A strange new type of boat has been cruising up and down Newport Bay drawing double-takes from salty old-time seafarers as well as those new to the craft of sailing.
The vessel drawing all the stares is the 20-foot sailboat Flying Lateen, and what makes it noteworthy is a new type of mast and sail rig of the same name. The design is scheduled to make its debut on Wednesday at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club’s Sailors Luncheon.
The Flying Lateen rig, whose patent is pending, was invented by former Laguna Beach resident and retired engineer Robert “Bud” Short, who now lives in Laguna Niguel.
Short is a lifetime sailor and said he started working on the rig with the goal of making sailing both easier and faster.
The rig is set up differently from a traditional boat’s. On a standard sailboat, there is a mast, from which a triangular sail is suspended. In front is another sail known as the jib, which is pulled to one side or the other and helps a sailboat most effectively use the wind. The jib makes up for the more limited motion of the main sail — limited in motion by the mast it’s suspended from.
A lateen is a triangular sail that has been used across the world for thousands of years. It, too, is limited in its movement by how far it can move around the mast.
Short’s Flying Lateen rig attempts to eliminate the problems associated with both those setups.
The Flying Lateen has a large aluminum tripod at the bow of the boat. The large lateen sail — which replaces the main sail and the jib — is suspended from the tripod’s apex.
The lateen sail’s boom is attached to a pivot point where the mast would normally be, creating what Short calls a “phantom mast.”
“It flies on any tack freely without being encumbered by a telephone pole [mast],” Short said.
In addition, the lateen sail is controlled by one simple line, as opposed to the numerous sets of lines a sailboat’s skipper normally has to attend to.
This greatly reduces the time it takes the Flying Lateen rig to cast off and get underway, in comparison to a traditional sailboat.
And, since the lateen sail is furled into its suspended mast with a small motor unfurling the sail in about a minute, the Flying Lateen can get underway in a few minutes — much less than the typical 10 to 20 minutes it takes to hoist and set sails on a traditional sailboat, Short says.
Marc Schryer, a qualified sailing instructor who has taught the craft at both the Newport Harbor Yacht Club and the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club, said such a quick rig would be beneficial to sailors.
“It would definitely ease a lot of the stress in rigging the boat,” Schryer said. “It would enable sailors to just get out and do what they love.”
Short says his purpose is to make sailing more fun for people who aren’t experienced sailors.
He said sailing has a disadvantage in winning nautical converts because of the difficulty of learning the skills involved.
Aside from racing crews that are made up of experienced sailors, Short said, most people who go out sailing do so with an experienced skipper. When the majority of passengers are simply along for the ride, this can lead to frustration and safety issues for the skipper who is in charge.
“A democracy on a boat doesn’t work,” Short said. “It has to be an absolute autocracy.”
According to Short, the Flying Lateen rig enables passengers who know little about sailing to stay out of the way and have a good time while the skipper is able to sail more easily.
Short is committed to the art of sailing, both technically and aesthetically. He said he admires how the single lateen sail looks as it pulls the boat along.
“This almost captures the beauty of the old pirate ships,” he said.
Short hopes his design will bring more people into the sailing world.
“I think it has the potential to rekindle that interest in sailing,” Short said.
World class sailor Bill Ficker, who was the first person to win titles in the three major competitions America’s Cup, Congressional Cup and the Star Class World Championship, said he thinks the rig has potential, but it’s still in the developmental stage.
“You’re looking at something none of us have ever fooled around with,” Ficker said. “The boat seems to sail very nicely, but real performance will be in the evolution.”
Ficker said one of the main keys to making the rig successful is matching it with the right kind of hull.
Short’s friend Mike McCaffrey, of Laguna Beach, is now involved in the project as well. McCaffrey said he hopes the rig will be picked up by a boat maker, who will be licensed to use the technology.
McCaffrey said that while it may be expensive to refit a boat to the Flying Lateen rig, boats built with the Flying Lateen rig in place would be comparable in price to traditional sailboats.