Return of the Crab Claw Rig?

A new take on the age-old Crab Claw rig just may be the perfect sail configuration for today's motorsailers.
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 The Delta Wing Sail—Seagate Sailing’s vision of a computer-controlled crab-claw rig that stows away belowdecks—has some heavyweight backers

The Delta Wing Sail—Seagate Sailing’s vision of a computer-controlled crab-claw rig that stows away belowdecks—has some heavyweight backers

Seagate Sailing's Delta Wing Sail just might be the perfect motorsailing rig

In its traditional sense, a motorsailer is an uneasy compromise—a displacement powerboat consigned to carting around a heavy rig and sails; a sailboat doomed to drag along a hefty payload of engine and fuel in a hull shape that’s not designed for fast sailing.

How would it be if that rig could disappear—and reappear—at the touch of a button, thereby eliminating windage and redundancy when under power and leaving you with the spacious accommodations and clean decks of a powerboat? You’d never need worry about air draft on the ICW, or most other waterways for that matter, and you’d eliminate a lot of maintenance worries too.

An innovative new sailing concept

Enter the Winelec 2.0 Motorsailer, a concept boat from Italy that blends sail and power in a most ingenious way. Its “masts” are a pair of arches—one fixed, the other pivoting to lie flat on deck when not in use. The sail itself is nowhere to be seen.

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But here’s the fun part. At the press of a button, the forward arch lifts off the deck to stand upright. After that a row of hatches along the deck edge opens, and a long carbon fiber boom appears, which is lifted up the arches on a trio of electric cars until it reaches a preset height. The boom then splits open lengthwise—it’s hinged at its forward end—to unroll a crab-claw sail of the type most commonly associated with Pacific fishing outriggers. As the sail is trimmed to catch the wind, so the Winelec’s electric motors automatically switch off.

This is Seagate Sailing’s view of the future, and it is no pipe dream. Numbered among founder Marcello Segato’s core team is one Andy Claughton, who is the director of the Wolfson Unit at Britain’s Southampton University.

This is where the world’s foremost boat and rig designers come to have their ideas tested, and nearly 30 years ago it tested a variety of modern and traditional rigs for C.A. Marchaj’s groundbreaking book Sailing Theory and Practice. No prizes for guessing which rig proved the most aerodynamically efficient when reaching and running—yes, the crab claw.

Segato’s inspiration was the pedelec—pedal-electric—bicycle, which now accounts for over 35 percent of bike sales in Europe. The name Winelec is a combination of wind and electric, bespeaking the hybrid nature of the boat with its electric motor. Claughton’s involvement lends instant credibility to the project, and a prototype is currently in build.

From a purist’s point of view, the Winelec won’t provide a satisfying sailing experience. To come about, the sail must first be furled into its booms, after which the assembly is shuttled over the arches to the other side of the boat before it can be opened on the new tack. Not only that, the rig won’t point any higher than 50 degrees to the apparent wind—it is most efficient between 80 and 160 degrees— though that won’t bother those who contend that gentlemen don’t sail to weather. Should your destination lie upwind, you just make the rig disappear back under the deck, and the silent motors do the rest.

In fact, the boat could decide that for you. Seagate’s Cruise Control software (under development) will weigh up wind direction, sea state, COG current and boatspeed to decide if power or sail or a combination of both is the most efficient way of getting you to your destination.

Along with Claughton, Segato has assembled a heavyweight cast of designers and engineers—among them Harken’s Giampaolo Spera—who are also adapting the concept to commercial applications. They’re calling it the Delta Wing Sail, though whether it’s a true wing or not is debatable.

Back in the South Pacific, though, it’s still the crab claw, and it’s still helping islanders zip between atolls with the greatest of ease.

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