Winging It

17 Feb

Wingsail tech is going mainstream

PN-Trickle-down economics might not have worked out so well for most of us, but the technological trickle-down from the most recent America’s Cup seems to be falling on fertile ground. First there was what you might describe as the legitimization of foiling; the idea that a boat can rise above the waves and proceed at thrice true windspeed is no longer the province of the sort of wild-eyed evangelistic character you wouldn’t want next to you on the subway. Production-built foiling catamarans are already available. There’s plenty of experimentation going on with foiling monohulls too.

The mainstreaming of another concept once relegated to the fringes of sailing—the wingsail rig—is also well under way. Boatbuilding giant Groupe Beneteau has embarked on the development of a wingsail that it hopes will soon become a viable option on its production boats. A wingsail on a free-standing mast has already been installed on a Sense 43, and the coming summer will be dedicated to trying out the concept in a wide range of conditions and on different boats. Unlike the hard wings of the AC cats, the Beneteau wing is a soft sail that can be reefed and stowed.

Beneteau’s development head, Bruno Belmont, tells me that the concept springs from intensive research into the problem that’s facing the entire sailing industry—how to replace the baby-boomers that are gradually aging out of the pastime.  “We think this is a good way to make sailing easier,” he says. “And the only way to bring new people into sailing is to make it easier.”

Belmont also points to research into the learning habits of teenagers that indicates how learning habits have changed—not to mention staying power. “It found that if a child between 10 and 15 cannot learn a game in 15 minutes, they lose interest in it,” he says.  “Translate that to sailing, and you see we have a challenge.” Beneteau, he says, is throwing out its preconceptions and taking a fresh look at sailhandling and deck layout in general. The rig itself will be only a part of the process of reinventing the production cruiser.

This process will take years, but full marks to Beneteau for kick starting a new approach to a problem that’s been building for years. In all the other innovations in cruising boat design over the last decade, no production builder has really looked past the two-white-triangles aspect of rig design.  Where Beneteau leads, others will surely follow.


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  5. Omar

    Operating the boat on my own was quite an experience today. I kept asnikg myself: What did Frank say to do?I got into trouble pretty fast. After being reminded on almost every lesson not to go near the rocks guess what I ended up over near the rocks. The wind was very light while I was going North out of the marina. There was traffic coming toward me so I decided to get to the right.The boat was moving real slow so I decide to tell my buddy to raise the jib. I made a big mistake and told him to pull the jib sheet on the wrong side. The boat immediately turned right toward the rocks. That’s when panic sets in and you try to remember everything you have been taught. I had my buddy let the jib out and he tried to drop the main sail as fast as possible. In the mean time I got the motor started but it wouldn’t go in forward gear. The boat had spun around and the stern was towards the rocks and the wind was coming over the bow. I had the motor rev’d all the way but the boat wasn’t moving. I was able to get the boat repositioned by paddeling away with the tiller/rudder. Once I cleared the rocks by a safe distance I was able to calm down, put the main sail back up and sail back to the dock. The dock hand confirmed the motor wasn’t working in forward gear which made me feel a little better.It’s amazing how everything comes back to you when your adrenalin is pumping. I’m sure my gaurdian angel was just messing with me that day.I wasn’t deterred though. We got another boat and went right back out again. I made sure the motor not only started but worked in forward gear. The rest of the day went fine and we made it back to the dock with a great My first solo story .

  6. Tom Johns

    I have a 1982 Freedom 25 that has a Carbon Fiber, Pivoting Wing Mast with a full batten, loose footed main, and running backstays. This boat is essentially the same design as the Sense 43 design, just 30 years sooner. It is an excellent design that makes sailing even more pleasurable. As a Sailor of 31 years, I endorse this design.

  7. Mark Bondy

    Gentlemen, this sounds exciting and would seem to be a great strategy to entice intelligent, adventurous younger folks to the sport/lifestyle of sailing. I sail a Catalina 36 but own three small sailboats that still supply the adrenaline rush at age 58. Thank you

  8. Bruno Belmont

    Dear Robert, we are making sailing speed comparisons with a standart Sense 43 and will do the same with First 20s, also comparing with the Omer Wing Sail. We will be fully transparent with the results. We believe sthe speeds are very close but give us some time and we will provide numbers! Best Regards, Bruno

  9. Robert Vincent

    Does this mean that the sail area can be reduced a bit,if a small boat has a sail area (main and jib) of 17 square metres what would be the area of your wing sail?

    Thank you,

    Robert Vincent

  10. Pingback: Beneteau Innovation

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