A Herculean undertaking: Pieter van Oossanen writes his masterpiece

WAGENINGEN – In 2012, Pieter van Oossanen handed his naval architecture studio to his son Perry and business partner Niels Moerke. Both naval architects, the two have made Van Oossanen Naval Architects a world leader in the design of  high-performance boats, ships, yachts and special‑purpose vessels.

Pieter van Oossanen

In recent years, Van Oossanen Sr. worked on his masterpiece: a massive 10-volume series of books on the ‘science of sailing.’ It is an authoritative guide to the physics behind sails and the naval architecture that determines the design and performance of sailing yachts.

Today, he is about halfway through his Herculean undertaking. There are very few people who can speak with more authority about what makes boats sail well, fast and efficiently.

In the early 1980s, Pieter van Oossanen become famous for his design of an upside-down ‘winged keel’ under Australia II that won the 1983 America’s Cup for the Royal Perth Yacht Club. That victory ended the New York Yacht Club’s amazing 132-year winning streak and brought the Cup to Down Under. For years, many Australians maintained that winged-keel was an Aussie invention. By now the record is clear everywhere.

Winged keels have become very common, especially on high-performance sailboats. They work best for heavy craft with a lot of sail,  going upwind.  Downwind, the extra keel surface can be a hindrance.

In his book series (each book is published separately) Van Oossanen takes a thematic approach. For instance, the first book deals with ‘Attainable Speed Under Sail’  and the second with the ‘Origin and Nature of Fluid-Dynamic Lift and Drag, The third book, ‘Phenomena and Drag Originating from the Boundary Layer,’ is devoted to viscous drag, the main component of hydrodynamic drag for most vessels at lower speeds.

The first 4 volumes have now been completed and published. No. 5 comes out this year. Much shipbuilding science covered is also applicable to vessels and ships, other than sailboats.