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Canadian company hopes for new age of sail

Montreal-based weather routing agency Marincom International Systems has announced the release of a new software package called HybridCruiser, aimed to be used with ships employing sails.

HybridCruiser is intended for use in projecting voyage costs (fuel plus crew and running costs or daily charter hire) for vessels that can make ocean passages ‘under sail’, or able to sail to ‘windward’, and assuming that engine power can be used when the wind is not 'route compatible'.

The user inputs sailing criteria and the software calculates the optimum route from a series of alternatives. Voyage parameters such as critical wind angles and maximum deviation spreads, in addition to other information about the vessel, are also input.

The technology will additionally suggest the use of engine or sail at each ocean gridpoint for any month of the year and for any ocean route.

Results are given in dollar voyage cost for the optimum hybrid route compared to the cost of the same route made entirely under engine power. The software holds databases of worldwide ocean currents, average wind and wave conditions for each month, as well as world ports and positions.

A shipboard version of the software is available with a weather subscription service.

While the use of sails on commercial ships may seem like a thing of the past, Marincom CEO, Michael Harrison, believes that the option is not as far-fetched as it might sound.

“We might find it difficult to imagine VLCCs or containerships doing this, but experiments with wind power are already underway with fairly large vessels,” he said.

“Skysails, or kites, are being used to see how much they can reduce fuel consumption in handysize bulkers.”

“There is no physical reason why sailing to windward could not be undertaken with larger vessels.”

Mr Harrison compares the potential evolution of this market with the aviation industry as an example of what he hopes might happen in the future.

“In 1947 the world’s largest passenger aircraft was the DC3 Dakota. It carried 34 people. Twenty years later planes could carry ten times that number using the same aerodynamic principles,” he said.

“There are ships on the ocean now that can sail under a full square rig operated by one bridge officer. There is no reason why this could not be applied to ‘quotidian boats’, as The Economist put it in a recent article on mega-yachts.”

“At 298 feet the Maltese Falcon, a hybrid luxury yacht, is already half the length of a handysize bulk carrier. Naturally this proposition will come down to economics.”

Mr Harrison estimates that the cost of building such a sailing ship might be approximately one third above what it is currently, and that this would have to be amortised in the daily running cost.

He also admits that there would be other issues, with any time lost sailing meaning a lengthened voyage and fewer voyages over the long term creating less freight income.

However, Mr Harrison is hopeful that study of the technology would help to make the picture clearer and highlight both the problems and the benefits.

“That is precisely the raison d’être of HybridCruiser,” he said.

“It was developed to help study the economic impact of a possible new age of sail. It will help shipowners decide.”

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