I got amped up on caffeine and got to thinking. Many features on a sailboat can be adjusted and modified for any given condition - switching up sails, reconfiguring sail plans, out hauls, cunninghams, back stays, boom vangs, sheets and now trimming ailerons on wings for optimal performance. Keels can be canted and ballast can be moved with water. Some masts telescope and some hulls are fitted to foils.
What hasn't changed so much is the ability of the shape of the hull to change. So far it seems to me it's one size fits all or one needs to come up with the best design for all possible points of sail or specific conditions. I think this could change.
At the Museum of Science in Los Angeles there is a kinetic sculpture made from thousands of pieces of aluminum. It's geometry expands and contracts using an electric motor. It closes to within perhaps twenty square feet and opens to ten times that size. See attached.
Could it be possible to create ribs and a spine like those on old wooden boats with a system like this made from ultra light carbon or some Nano material? Over this a Nano type skin could be fixed at certain points over this skeleton so that when the structure expands the skin would stretch and the tensile strength of the skin would increase until a hull shape is formed. Once taught, the skin would have the same or greater rigidity of a carbon hull...kind of like stretching a buckskin to make a canoe or a condom depending on which way you want to think about it. The mast would be attached to the spine and an inner water tight cabin could be shielded by this ballistic strong outer skin (like an oil tanker). The skin could be replaced periodically or as needed.
Initially, the frame would be able to morph into limited shapes based on predictable sea states and points of sail ie upwind in flat sea, surfing downwind in a heavy sea etc. maybe turning the bow up, narrowing the beam, widening the aft section, a chine or two etc. The electric motors would be governed by computers taking information from sophisticated weather, hydro dynamic and navigation systems. As these systems improve, changes in hull shape could take place more rapidly and on the fly. These changes would also take place in accordance with changes in wing shape (if that's what will be used) and trim, ballast, keels and/or foils. Of course, solar cell and wind generators and battery storage will be much improved, enough so to provide ample power. Maybe there will be one of those mini nuclear reactors on board, the ones that are being developed for home use.
In this way, I think a fully automated sailing vessel such as this may finally bring synergy between water and air, slipping atop the sea like a blade across ice. It's ability to make thousands of micro adjustments to every wave and wind shift would optimize performance more so than the best crew could ever hope to accomplish.
It sounds far fetched but drones are replacing manned fighter jets, Google is close to developing autonomous cars, nano materials are already being used, we can model any sea state and wind scenario in a computer already. Boats like the AC, Speed Dream, Hydroptere and Sail Rocket are incorporating these ideas already. The shift to foils and wings is inevitable, I think.
It also seems inevitable that many other systems will become automated. What percentage of the typical Vendee boat sail under auto pilot? AC crew talk about the dampening effect of foils, above the water, not crashing through it with walls of water pouring over the crew like V70's in the Southern Ocean. With little to no displacement from a hull, there is less done about sail changes. Wings are trimmed to counter loads. All this progression towards perfection, conquering the elements seems to be removing us from the picture or at least it is changing the description of what a sailor is. Will we become obsolete?
I romanticize the old days, rounding the horn in square rigs or boats like Suhaili, hanging on for dear life, tumbling down rogue waves... The Horn is no less a dangerous place but where it was once a place that was feared (yes I know it still is) it has now become a place of sport. Some day soon some nut will round it on a modified wind surfer or kiteboard. Carnival cruises will take retirees on joy rides in big luxurious multi hulls paying for the privilege like some do to go into space.
Picture a glorious mega yacht with great white wings hovering on foils powering at 60knts rounding the horn through monstrous seas, completely automated with two geriatrics, oblivious to the spectacle, reclining in the doghouse, eating fruit salad while watching reruns of Charmed.
Just an idea for the hell of it.