Sailing the High Seas 2.0 — Under the Current

This is part of a series of posts about the PRX STEM Story Project.

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Imagine for a moment you’re a kid on an epic family road trip. You roll the car window down, then extend your arm straight out into the breeze. Tilt your hand slightly upward, and your arm raises. What you’ve created is a crude “wing” generating lift. That’s why your arm rises like a plane taking off.

In Jason Albert’s story about wing sail technology, Sailing the High Seas 2.0, you’ll learn how this back-of-the-car experiment helps us understand how wing sails make catamarans race across San Francisco Bay during the America’s Cup. This technology may eventually allow cargo ships to power down engines and set sail for a port near you.

Our journey to a low-carbon society may in fact mean re-imagining the past. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, so to speak, how about re-inventing the sail? Untapped wind resources pummel the ocean’s trade routes; so it might make perfect sense for newer cargo ships to harness wind power with sails that act and look like airplane wings.

We asked Jason Albert what it was like to construct this story.

“It’s an endeavor where the paintbrush and the protractor meet [...] I spent hours with sailors and boat builders. They were unanimous in their sentiment that the way forward for the America’s Cup was through high tech sailing machines. In asking if they would ever consider going back to the slower and sluggish traditional mono-hulls, I received a collective ‘no way.’ The upshot: maybe this enterprise and its wing sails technology can serve as a proving ground for a more conservative cargo shipping industry.”

In seeking for non-petroleum-based means of propulsion, could cargo ship companies powered by sails pioneer the future of transportation? Set sail toward Jason’s STEM story, where he’ll navigate you through the latest discussion about this technology.

Video footage of a race on August 17 at America’s Cup:

Want more? Check out our other STEM Story Project pieces.

Photo by Jason Albert


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