Science | Geography | Design & Technology | Art & Design

Amazing ship that could change the world

Will there be a new golden age of sail? Ships are one of the oldest technologies in human history. Now a radical new design aims to bring them back to fight the climate crisis.  The grand old sailing ship is towed down the river by a dark tugboat, belching smoke. Behind them is a murky sunset, indicating a sad fact. It is the ship’s last voyage before she is scrapped.   This is the scene in William Turner’s painting The Fighting Temeraire. The Temeraire fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1815. Her end 23 years later stressed the replacement of romantic sailing ships with steam-driven vessels. But sail may be about to make a comeback, thanks to a new project called Oceanbird, set to launch in 2025. It is designed to reduce the carbon emissions from shipping, which amount to 940 million tonnes a year. Even with a diesel engine to power it when there is no wind, it will use 90% less fuel than a regular cargo ship. The key to the Oceanbird’s design is its five sails. Instead of the traditional sheets of canvas, they are made of steel. They are also telescopic. This means they can be lowered to go under bridges. It will also make the ship more stable in high winds. Each can be rotated, so the ship can make maximum use of the wind. Oceanbird should be able to cross the Atlantic with a cargo of 7,000 cars in eight days. Although it would be 50% slower than a normal ship, that would be outweighed by the saving on fuel. The first ocean-going sailing ships were built around 3,000 BC. But because early sails were inefficient, they needed oarsmen as a backup. Only in the 15th Century, when the Portuguese developed the caravel, could Europeans start exploring the oceans. Navies still depended on galleys until the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The fastest sailing ships ever were the clippers built in the 19th Century, during what was known as the Golden Age of Sail. One covered 535 miles in a single day. Will there be a new golden age of sail? Ocean motion Yes: If we are to solve the climate crisis, we cannot continue to use ships with huge carbon emissions. Going back to wind power is the obvious solution. No: The world works to much tighter timetables today than it did in the age of sail. We cannot rely on boats whose arrival time depends on how good the winds happen to be. Or... The golden age of sail is remembered for beautiful ships travelling at high speeds. The new ships will travel at moderate speeds and probably not be beautiful. So it could be a bronze age of sail.    KeywordsSlower - Oceanbird would take 12 days to cross the Atlantic rather than the eight it would take a normal ship of the same size. 

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