The Power of a Sail

When people think of powerful boats, they probably picture something with a motor, something that can easily be quantified by a number written on the motor cover. There is no doubt how much power a center console has when it has three 300hp outboards bolted to the back of it!

I would like to propose a different illustration of power, the simple sail.

We have found ourselves at times in the ocean with considerable chip and no wind. We attempted for a moment to motor with the seas, but to no avail. Each wave felt like a wall, slamming into it would cease all forward motion, if not set you back! If we caught a break between seas, our speed would get up to 2 knots before the next wave struck. We were using 8hp of our motors 20hp, and it was hopeless.

Then the winds came and with our tiny staysail and double reefed mainsail, we were doing 5 knots steady, and at times reaching 7 knots! When a wave would come, the bow would plow through the wave making the sea erupt into a world of mists and spray.

This made me wonder, how much power does it take to pull a boat through these seas at these speeds? What number should be printed on the sail bag to let you know the power that lays inside?

This is an 18 ton, 45 foot full keel boat blasting through 12 foot seas under its small sails. Imagine the power available in the larger sails.

I think that when we imagine a powerful boat, instead of picturing a sporty speed boat, we should imagine those old pictures of square riggers and schooners with every sail they had available set in the wind! Stuffing sails, water sails, anything and everything they had was presented to the wind to pull them forward!