Future Automated Sailing Technology rigs, FAST rigs for short, are smart bits of kit. When we think of sailing vessels, square riggers of 120 years ago, we immediately associate them with uncertain delivery schedules, dangerous handling capability and filthy on-board conditions. Things have changed. FAST rigs, being automated, are operated from the bridge by means of push button controls.
The technology, created in the 1960s by German Wilhelm Prohls as the dynarig, has been developed and proven on the super-yacht The Maltese Falcon. She used sail propulsion alone for more than 60% of her time at sea. She crossed oceans, manoeuvred in and out of ports across the world and can be sailed straight off the dock (a very cool piece of seamanship captured on You Tube). The joke is she needs 2 sailing crew, one to push the buttons, the other to fetch the coffee.
To industrialise this technology loading and force analysis is undertaken on the best materials to use to create a robust, workaday solution for a merchant vessel rather than a money-no-object system that is a necessary element of superyacht DNA. The FAST rig combines steel and composites in a novel but straightforward and manageable way to secure the optimum techno-economic balances between strength, light-weighting and cost.
The sails themselves are like roller blinds, each individually fitted into the rig system via a cassette mechanism. This offers several advantages; when all the sails are fully deployed the propulsion effect is similar to a fixed wingsail but in varying weather conditions when the wind can be behaving differently at the top and the bottom of the masts various combinations of soft FAST rig sail can be employed allowing maximum optimisation of available wind. In the event that a sail blows out it is easy, safe and cheap to replace. This happens in port. The mast is tubular and will contain, on the inside, a safety ladder developed and approved for use in wind turbines. The crew clips out the old cassette and the new one in.
The FAST rig, as a consequence of automation, has no lines and rigging on deck meaning access to holds is considerably more straightforward than on the old traditional clipper ships and crews aren’t on deck on foul conditions hauling on ropes ensuring the safety of the ships crew.
Reliability is key in 21st century logistics systems and industrial sailing hybrid vessels have usual engine propulsion systems available ensuring schedules are maintained. Because these engines are used less often it ensures longer life and lower servicing and maintenance requirements. The economics of sailing hybrid vessels are different to that of a conventional ship, there is a marginally higher capital cost playing against a significantly lower and predictable operational budget. Where there is no dependency on volatile fossil fuel the opex can be fixed over the lifetime of the vessel. This may mean the traditional structure of the shipping system needs to be amended but does not diminish the evidence that wind works