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It's a Boat! It's a Plane! It's BMW Oracle's Wing Sail!

BOR 90

The BOR 90, a 100-foot trimaran engineered and operated by BMW Oracle Racing, is the official American challenger for the 33rd Americas Cup, which takes place in February 2010. For BMW Oracle to win, they have to beat Alinghi, the reigning vessel from the United Arab Emirates. And they're not taking any chances. The BOR 90 team has designed what is easily the largest "wing sail" ever to be affixed to a boat: A 190-foot, 7,770-pound wing that's 80% bigger than the wing of a 747. And they took it out for a spin for the first time on Tuesday in San Diego's harbor.

This is a far cry from your typical canvas-and-rope device. The wing, which is adapted directly from its airplane cousin, is constructed of carbon fiber and Kevlar and covered with an aeronautical shrink film that keeps it slippery. Also like an airplane, the wing consists of two parts, a single piece that rotates around the mast, and a series of hinged flap elements along the trailing edge that can be quickly and efficiently adjusted.

BOR 90

The wing has two to three times the power of a soft sail and also offers greater control for its sailors: A firm sail gives them the ability to trim quicker and provides no opportunity for possible distortion, an advantage over a soft sail, says aeronautical specialist Joseph Ozanne. "With a soft sail, it's so big, it's difficult to shape as you only have control over three points (head, tack, clew). You need massive tension to trim the soft sail," he says. "With a wing sail, you can get the shape you want much more easily."

Even though such a concept works on paper, this is the first time this idea has been executed—and at an investment of over 40,000 hours in design, development and production. It performed well on a calm Tuesday. We can only hope, for the U.S.'s sake, that it cuts through the pack in the real race. In the meantime, might we suggest a new name for the BOR 90: Winging It.