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Old 10-07-2008, 12:20   #1
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Sailing in the shipping industry

With oil prices being at record highs can someone explain to me why worldwide shipping still uses oil powered freighters? I understand that in many cases time is of the esence, however, in cases of comodities, it is not... if you have a load of rice or oil or pigs or whatever else is a low-tech comodity, then the demand, and hence the value, will be roughly the same (aside from the vagaries of world futures markets), if you drop of your cargo 1 week after bringing it on board or one month after. Therefore, it seems that a fleet of sailing cargo ships would be far more efficient than a fleet of oil guzzling freighters. The only information that I can find on sailing freighters is this:

Kite-Driven Beluga Skysail Completes 12,000 Mile Journey and Proves Concept ( shipping, skysail, sail+shipping,)

which seems like a great way to improve on a bad idea instead of starting with a good idea. Can someone tell me why I'm wrong, which I obviously am since sailing cargo vessels don't exist anymore?
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Old 10-07-2008, 12:32   #2
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The cost of running a shipping line is not only about variable costs like fuel.

Time will always be a factor because you have to pay crews, pay insurance, pay for depreciation, pay for maintenance and pay for the cost to build the vessel. The faster a ship can move cargo to its next destination the more money it makes because it can then turn around and move more cargo to the next destination. The more total cargo a ship can make in a given time period, the more money it stands to make over its useful lifetime.

There are both fixed and variable costs associated with operating a ship. The fixed costs are accruing whether the ship is sitting at the dock or making way. A ship tied to the dock is not making any money. Its losing money. Therefore a ship moving 5 knots under sail versus a ship moving 20 knots under power is better able to pay its fixed costs and make more money for its owners/shareholders.

A sail powered cargo ship is a great idea in theory but there are a lot of practical considerations. One such consideration is that a ship generates a great deal of apparent wind which shifts the wind direction forward which makes a kite all but worthless, unless you have a very strong true wind from abaft of the beam. This brings up the question of how often would a kite be usable? Would the savings in fuel offset the increase in fixed costs?

I'm speaking from a business perspective and not an environmental perspective obviously. The shipping business though is so competitive that they have to think money and costs just to stay alive. If a kite is going to increase their costs overall then I would think that idea would go right out the window.

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Old 10-07-2008, 12:44   #3
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Sail is unreliable. It's always on the nose. In the days of sail owners were always waiting for their ship to come in. Nowadays commerce just won't wait and cannot depend on the vagaries of wind. One other thought though, steam and coal fired boilers might come back.
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Old 15-07-2008, 03:20   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by maple View Post
I understand that in many cases time is of the esence, however, in cases of comodities, it is not... if you have a load of rice or oil or pigs or whatever else is a low-tech comodity, then the demand, and hence the value, will be roughly the same (aside from the vagaries of world futures markets), if you drop of your cargo 1 week after bringing it on board or one month after.
In simple terms let's say it takes 30 days to deliver 1 ton of rice and I consume a ton of rice each 30 days. I need 1 ton of rice in the "supply chain"

If I increase the delivery time to 90 days I need 3 tons of rice in the system. 3 X the cost of the capital. If the capital costs 5% I need to make 15% more on the rice.

Multiply that by like 2 gazillion and you get the picture.

Also, say it takes 20-30 people to sail an oil fired ship. For the same size sailing boat, what? 80 people with automation? Where is all this labor coming from and what does that do to the proce of the commodity. Also if I have 3X the amount of goods in the supply chain I need 3X the number of ships floating around delivering it. More capital expense.

I almost said you need 3X the port area but that's not true because you'd just have more ships at sea.

I guess the bottom line is that if it was cost effective it would be happening.
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Old 16-07-2008, 10:27   #5
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Modern sail shipping

There is increasing interest in sail-assisted shipping. This is not at all the same as commercial sail. The goal of these systems is simply to improve fuel efficiency of mid-speed shipping of low priority goods, such as bulk.

The biggest use of sails in commercial maritime work has been in the tug industry on the east coast of the USA. Again, you're looking at lower speed, and it's only used to improve fuel efficiency.

The parasail system is new to me. The three NL-flagged panamax carriers use junk sails, as do a couple of the sail cruise ships. These systems can be completely computer run, including reefing. There are several similar systems for staysail schooner rigs.

Remember that when you're just looking for improved fuel economy, you can get a benefit when the apparent wind is more than 3-5 degrees off the bow.
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Old 16-07-2008, 13:09   #6
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Here is one for you
Nuclear Power for Commercial Ships
And there is some good info on research here:
Navy Ship Propulsion Technologies: Options for Reducing Oil Use -- Background for Congress
I really dig the Walker Wing Sails.
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Old 18-07-2008, 11:33   #7
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I think the tech has come along to the point that they could build sailing ships that will do 20knots with 1000tons of cargo on most points of sail, but who would want to be the first to try and build such a beast let alone run it. The crew would be the largest issue I would think, since crew cost can be as much or more then fuel for a given run.
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Old 18-07-2008, 11:51   #8
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The handymax size (smallest standard bulk carrier) starts at 10,000 DWT. Capesize starts at 80,000 DWT.

It is certainly possible to build a sail auxiliary (primarily sail driven) freighter, but it's unlikely to be economical except in rare special situations unless fuel prices rise by an order of magnitude. And even then there are other fuel options which will likely keep sail in the realm of history.

There has been discussion of adding shipping propulsion method to organic standards, however. It's one of those "rare special" situations which I mentioned.
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Old 18-07-2008, 12:12   #9
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Originally Posted by Vasco View Post
Sail is unreliable. It's always on the nose. In the days of sail owners were always waiting for their ship to come in. Nowadays commerce just won't wait and cannot depend on the vagaries of wind. One other thought though, steam and coal fired boilers might come back.
Out of sheer curiosity, I did the math on powering my old Gulfstar on wood or coal fired steam.

It didn't come out well at all. You needed *cords* of wood to go hundreds of miles. Ouch.

It was an interesting little idea though.
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Old 18-07-2008, 12:18   #10
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In the "olden days" of steam they sometimes started chopping up the furniture when they ran out of coal.
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Old 18-07-2008, 13:29   #11
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I seem to remember a movie like that. They were racing across the Atlantic, on a steamer. Ran out of coal, and started to take parts off the boat to burn. Wish I could recall the name, but I remember I enjoyed the movie.
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Old 18-07-2008, 17:04   #12
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Around the World in Eighty Days was the movie
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Old 18-07-2008, 17:09   #13
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I should have known that. Guess what they say is true. The memory is the second thing to go. I don't seem to mind so much that I can't remember the first
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