterprise, nothing more.

Reply to  abolition man
August 22, 2023 8:35 am

Remember the Savannah? First commercial ocean going nuclear powered ship. Launched when I was a child. Later, my employer was offered the reactor and my task was to see where we could use it.

Reply to  Mason
August 22, 2023 9:32 pm

The Savannah was only a demonstration. It was never intended to be economically viable.

Reply to  abolition man
August 22, 2023 9:18 am

I often wonder on comments like this if people even hear themselves. “I hate everything that has to do with the wind and won’t hear anything else you have to say about it”. lol . “Remnants of the free market” also lol

abolition man
Reply to  johnlocke
August 22, 2023 10:52 am

Sounds like you’ve never read your own books! Incidentally, I love sailing; I just don’t see it as a solution for the non-existent Climate Catastrophe! Please stop trying to read minds, and bring some facts and data to the discussion!

Reply to  abolition man
August 23, 2023 5:00 am

Two quotes from abolition man

” …… and bring some facts and data to the discussion!”

“What do you bet that the “potential 30% reduction in emissions” is vastly overstated, and may not even compensate for those created in the construction and installation of said sails!”

I didn’t realise that ‘bets” are facts or data

abolition man
Reply to  DaveGraham
August 23, 2023 2:53 pm

For the hard-of-hearing I’ll rephrase that!
“I don’t believe that they will achieve the “potential 30% reduction in emissions!”
The clipper ships were the fastest ships of the Era of Sail, yet their speed records are matched by the cruising speed of modern container ships; about 24 knots (18-20 knots when conserving fuel.)
The largest clippers had a capacity of about 4,000 metric tons; most were in the 800-1,000 ton range. Modern container ships carry about 24,000 TEU, which works out to almost 600,000 metric tons. That’s more than TWO orders of magnitude larger than the largest clippers, about 600x the capacity of your most popular clippers like Cutty Sark and Flying Cloud!
I don’t believe that the technology for added sails is mature or has been proven in any but smaller ship applications! The Maltese Falcon sailing yacht that is pictured farther down in the comments is a fantastically beautiful boat! If I had an extra half million laying around with nothing to do I would jump at the chance to charter her for a week for ten or so friends and family! But I wouldn’t want to try and sail through a typhoon or a hurricane with sails that cannot be furled or reefed without a fully functioning push button control system!
I call! Show me what you got!

Reply to  abolition man
August 22, 2023 10:26 am

Quite right. Too many of these ‘schemes ‘ are no more than mere grifting a temporary windfall to the grifters. Then as the inevitable is realised they walk away as though nothing happened … nothing did happen other than the reappropriation of funds from the taxpayer pocket to the grifter pocket.

August 22, 2023 7:08 am

Why stop there when cold fusion is still available?

Reply to  ResourceGuy
August 22, 2023 7:48 am

Don’t give up. Andrea Rossi has a big demonstration later this year, just needs some more investment.

Richard Page
Reply to  Scissor
August 23, 2023 3:14 am

Yes, hmm. Why is it that Andrea Rossi’s schemes require vast amounts of investment? On his past performance, I’d not be investing in anything with his name on it. Cold Fusion might be possible (although the odds are against it) but not just yet.

Dave Andrews
August 22, 2023 7:15 am

So there are 110,000 ships and they are going to be replaced by these vessels of which there are currently 100 exactly when? It’s like EVs; circa 30m worldwide today compared to 1.4 billion ICEVs but the EV revolution is coming!

Reply to  Dave Andrews
August 22, 2023 7:51 am

I see great advances coming in aviation.

Reply to  Dave Andrews
August 22, 2023 8:32 am

The solution is to mandate that whenever a ship carrying EVs is lost due to a battery fire, it must be replaced by one of these.

August 22, 2023 7:16 am

About forty years ago there was another attempt at reviving sailing ships involving, if I recall, Guinness shipments to the West Indies. Seems to have gone quiet…

Reply to  Disputin
August 22, 2023 7:22 am

There was also a drilling outfit which hoisted a sail between the legs of a jack-up rig to help shifting about the Gulf of Mexico.

Reply to  Disputin
August 22, 2023 7:46 pm

The Guinness vessel is the Atlantic Clipper now doing overnight backpacker tours in the Whitsundays, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Not sure I’ve ever seen the sails up but it has solid diesel power (our boat is in the same marina so we see it a lot).

August 22, 2023 7:20 am

We have supply line problems now, just wait until we have to depend on the wind for shipments.

B Zipperer
Reply to  starzmom
August 22, 2023 6:36 pm

Its consistent with their energy policy: they want to make shipping as weather dependent as the new energy grid. They just hate the rest of humanity (of course they themselves are innocent).

Reply to  J Boles
August 22, 2023 7:54 am

They should begin rebuilding their stables.

abolition man
Reply to  Scissor
August 22, 2023 9:25 am

They can just use all first floors in office buildings and underground garages; far safer than allowing EVs to charge, or even park! And it might freshen the air a bit in San Fransicko!

Scarecrow Repair
August 22, 2023 7:42 am

Ship weight goes up by the cube, sail area goes up by the square.

So, no.

Reply to  Scarecrow Repair
August 22, 2023 7:55 am

Need to ban ice from said vessels.

Walter Sobchak
August 22, 2023 8:06 am

It would take far more expertise and knowledge to do an analysis of this technology.

But, you should know that there has been a technological revolution in sailing, which is hard to believe seeing that the technology of sailing is more than 5000 years old.

The fastest yachts in sailing competitions such as the Americas Cup no longer depend on sails like those illustrated in the painting of a clipper ship. They now use sails shaped as airfoils like airplane wings. This technology enables them to sail faster than the wind.

I am guessing from the illustration above that the test ship isusing airfoil technology. Whether that makes engineering or economic sense is beyond my ability to say.

Reply to  Walter Sobchak
August 22, 2023 8:44 am

Yes, the technology may have improved but it is still the wind and the wind is a fickle friend. Ask any sailor who has been becalmed for an extended time. You can easily calculate the wind contribution knowing the wind speed, direction and the sail area. The problem is that the wind speed and direction are extremely variable. Data on the trade winds in the Atlantic are available. And so are the flow of the water currents. They were called easterlies and westerlies in historic times.

B Zipperer
Reply to  Mason
August 22, 2023 6:50 pm

I am in the middle of an interesting book on sailing by a professional captain “Reading the Glass” by Elliott Rappaport 2023 [“glass” refers to the now ancient term for the barometer].
Lots anecdotes and sailing terms (kept duckduckgo busy) but he really likes to discuss weather and how it affects ocean travel, And so far, he has not made it a screed about climate change.
Very enjoyable.read. [and I am not a sailor]
I suspect Rappaport would laugh at the concept of using wind for container ships.as much as he complains about the ever changing weather..

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
August 22, 2023 8:53 am

It would take far more expertise and knowledge, than I have, to do an analysis of this technology.

Reply to  Walter Sobchak
August 22, 2023 11:48 am

All sails are essentially airfoils, except if a sailing ship is traveling directly downwind. For a ship traveling crosswind (beam reach), the sails are let out at about a 30 to 45 degree angle to the ship’s motion, and the air flowing around the convex side of the sail travels a longer distance (and faster) than the air on the inside of the sail, creating a pressure difference. This force can be resolved into two vectors, one along the direction of motion (propelling the ship forward), and the other sideways, tending to capsize the ship (this force is counteracted by keel weight in a well-designed sailing ship).

The “fastest yachts in sailing competitions” now are essentially catamarans, with two narrow hulls with a flat trampoline in between, which have very little drag in the water. In strong winds, the upwind hull lifts out of the water, and the crew move to the upwind hull to balance the tipping force with their weight. Sometimes, crew members are tethered to the mast in harnesses, with only their feet on the upwind hull, and their bodies leaning out over the water on the upwind side, for greater leverage.

While this design allows these yachts to sometimes exceed the wind speed, it would be too dangerous for a ship carrying thousands of tons of containers, due to the danger of losing containers overboard during excessive listing (tipping sideways) of the ship due to the sideways component of the wind force on a sail.

A large container ship displaces its weight (plus the cargo weight) of water, meaning that it floats relatively low, and all that displaced water needs to be pushed out of the way for the ship to move forward. Unless the ship is traveling directly downwind, in order for a sail to develop enough force to propel the ship forward, the sideways listing force would cause the ship to lean at too sharp of an angle to the waterline, with the risk of losing containers overboard. Also, even in a tailwind, a sudden shift in wind direction can cause a jibe (the sail suddenly changes sides) which can cause the ship to roll, which can risk a capsize in large waves.

For a large container ship, in order for a sail system to contribute an appreciable amount of power, it would have to be so large that it would increase the risk of capsize.

Reply to  SteveZ56
August 22, 2023 3:27 pm

And then you have shifting ballast…. Like a large airplane, you can drain fuel from different tanks to promote balance. Same on a ship and especially on a large crane barge. You pump fuel and water to maintain an upright position relative to the horizon, in response to the lateral loads.

It’s all been done before and is still happening today.

Walter Sobchak
August 22, 2023 8:15 am

BTW, Cargill is not essentially a shipping company. The following from its Wikipedia entry:

Some of Cargill’s major businesses are trading, purchasing and distributing grain and other agricultural commodities … ; trading in energy, steel and transport; raising livestock and production of feed; and producing food ingredients such as starch and glucose syrup, vegetable oils and fats for application in processed foods and industrial use. Cargill also has a large financial services arm, which manages financial risks in the commodity markets for the company. …  it is responsible for 25% of all United States grain exports. The company also supplies about 22% of the US domestic meat market …

Peta of Newark
August 22, 2023 8:27 am

Could these muppets even organise the proverbial piss up?

as attached is a synoptic view of where this tub will be going, roughly along my red dashed line.

No matter where you go across the Pacific to get from China to Brazil, the wind is against you all the way

BTW: That’s very kind of China..
Cargill is a feed/food company and the ship in the picture is patently a ‘bulk carrier’ of some sort.
So if it’s got a Cargill flag, it’s carrying grain.

From China to Brazil??????

BTW #2 If there was/is an El Nino in full swing as generally cracked up to be, shouldn’t what wind there is be blowing from west to east?

edit while I still remember..
They’re gonna be doubly stuffed when they get to Panama – the canal has run out of water and there is/was a 2 week queue to get through

Taking the Pyxis.JPG
Beta Blocker
August 22, 2023 8:29 am

If the goal is to greatly reduce the carbon emissions of the world’s fleet of cargo ships, nuclear propulsion is the only practical means of achieving it. This interview from the Atomic Insights blog goes into some bit of depth concerning the opportunities and the issues of converting the world’s cargo ships from diesel to nuclear:

Atomic Show #294 – Mikal Boe, Core Power Founder and CEO

“Mikal Boe has spent 30 years in and around the commercial shipping industry. Several years ago, he began wondering how his industry was going to meet the increasingly stringent rules for air pollution and CO2 production that were being implemented by governing regulators, especially the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

His extensive technical research led him to recognize that nuclear energy was the only available technology that could supply the power and energy requirements for competitive ships and also meet ever tightening regulations on their emissions.”

August 22, 2023 8:34 am

Low emission zone funny

“”SNP-led Glasgow City Council have spaffed almost £100,000 on rented vehicles across their fleet just to avoid their own air pollution policies introduced over the summer. According to The Times, in the two months since the Council introduced the Low-Emission Zone in the city centre, they’ve hired two eight-tonne vehicles from DAF Trucks, a cherry picker, a Mercedes refrigerated van, 52 Ford transit vans, and 22 Vauxhall Corsas. All to avoid being stung by fines of up to £1,260 if, god forbid, they turned on the engine of a diesel built before 2015…

Even so, the Council have also admitted that 9 of the 21 fines its own vehicle fleet received were subsequently cancelled, supposedly because the fume-belching vehicle in question was actually LEZ-compliant after all. If even the Council’s own cars are already being fined in error, you’d think they’d take a deeper look their IT systems before accidentally fining hundreds of innocent motorists…””

August 22, 2023 8:41 am

It’s a shame that there seems too be such a stunningly negative attitude towards this on WUWT. The idea is to use wind assistance to add to the main propulsion system output and not to run exclusively under wind power. The vertical sails are, of course, aerofoils and can be adjusted to take maximum advantage of the instantaneous wind pressure available and can also be feathered in the case of a potential overpressure. It seems extremely unlikely that the design team adding an aerofoil to a ship would not consider a possible failure mode likely to overturn a ship or cause structural damage to the sails. As an aside, modern container ships can weigh anything between 50k and 200k tonnes deadweight and the size of an impulsive wind force capable of providing any rotational moment about the ship’s centre of gravity seems more likely to sink the ship rather than roll it.

John Walker / Walker Windsail was a small enterprise which designed and built a really delightful vertical axis aerofoil powered Trimaran and several smaller similarly powered vessels. I had the joy of trying one at the time (1980’s) and might have gnawed off my own foot to own one as it could be steered with its own steering wheel and reverse into a marina berth under wind power. Unfortunately the miseries in the yacht clubs and boating press said it would never work, the sail would break, melt, be eaten by seagulls, not be efficient and certainly cost more than the equivalent suit of canvas curtain things hanging on poles. And anyway, it’s obviously far more fun going out on deck in sea state 6 and armour piercing rain to reef up the mizzen topgallant staysail rather than turn a knob on the aerofoil control panel. As the final damning reason, what was good enough for Nelson is good enough for us.

 Reading the comments here, I see nothing has changed in nearly 50 years.

I’m sorry that it’s just the climate fanatics that have annexed the idea and are trying to resurrect it. If it was sold as a fuel saving idea then perhaps it would be more acceptable here. Personally I think that anything that means we can burn less of a wonderful chemical feedstock like oil is worth a bit of experimentation. An 8000 TEU ship may burn up to 220 tons of fuel oil every day and at $600 – $700 per ton, this is a substantial proportion of the cost of running a transport. Reduce this and our import costs go down. And here’s an unexpected delight, we could turn all our UK expertise (ho, ho) in making aerofoils for wind turbines into making aerofoils for ships. What an investment opportunity for the government of Scotland.

Reply to  DaveGraham
August 22, 2023 8:44 am

Scotland? Hmm

We shall see

August 22, 2023 8:49 am

So right! How ridiculous, what nonsense!

And I love Sailing. I came to the US to be Sailing Instructor back in 1976 at a summer camp in Deer Isle Maine. A beautiful Summer that was, and I never left.

I have taken a bicycle to work, who ever heard of people ditching their cars in favor of their Sailboat to make it to work on time, just to help saving the Planet? It is just nuts!

And what will happen when one of those Sailboat Freighters gets caught in a serious storm or a Hurricane, those tall masts will become a serious Liability fast.. They will go quickly to join the likes of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Great Article!



Dennis Gerald Sandberg
August 22, 2023 8:50 am

Leftists spend the same amount of time doing quantitative analysis as they do cost benefit ratios, none, zero, nada.

August 22, 2023 8:52 am

If the pic is the actual ship, I don’t see how it could possible contribute much at all. The “sails” are far to small in relation the to size and drag of the ship, they don’t appear to be airfoil shaped. If not airfoil, they can only contribute when the wind is directly astern or nearly so.. And, can they be shipped quickly in adverse high winds?

August 22, 2023 8:53 am

Sailing ships should be used 100% of the time that wind is blowing, at great enough intensity, to get cargo where it is going, more cheaply than any other source of energy. The difference between the frequency where those conditions all occur at the sme time and zero is almost indiscenible.
Anyone who truly believes that the cost of the carbon burned and used to rig and sail a ship is zero is a fool.

Reply to  dk_
August 22, 2023 1:20 pm

The cost of operating a ship is far more than just the cost of fuel! Tying up capital waiting for the wind to blow has it’s cost too!

August 22, 2023 9:27 am

Ever look at anything so dumb it gave you Forest Whitaker eye?

When the sails are blazing from the electric vehicle fires on board, it will be easier to see from shore.

Who was the idea man for this? Bill Blazejowski from Night Shift?

Bill: Wait a minute! Why don’t they just mix the mayonnaise with the tuna in the can… HOLD THE PHONE! Why don’t they just FEED the tuna fish mayonnaise!
Call Starkist

August 22, 2023 9:29 am

OK. First question. How much are the subsidies projected to be????

Gunga Din
Reply to  barryjo
August 22, 2023 12:09 pm

I wondered about that myself.
But wind assisted power is cost effective without subsidies, go for it.
It might catch on.

Reply to  Gunga Din
August 22, 2023 1:21 pm

MIght! Just like EVs!

Reply to  mikelowe2013
August 22, 2023 3:45 pm

Might catch,(fire), just like EVs!

August 22, 2023 9:36 am

Looks to me like this is the latest version of the Flettner ship, built by Anton Flettner in the 1920s. Per Wikipedia, several ships were subsequently built and operated profitably, but disappeared due to the depression and competing diesel fuel at rock bottom prices.

August 22, 2023 10:06 am

Can the “sails” be reefed? That is, shortened or altered to expose less surface when the winds kick up above 30 kts?

My 42 ft sailing cat has a beautiful spinnaker — and a huge genoa (large headsail) which are great in most winds. But when the winds pick up, they are dangerously large and must be pulled down or rolled up. When winds suddenly kick up to double and triple what one has expected, having that much sail area up and exposed to the wind becomes instantly dangerous….and the actions necessary to get them down are dangerous as well — the worst times I’ve had at sea (sailing) have been during that kind of situation — struggling to get sails down in suddenly increased winds.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
August 22, 2023 1:29 pm

That’s the reason why any skipper with a large genoa or spinnaker aloft is constantly alert for every slight wind change, so he can get them down very rapidly when danger threatens. The man on the bridge of one of these ships will need always to be standing ready with his finger on a button to activate the furling mechanism immediately. No relaxing, no diverting attention for a nice warming coffee. And that is presuming that the power needed for furling is instantly available. I wonder if the designers of these things have suitable sailing experience on both wind-driven and engine-powered vessels? Those of us who have would NEVER contemplate becoming involved!

Reply to  mikelowe2013
August 23, 2023 5:11 am

I don’t think anyone at all is suggesting that cargo ships will be made of wood and fitted with poles holding up curtains made of canvas. The ships that are being tested at the moment are fitted with vertical aerofoils which provide assistive thrust in the same way that horizontal wings provide lift on an aircraft. This idea has been tested over the last 100 odd years keeping aircraft up in the sky in often quite windy conditions. 

Also, I suspect that those experienced in driving small boats fitted with conventional sails have not experienced the joys of computer assisted cargo ship operations. There isn’t “a man on the bridge” battling with the elements to keep the ship going in the right direction. Most of the time the whole operation is controlled by a fail safe group of computers receiving data from wind, position, turbulence, ship attitude and loads of other sensors and taking appropriate action with engine speed and rudder movements. The same will apply with aerofoil sails. There’s a very good video on youtube of an aerofoil equipped cat making its way to. I think, Bermuda through a hurricane. The computers did the job OK even in 1990.

The problem in perception seems to be quite large; these concepts are based on 2020s materials, computer and operations technology and an ability to utilise CFD and airflow modelling that wasn’t available to designers in the days of Maturin and Jack Aubrey. Please be a little more open minded.

abolition man
Reply to  DaveGraham
August 23, 2023 3:07 pm

This technology is not mature yet, just like energy storage! Nuclear propulsion has proven over six decades to be safe and reliable for large vessels!
I would welcome further research into adding sails or airfoils onto motor vessels, especially if it leads to someone continuing the adventures aboard H.M.S. Surprise!

Reply to  Kip Hansen
August 22, 2023 2:27 pm

Somewhere I saw these sails explained, but can’t find it now. The sails reel out of the tower mast, there is a gearing mechanism at the base that unfurls the sails to their full extension. I can’t see where this adds that much energy to the ship as large as it is.

Reply to  Mason
August 22, 2023 2:49 pm

Saw the Maltese Falcon in the Bay of Naples, quite a sight!

Powered by square-sailed “Dynarig” technology, which was suggested and developed for the yacht by Dijkstra, she features three carbon fiber masts with a computer-run sail and mast control system that allows push button sailing.

comment image

Reply to  Kip Hansen
August 22, 2023 2:45 pm

I used to sail in Long Island Sound on a 27ft with a 7ft beam 34 ft mast 4ft keel (Saybrook Sailorette). Essentially a canoe w/sail. Also had a Genoa which would really make that baby heel when the winds came down the sound. We would crank it over until the rails were in the water and scrape the barnacles off, then reverse course and do the other side. Lotta fun!

August 22, 2023 10:20 am

The Doldrums, the Roaring 40s, perennial Trade Winds … all work to reduce the potential benefit (?) to economically nought.

Andy Pattullo
August 22, 2023 10:40 am

So many questions and so much doubt. Sailing ships did not chart straight line courses from A to B as they had to tack to the wind and make regular course changes to gain maximum wind support. Will modern ships have to do the same? Will it lengthen journeys and reduce efficiency?
What are the resource and energy implications of adding these technologies to the mandatory thermal engine requirements of such ships? As with wind and solar electrical generation, it is unlikely the sails will reduce by any significant amount the need for standard propulsion systems as the ship must be able to navigate when there is no wind. What is the lifespan of the new technology?
The probabilities at present may be roughly equivalent that this will increase costs and inefficiency as much as reduce them. This is a theory being sold as a fact long before evidence allows us to know the truth.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Andy Pattullo
August 22, 2023 12:19 pm

I looked up “WindWings”. From the site. https://www.bartechnologies.uk/project/windwings/

WindWings combines wind propulsion with route optimisation.”

Sounds like they’ll follow the old sailing routes.

August 22, 2023 10:43 am

No doubt wind in the sails can help a ship reduce fuel use but how much reduced for what cost? A cargo tanker isn’t exactly built for slicing through the water.

August 22, 2023 10:47 am

We can do some numbers on this. The ship is bulk carrier size and claimed to do 5.5kt under sail. Normal bulk carrier speed is 15kt. Propulsion power increases as the cube of speed. At 15kt the wind will contribute 5% of the motive power, when it blows in a favorable direction and is strong enough.

Here in the UK I find myself wondering how a nation that covered the globe in sailing ships and swapped sails for steam in an instant can make the reverse journey with wind turbines for power.


August 22, 2023 11:56 am

Since winds are highly variable, they become self limiting in terms of both vessel speed and ability to sail into a wind. These were always the achilles heels of sailing vessels for thousands of years, and the winds have not improved even if sailing technology has improved.

The deal with all cargo ships is that reliable schedule is overwhelmingly important. Ships that are sailing slow due to the winds are ships that are losing the owners’ money, very quickly. A modern diesel electric powered ship is the epitome of reliable cruise performance in all but the stormiest seas, and not only reliable but relatively fast compared to any comparable wind powered vessel – around 16-25 knots vs. 3-8 knots. Meaning a transoceanic transit, particularly in the vast distances of the Pacific in which the majority of world cargoes travel, takes months instead of days or weeks.

For example, Tokyo to Long Beach CA is a distance of 4854 nautical miles, and at a cruise speed of 25 kts it will take 8 days and 2 hours, a little over a week. At 8 kts it will take 25 days and 7 hours, almost a month.

The daily operating costs for containerships varies with the size (the larger the size the lower the cost). But for a 10,000 TEU ship, the daily cost is $14 per TEU .. so $140,000 per day. So completing a voyage that takes 17 days longer costs the operator about $2.4M extra.

It’s also likely that wind powered ships will be greatly limited in size. The ones I’ve seen described are 7,000 TEU or less. The smaller vessel size also increases the daily cost from $14 to $15, making the total extra cost for a wind powered containership vs. a diesel powered motor vessel on the Tokyo-Long Beach route would be about $2.6M. And that does not account for winds that are light and variable, or which are adverse in direction, either of which could significantly increase the extra costs.

Mike O'Ceirin
August 22, 2023 1:54 pm

Surely this is a joke! I wrote an article some time back which compared the last cargo sailing ship with modern day cargo ships which are diesel. https://www.flickerpower.com/index.php/search/categories/wind-power/20-4-this-is-a-warning-to-all-leaders

The picture of the WindWings immediately says it is a pretence because the sail area would be totally inadequate. But that is not the real problem which is the wind stops. I do think in the future the people that promulgate this nonsense will be damned by us all.

August 22, 2023 3:27 pm

This looks like a lifestyle business, ie. a business with the objective of providing a nice lifestyle for its directors from finance provided by others. Such finance is typically from gullible investors, but can come from any money tap including government subsidies.

August 22, 2023 7:05 pm

If it is cost-effective (absolutely no government involvement) then they would be showing up everywhere.

Gregg Eshelman
August 22, 2023 7:07 pm

This isn’t “pioneering” at all. Rigid sails have been tried several times on various cargo ships. The extra drag and weight offset fuel savings during times there’s enough wind, from the right direction(s) for the sails to be effective.

August 22, 2023 7:44 pm

The last time that commercial sailing ships could make net revenue was in the bulk shipment of grain from Australia to Great Britain. This was in the 1930s by Gustaf Erickson. He had dozens of square-rigged ships purchased cheaply from companies switching to steam ships. All of his ships ran the same route – Europe under ballast to Australia and then return to Europe with Australian wheat. The whole voyage took about eight months and it was only possible because of very small crews.

This business came to a sudden end in 1939 with WW2. The last Grain Race ended in the very early summer of 1940. Full details can be found in Eric Newby’s The Last Grain Race.
The Last Grain Race – Wikipedia
The ship in the book, Moshulu, still exists as a floating restaurant in Philadelphia.
Moshulu – Wikipedia
This ship made a very brief cameo appearance in The Godfather Part 2.

The notion that sailing ships can be relevant to cargo transport now is simply ludicrous, the stuff of LSD-induced hallucinations.

Reply to  cgh
August 23, 2023 1:57 am

“LSD-induced hallucinations” is very appropriate as “L.s.d” was shorthand for Pounds, Shillings and Pence back in the day.

Following from a few of the comments, we have to wonder how much the extra weight and aero-drag of these things add to fuel consumption when the winds are unfavourable.
Also, if the ship is to maintain an economic speed – 15 knots? – that will restrict the points of sail due to the apparent wind.

August 22, 2023 11:36 pm

Most of the comments on this article have not understood the story. It’s as though they’ve seen the pretty picture of a ship under sail and thought that the idea is to replace modern ships with that.

It’s not. This is about a device that can be fitted to, or built into, ships that reduces the fuel costs. It reduces the fuel costs by extracting the energy from the wind, when available.

Will that replace fossil fuels? No. But it will reduce their consumption and that saves money. Fuel is a big expense in shipping.  And, although I don’t know this exact technology, it will certainly be able to extract energy from the wind when the wind is not directly behind the ship as we have had that technology for 800 years!

Is the cost of retro-fitting this device worth it? Probably not. Especially not with the cost of taking your ship out of service to do it. And the numbers aren’t in yet.
But would this feature be something a new buyer would expect to have on new ships? Probably yes.

The luddite refusal to consider new technology is close-minded. This is the kind of adaptation that the IPCC scenarios can not consider. It’s part of the reason that mitigation is so much more expensive than adaptation.

Please re-read this article and think again.

Ed Zuiderwijk
August 23, 2023 2:05 am

Is that a captain I see before me on the poop deck blowing frantically at those sails?

August 23, 2023 2:15 am

This is wind assisted propulsion. It is not wind-only. It is not anything akin to a sailing ship of the 1800’s.

This is new technology. It takes time for new technology to get implemented. 100 ships today may well be 10.000 ships in 10 years.

We know, for a fact, that wind assisted propulsion done right leads to less fuel use. This is from hypotheses, from model tests and from empirical data. How much is highly dependent on the type of vessel and where it is trading. Anywhere from 5- 20% is viable given the right conditions. Based on R&D and actual empirical data from the existing vessels a 5-8% saving is considered credible.

By changing the way the vessels are trading and operating, more savings can be had. As an example, car carriers are considering using wind assisted propulsion utilising the fact that there is considerable slack in both ends of their journey. Estimates range between 15-50%, depending on route, time of year and other things.

Chuckle away folks. If the industry can make a living from this, you will see many more such vessels. Right now there are shipowners with sails on their vessels and smiles on their faces.

August 23, 2023 2:48 am

I recall several other attempts in the past 40 years to add some form of mechanised sail/wind propulsion assist system to merchant ships. None of them seem to have made a mark, none of the systems have gone beyond the prototype/demonstrator stage.

Other commenters have noted the formidable challenges any sail system would have to overcome to provide appreciable power to a modern cargo ship. Presumably, solutions to these challenges were not been found.

BBC describes the project as “pioneering”. Maybe, maybe not.
Yes, if they have found even a partial solution and a way to improve performance relative to prior efforts, otherwise its just another EU subsidy driven futile effort at developing a technological dead end.

We’ll see.

Reply to  mikeq
August 23, 2023 3:24 am

EU Subsidy

Euro 9,999,996.25

Ever so slightly below Euro 10 million.
Perhaps to avoid greater scrutiny if Euro 10 million or higher?

August 23, 2023 5:22 am

Simply looking at the picture proves this is BS.

August 23, 2023 6:23 am

Here’s the thing: sailing ships did work, but they had to follow the winds. This meant going enormous extra distances due to many factors including:
1) Tacking. Sailing ships of old could not go a specific direction unless the wind happened to be blowing at precisely the right angle. In practice, this means sailing at angles to the actual wind and then tacking back along a desired course (switching to an opposite angle). We’re talking Pythagorean theorem – ships would regularly travel 30% to 50% extra distance vs. the crow flies distance.
2) Sailing ships need wind, period even to tack. In practice this usually meant swinging up or down towards specific routes in which wind was generally blowing in the rough correct general direction. This also adds significant distance on top of the extra tacking distance – up to 30% crow flies distance.
The next issue is power. How much wind power can actually contribute to a ship?
The biggest sailing ships ever including the steel hull/mast models at the end maxed out at around 10000-13000 tons displacement.
The average cargo ship is 65000 tons displacement.
I’m 99% positive that a couple of sails – no matter how strong – on such a ship would barely move it without the IC engines also running.
The Thomas Lawson – with 5 masts and sail hanging off every exposed surface, could go 16 knots max vs. average cargo ship speeds of 20-25 knots.
Net net: greenwashing

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
August 23, 2023 1:29 pm

In the early days of steam power, mixed sail/steam vessels were common because the limited bunker space of wooden hulls and inefficient engines limited range. The first ship to cross the Atlantic solely under steam power was the SS Sirius in 1838, arriving just hours ahead of the SS Great Western, which made a faster crossing. But the Sirius had all the passenger space removed to provide extra bunker capacity while the Great Western design provided for both sufficient bunkerage and passenger/cargo space. Even after much larger iron hulls and better engines were in use, masts and sails were retained partly as a fall-back and partly to moderate rolling in heavy seas. Masts and spars were retained on the 32,000 ton 1858 Great Eastern, but could provide no meaningful propulsive value.

The Royal Navy retained mixed steam/sail configuration in the Calypso class of steam corvettes in service into the early 20th century because the distances they had to travel together with the scarcity of coaling stations where they needed to operate made it very handy to use sail alone or as a supplement to steam to conserve coal when speed was not required. But they were small — displacing less than 3,000 tons, with consequently small bunkers.

The energy required to move a ship through the water is proportional to the displacement and the square of the speed. Increasing the speed of the 37,200 ton North Dakota class battleships to 28 knots over the preceding Colorado class 33,100 ton 21 knot performance required increasing propulsion from 28,900 to 121,000 shaft horsepower (21,600 to 90,000 kW) — a fourfold increase.

Modern container ships regularly displace over 100,000 tons and have a design speed of 21-25 knots with very large diesel engines producing 60,000 kW or more. Adding sails would have at best a marginal effect at the designed speed. If you want to tie up your multi-billion dollar ship, crew and cargo to sail at 8-10 knots maybe you could achieve a measurable fuel reduction.

According to the BBC article plus Wikipedia, the Pyxis Ocean is a Kamsarmax class bulk cargo ship retrofitted with sails in 2023. The Kamsarmax design is limited to 229 meters in length (to fit into the port of Kamsar in Republic of Guinea) and has a deadweight capacity (DWT) of about 82,000 metric tons. They burn 29-30 metric tons of fuel oil per day at a design speed of 14.5 knots.

The Pyxis Ocean departed Singapore August 22 destined for Brazil (port not specified) and the BBC article says the journey will take six weeks. If I assume the destination is Manaus, the shortest distance is round the Cape of Good Hope into the south Atlantic for a total of 10,792 nautical miles, a journey which will take 42 days, 20 hours at 10.5 knots. The same voyage would take just 31 days at the class design speed of 14.5 knots.

According to the BBC article:

Enabling a vessel to be blown along by the wind, rather than rely solely on its engine, could hopefully eventually reduce a cargo ship’s lifetime emissions by 30%.

Simply reducing speed from 14.5 to 10.5 knots would account for all of that savings. Of course, reducing speed by 30% means you need 30% more hulls to carry the same amount of cargo together with 30% more crews, and those hulls will be responsible for 30% more emissions.

Somehow I don’t think this will save the planet.

abolition man
Reply to  Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
August 23, 2023 3:20 pm

You win, Alan!
By far the best summation and encapsulation of the problems with this retro-tech! Just as BEV semis and cargo trains are impractical, while EVs may work for short commutes; this might be useful in small craft, time will tell.

Michael S. Kelly
August 24, 2023 12:39 pm

The fastest sailing cargo ships were the various Clippers, whose highest speed runs averaged less than 7 knots. One couldn’t count on such a thing, though.

My wife and I took a week long cruise on the sailing yacht Sea Cloud earlier this year (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Cloud), starting at Naples, Italy, and ending at Dubrovnik, Croatia. The Sea Cloud is a four-masted, 309 foot, 3,000 ton vessel, the largest square-rigged four-mast sailing ship in existence. During the week-long cruise, the captain set the sails three times. The first was as a demonstration of how it’s done, and the second two were attempts to actually sail the ship. He was never able to get it above 1.5 knots, out of a 9 knot hull speed. During one of his lectures on sailing, he remarked that most of the sea traffic of the world prior to the steam ship averaged 1.5 knots. Clipper ships might average as high as 6.6 knots, but they carried light cargo.
Cargo ships today travel at anywhere from 9 knots for general cargo ships to 15 knots for vehicle transports. Container ships average 14 knots. And they don’t depend on wind.

This is a dumb idea just from the standpoint of time-utilization of an expensive asset.

Verified by MonsterInsights