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Cats & Wing Sails (ACWS San Diego)


Nov 15, 2011, 1:04 PM

Views: 14617
Cats & Wing Sails (ACWS San Diego)

From Roger Vaughn:

"The winner is also the sport," Craig Leweck concluded in his piece on wing sails (Butt 3740).
Perhaps that's true in some Big Picture, conceptual way. Wings are more efficient than soft sails. Wings take sailing into a whole new realm.

I've been fascinated with wing sails since I watched Duncan MacLane sailing one of Dave Hubbard's early hard wing, Little America's Cup C-cats around Long Island Sound one afternoon 30 or more years ago. And, having written the book about Dennis Conner's America's Cup-winning multihull in 1988, I am familiar with the complex care and handling of wings.

Owning a boat with a wing sail would create a raft of problems for anyone without a well-funded program that included both shore personnel and/or mechanical devices. Unlike soft sails, wing sails don't come down after racing, or at least not without a lot of effort and expertise. An expensive hydraulic tilt jig was built for Conner's STARS AND STRIPES, the catamaran, to lay the whole boat on its side when not in the water. A large crane picked the boat up, set it in the jig where it was lashed in place. The jig then tilted the boat 90 degrees, putting the sail essentially, down.

Handling the mammoth 223' wing of USA 17, the BMWOracle trimaran that won America's Cup XXXIII, was a nightmare for the shore crew. Zero wind was required to do the job, and even then there were several accidents that damaged (read: almost wrecked) the wing. Nights that USA 17 had to spend on a mooring, a crew was put on board to tack the wing all night to keep the boat from sailing away.

Those who race the smaller A- (18' loa) and C-Class (25' loa) cats, and who are arguably the best sailor-athletes in the world - many of them also have engineering degrees - have systems for handling the 30- and 40-foot wing sails. But the equipment and know-how that bit of engineering requires would test a good club sailor.

Just as we'll never see Formula One cars in neighborhood driveways, we'll never see hard wings on cruising boats, offshore race boats, or even on club racers, not until someone figures out a simple way to strike or shorten them. Maybe the high end of the sport will be a winner because of hard wing sails, but that probably depends on how large a fan base the current version of the America's Cup will attract.


Nov 16, 2011, 2:18 PM

Views: 14540
Re: [ms] Cats & Wing Sails (ACWS San Diego)

* From Mal Emerson (re, Scuttlebutt 3471):

Interesting observation Roger but what part of the conventional cruising boat would the wing be compared to? It just may be that wings are a bit more viable in other applications than it seems at first glance. The "little" 45's seem quite at home moored unattended with the wing up. Just as it is a big deal to "strike" the wing, it is a similar job to lower the mast on most any cruising boat. Obviously the wing serves as both mast and sail. It certainly outperforms the sail in many ways just maybe not in the ability to take it down or off the boat. The extreme high performance wings of the "C's" and USA 17 will never find their way on any average sailor's boat but the concept certainly could.

Innovations that seemed out of the reach of the ordinary sailor have found their way into the mainstream at a prodigious rate. Planing hulls, foils, windsurfing, kiteboarding, kite sails, fin keels, wing keels, canting keels, bulbs, catamaran cruising boats and on and on were advanced concepts in sailing that found their way into mainstream sailing to some extent or another. I'm sure there were those that discounted those concepts and more finding their way into the every day. The wing has already debuted in the Moth and the A class catamaran.

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the wing's viability in other sailing applications just because the initial applications are not viable to the average sailor. Dennis Conner's '88 AC cat, the C class, BOR's USA 17 and the AC 45 are all the leading edge and designed with nothing but performance in mind. Removable skin, wind actuated stabilization on a mooring or in a slip, fully rotating wings, removable skin, collapsing wing structure, vents etc. are but a few of the ways that the cruiser, offshore racer or club racing program could theoretically take advantage of the increased performance available in a wing.

The F-1 won't be in the driveway but many of the innovations pioneered there have, no doubt, found their way into the car that is parked there.

My other area of interest is aviation and I'm always amazed at how innovations that were once totally discounted as impractical are now commonplace. Mono wings, jets, fly by wire, composite construction and so forth were all thought to be impractical at one time or another.

Is it an oxymoron to say, "never say never"?


Nov 16, 2011, 3:56 PM

Views: 14531
Re: [ms] Cats & Wing Sails (ACWS San Diego)

Just as we'll never see Formula One cars in neighborhood driveways, we'll never see hard wings on cruising boats, offshore race boats, or even on club racers, not until someone figures out a simple way to strike or shorten them

Au contraire. Also on the water in San Diego this week is what may be the future of wingsails in more general use. The Harborwing X-2 prototype was launched and sailed across the harbor ( It will be undergoing sea trials off San Diego. This wingsail was designed to live at sea and be berthed at an ordinary mooring.

Attachments: P1000904_lores.JPG (287 KB)


Nov 16, 2011, 9:19 PM

Views: 14510
Re: [tspeer] Cats & Wing Sails (ACWS San Diego)

Nice, no need to strike, its "luffing" by rotating fully into the wind does no damage. The fact that it rotates freely minimizes windage to what is likely less than that of a conventional mast at odd angles to the wind. No need to shorten, just reduce power when necessary by washing out the top of the wing similar to adding twist to a conventional sail.
Check Six .......Mal