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Sailing steers to future


On the north side of the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, the past and the future are berthed a short distance from each other, the schooner America and the Zefyr 43, and each was drawing a large share of the crowd yesterday.

The America, a reproduction of the yacht that won the first America's Cup in 1851, is testimony to the days when wooden ships and iron men sailed the oceans .

The Zefyr 43, a 43-foot trimaran with a fixed vertical wing and a computerized steering system, is a glimpse of what is possible when "the precision of aerospace technology has been allied with the exhilarating world of sailing."

Noel Mavius is director of construction and engineering for Walker Wingsail Systems PLC in the United Kingdom and Walker Wingsail America Inc. of North Andover, Mass., which build the Zefyr 43.

To get to the Annapolis show, Mavius and Jean and John Walker, who developed the Walker Wingsail, cruised the trimaran across the Atlantic Ocean, playing a "cat and mouse game all the way across."

"We had to dodge Hurricane Iris, Umberto, Karen and Marilyn," said Mavius. "The worst weather was about 40 knots of wind and 30- to 35-foot seas, not that much bad weather, really. Force 6 gusts to Force 7 isn't too bad.

What sets the Zefyr 43 apart is the Walker Wingsail System, which John Walker said is "very much like flying a plane while sailing on the water."

The wingsail, which is built atop a swiveling base or boom, is powered by the front two sections and directed by a third section, or tail.

A Walker Micromariner computer controls the set of the wing and its adjustments for sea and wind conditions once a course has been determined.

According to its builders, the wingsail system offers several advantages over the sailing rigs of conventional yachts.

* There is never a need to reef or furl the sails. The wing stays up in all types of weather.

* Because the wing is continually self-adjusting, the performance of the boat's hull also becomes more efficient as the wingsail cancels out wave motion and excessive leeway.

* The wingsail system makes the trimaran virtually free of the danger of capsize and subsequent sinking.

* The computerized piloting system eliminates the need to go on deck in heavy weather situations.

"So, you come down to the boat, turn the key, push the [throttle] lever forward, and you sail forward within about 10 seconds," said Mavius, while demonstrating the sailboat's powerboat-style controls. "Pull the lever backwards, and you will sail backward."

"If the wind gets very high, the computer will say, hang on a minute, the wind is getting quite fast. Let me throttle it back for you and keep you sailing within safe limits," Mavius said.

The wingsail system is operated by a dedicated bank of batteries that are charged by solar panels, and should the electronics system fail, the boat can be sailed manually.

Facts and figures

What: United States Sailboat Show

Where: City Docks, Annapolis

When: Through Monday, 10 a.m. opening each day

Admission: $11 for adults and $5 for all children 12 and under

Parking: Shuttle bus service from parking area off Rowe Boulevard (exit 24 south from Route 50)

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