Welcome to Sail Freighter Fridays! This article is part of a series linked to our new exhibit: "A New Age Of Sail: The History And Future Of Sail Freight In The Hudson Valley," and tells the stories of sailing cargo ships both modern and historical, on the Hudson River and around the world. Anyone interested in how to support Sail Freight should also check out the Conference in November, and the International Windship Association's Decade of Wind Propulsion.
The rotor ship Buckau was originally built as an auxiliary sailing schooner in 1920, she was converted in 1925 as the first rotor ship using Flettner Rotors. These modern sails are now being used as wind assist systems on dozens of ships, and are projected in some cases as the principal propulsion of a number of vessels currently in the design stage.
Flettner Rotors work on the principle of the Magnus Effect, which is what causes baseballs to curve when thrown. Flettner Rotors also provide much more thrust from the same surface area when compared to traditional sails.
The tests with Buckau were successful, and the idea caught on to a degree. While Backau was only 600 tons, thus a small ship, others were later launched after her tests, including the 3,000 ton Barbara. Anton Flettner wrote a book about his inventions which is now available on Google Books, and in it details that he had taken a sailing excursion as a young man to Australia, which inspired his maritime endeavors.
There were a number of smaller experiments with Flettner Rotors in the early 20th century, but the collapse of shipping rates in the 1920s did not provide an incentive for building more ships. It wasn't until the Oil Crisis of the 1970s that more research was poured into the idea, and until the early 21st century not many Flettner Rotors were installed or used. However, they are now considered one of the best options for wind-assist retrofits on all kinds of modern vessels.
Buckau proved that rotors are a viable form of propulsion nearly a century ago, and now they are being put to regular use in the pursuit of decarbonizing shipping. These types of pioneering efforts are not frequent, but they are capable of changing what the future of sail will, quite literally, look like.
Steven Woods is a Contributing Scholar at HRMM. He earned his Master's degree in Resilient and Sustainable Communities at Prescott College, and wrote his thesis on the revival of Sail Freight for supplying the New York Metro Area's food needs. Steven has worked in Museums for over 20 years.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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