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On 20 June 1986 the 26,000 tonne sail-assisted log and bulk carrier Usuki Pioneer berthed at Mackay Harbour, her first visit to an Australian pod. She loaded 25.000 tonnes of grain sorghum from the new Mackay bulk grain facility for shipment to Japan and Taiwan. The ship has a distinctive silhouette with the cloth-over-metal-frame sails standing out like the proverbial ant-hill in the desert.
The development of ships designed and built as sail-assisted ships began in Japan with the Shin Aitoku Maru, a domestic tanker launched in 1980. This vessel has shown a 50% saving on fuel costs over five years of service. Six more domestic modern sail-assisted ships were built in Japan, then the ambitious Usuki Pioneer was built. The keel was laid at Usuki Iron Works Saiki shipyard on 6 June 1984. She was launched 30 August 1984, and completed 19 November 1984.
The ship employs two main engines which drive a single, low speed (88rpm), large diameter (6.4 metres), controllable pitch propeller. The
engines are rated at 3.300 h.p. each, and can bum C grade heavy fuel down to 20% load. The engines are capable of burning fuel with a calorific value as low as 380cst over the full load range.
The sails are automatically controlled by a computer which senses and adjusts for wind speed and direction, engine load, engine speed, propeller pitch, sail power, and engine load balance. They have a total area of 640 square metres, made up of 8-80 square metre panels. This allows the ship to make use of winds up to 25 m/s, from directions through from abeam starboard to abeam port. The sails make a vast improvement to the dynamic performance of the ship, reducing pitching, yawing, and rolling. The ship is always stable enough to enable meals to be taken in the mess.
The entire vessel was designed to be as efficient as possible. Special features include: self-polishing, anti-fouling paint: auxiliary machinery capable of burning low grade fuel oil: a homogeniser to facilitate the burning of low-
grade fuel; a new, low-drag hull shape; and a closed cycle oil circulating boiler. Fuel savings over time are expected to be between 15-40% of the consumption of conventional, fuel-efficient vessels.
These vessels have now been at sea for five years, and they represent considerable technical
and engineering advances. Australian pro/eel definition teams should use the lessons of Japanese research and practice to keep Australia's fleet operating as efficiently as possible. The technology is available. Why not use it?