Tuesday, January 22, 2008

About Time (and money)

I'm working from an update-free zone, but a sail-assisted cargo vessel was scheduled to have sailed today from Bremerhaven, Germany to Venezuela as the first practical test of a towing-kite system intended to reduce fuel consumption. Will it tow us into a brave new world?

The MS Beluga SkySails is 132 meters long and carries a 160-meter kite that reportedly developed five tons of pull, in a mild breeze, in recent testing. Wind angle is critical—you won't be going upwind with this rig—but the numbers tossed around by SkySails GmbH & Co. developers start at a 10 percent reduction in fuel consumption under certain circumstances, peaking at a 50 percent reduction under optimal circumstances. The technology is intended for series production. Stephan Brabeck, Technical Manager at SkySails, says, “The daily routine will bear many challenges. It is important to raise the manageability and robustness of the system to the level demanded by our customers."

I patiently sat through the video on the SkySails web site, and what I think I saw was a retrofitted, telescoping mast on the bow of the ship, with the kite stowed in a large metal box below. In the nature of testing, deployment involved quite a bit of manpower, a helicopter as a camera platform, etc, but yes, by and by there was a kite out there, flying in a towing position.

People have been talking about this sort of thing for a long time. Let's hope it works and really does have applications, as the makers hope, to "cargo vessels, superyachts, and fishing trawlers."

Here's the look from aboard . . .

And from ahead . . .

One of the more intriguing, possible uses for a kite would be to increase the options for a dismasted boat, eh? —Kimball