Gizmos & Gadgets: The “Age of Sail” Returns to San Francisco Bay

May 3, 2014 -Back in 2012 I wrote about the Wind Challenger, a next-generation hybrid ship being built in Japan. It is slated to go into service in 2016. No longer alone in returning to the “age of sail,” San Francisco Bay has become home to a new ferry service using similar wind-assisted technology to operate but on a smaller scale. Whereas Wind Challenger uses nine telescoping sails, this new boat, a trimaran, uses a fixed carbon-fiber sail (seen below) measuring 13.7 meters (45 feet) in height. The trimaran itself is 12.8 meters (42 feet) in length.


Carbon fiber wind sail


Right now the technology is in demonstration mode with a test boat (seen in the two images below) running the same routes as the diesel-powered San Francisco Bay ferries, from San Francisco to Sausalito, Alameda, Treasure Island, Richmond and back.

The sail resembles an upright airplane wing guided by a solar-powered on board computer. The boat also has a diesel engine but in operations is relying very little on it cutting fuel use by as much as 40%. The sail cost about $250,000 U.S. and should pay for itself in the annual fuel savings which should amount to over $400,000. Traditional diesel-powered Bay ferries use as much as $1.2 million in fuel each year.

The added benefit of adopting these carbon-fiber sails for use in ferry services on the Bay will be a net reduction in overall carbon emissions.

Can this technology translate to other coastal cities? If the wind conditions are right, and San Francisco Bay has its share of wind, then the “age of sail” may return to prominence in the 21st century.


Wind & Wing San Francisco


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...