If there was any doubt that sailing is currently in a state of flux, those doubts should be fully and finally put to rest by the advent of the new “Inflated Wing Sail,” from Switzerland’s Next technologies Sarl.
On the plus side, assuming everything works as advertised, this setup appears to offer incredible gains in terms of ease-of-use and aerodynamic efficiency. Thanks to its flexibility, for example, it automatically depowers itself in a gust. Similarly, tacking and gyble couldn’t be easier, and its foil shape puts that of a conventional cloth sail to shame.
That said, the thing is—how do we put this—a bit challenging aesthetically. In addition, while much of the industry continues to strive to make sailing as easy as, say, operating a golf cart, there are still those of us out there who actually enjoy doing things like tailing halyards and trimming sheets. (I know, crazy. I hear some people even still sail boats made of wood!)
Ultimately, what may end up being the most exciting aspect of this new technology is its commercial possibilities. Ever since the windjammers of old lost their decades-long battle with first steam and then diesel, efforts have been made to harness wind power again aboard everything from harbor ferries to ocean-going freighters.
With their simple construction and lack of rigging, it’s easy to see Inflated Wing Sails sprouting aboard any number of different vessels looking to for some cost savings by burning less fuel. Now that’s an aesthetic even this old stick-in-the mud sailor could get used to real fast.