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the age of vapor

the age of vapor

A combination of hundreds of wayward investment professionals released into the general population, continually rising fossil fuel costs, and government and NGO-funded research has made the 2000s the most prolific era in history for the development of vaporware alternative-energy solutions.  And when they rely on wind power, we usually post them here.  Like most folks who spend their most happy times on the water, we’re big fans of anything that might cut down the pollution that infects every inch of waterway in the industrial world.

We’ve been updating you on the Kiteship and Skysails stuff since they first came out in 2006 or so, we featured the coffee-delivering cargo schooner when she made her maiden voyage, and we’ll continue to attempt to showcase some of these clever ideas when they come around.

But we’re sure skeptical, especially when new ideas seem to have no substance behind them beyond a few pretty pictures and a website, and when they make all sorts of claims without any hard data beyond the contact info for their investment officer.

Mainstream media suckers like CNN and the news sites that parrot them eat this shit up, but as sailors, we can dig deeper and understand the issues better — And so we should.

So let’s take a look at the latest in the Green Armada: B9 Shipping’s vapor fleet of three masted cargo ships, the first of which is slated for launching in 2012.  The company’s stated objective is to provide cargo ships powered by sails along with bio-diesel generators in developing nations where the ships relatively tiny size (3000 DWT) and slow speed might be useful in moving low-value cargo around.  The development team, led by a guy with the unlikely name David Surplus, has aligned itself with a pile of maritime industry partners that all have largely undefined roles in the new venture.  Humphries Yacht Design is a partner, B9 claims that Wolfson will provide tank testing of the hulls, and claims a pile of other companies as ‘partners’ in a 100 meter long boat that is meant to be launched in a year but that only seems to exist in the most basic sketch.

But there are bigger problems than even the seeming lack of motion on the impending launch of of a project that somehow convinced the major news networks that it was for real, and that’s the fact that the ultimate sustainability of the project doesn’t seem to be addressed anywhere.

The boat seems to have ripped off Tom Perkin’s Maltese Falcon sail systems for starters – the most technologically advanced sail handling system ever designed that cost some 50 million dollars to create  – on a boat bigger and far more heavily loaded than the Falcon.  But there’s no mention of the Falcon and no details on the rig.  The site is quick to show cool promo photos of Humphries-designed boats like the steel Aviva and Open60 Kingfisher, but there’s no design to be found.  They claim that the project will have Skysail kites as well, again with no detail or explanation.  Is this going to be an even remotely feasible solution to move 3000 tons of sugar cane from one island to another?   We think not.  And while we’re the last ones to discourage innovation in the use of sails for commercial purposes, we don’t think that grandiose but unsupportable claims in the mainstream press help that cause much at all.

If you want to put together a pile of corporate sponsors to fund a cool technologically advanced sailing test bed for sail cargo development, more power to you.  But don’t pretend you’re doing something that makes economic sense to anyone.  Create solutions instead of looking for web traffic, or call this kind of exercise what the more cynical of us would:  A stunt.

We’ll be happy to see you prove us wrong, but it ain’t likely. Here’s the B9 Shipping promo video:


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