Ferry riders on San Francisco Bay could soon be boarding sailboats 

Cross-Bay travelers might be able to enjoy whipping through the water in state-of-the-art catamaran sailboats — and they won’t even have to sign up with an America’s Cup team to have the experience.

A private company that specializes in sailboat cruises has approached the Golden Gate Bridge transit district about replacing the agency’s diesel-ferry fleet with new wind-powered catamaran vessels, starting with a possible test run of the technology in April.

Wind + Wing Technologies, a Napa company, claims it can build catamaran sailboats able to handle the passenger load of commuting ferry systems, while also reducing carbon emissions and saving the agencies money on fuel costs. One vessel proposed by the company could accommodate up to 750 passengers and travel at 17 knots (about 20 mph), and it would cut down both fuel expenses and carbon emissions by 40 percent.

The proposed vessels would still use diesel fuel, but they would be powered primarily by a towering vertical mast — called a wing — that could rotate 360 degrees to capture the swirling Bay winds, according to Jay Gardner, one of the founders of Wind + Wing Technologies.

Gardner’s other company, Adventure Cat, uses the same wing technology, which also is employed by America’s Cup racers, to take visitors on sailing tours across the Bay.

“We do this 330 days a year, so we know this plan can work,” Gardner said, adding that a typical wing for a ferry boat would rise 110 feet. The proposed catamaran vessel would only be used to ferry passengers from Sausalito to San Francisco.

While the bridge district, which runs daily service from Larkspur and Sausalito to San Francisco, is interested in the proposal, it still has questions about the catamarans’ maneuverability and reliability, agency spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

To ease those concerns, the two sides would engage in a six-month demo project, using a scaled-down catamaran already built by the Navy. Starting in April, a 50-foot catamaran operated by Wind + Wing employees and using bridge district facilities could make daily trips with no passengers from San Francisco to Sausalito.

On Thursday, the bridge district’s finance committee enthusiastically agreed to move forward with discussions, although no agreement was finalized, Currie said.

If the demo project proves successful, the bridge district would consider using the catamarans for regular ferry service from Sausalito, she said.

“This is a great opportunity to learn more about new possibilities for our ferry service and to get a better understanding about this technology,” Currie said.

If the demo works, the catamarans could be up and running for ferry service within 2½ years, Gardner said.

Howard Strassner, a transportation expert from the local branch of the Sierra Club, said studies have shown that diesel-powered ferries are inefficient energywise.

“This is very exciting,” Strassner said. “We’ve been waiting on an idea like this for quite some time.”


Goodbye, diesel burden?

300 to 750
Passenger capacity for proposed catamaran vessels
$300,000 to $500,000 Annual fuel savings, per vessel, assuming current costs
110 Vertical feet of wing mast
40 percent Reduction in carbon emissions from normal ferry vessels
17 knots Speed of proposed vessels
21 knots Current speed of Golden Gate Bridge transit district ferry from Sausalito to San Francisco
1,442 Average weekday ridership on Sausalito ferry

Source: Wind + Wing Technologies

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Will Reisman

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