The Master of Bernoulli’s Principle

By Alan B. Combs

That wonderful airfoil, the sail in a wind-powered boat is a combination of art and science. Long before the Wright Brothers flew their airplane, kite makers and ship sail makers had fashioned very effective airfoils. The wind blowing across the curved surface provided lift — raising the kite in the air and moving the sailboat through the water. The art reached its zenith in the multi-masted tall ships of previous centuries.

Modern development of such airfoils is less a matter of art and more a matter of intensive computation and liberal application of money. In the decades before modern sail and yacht development, however, the foremost practitioner of wind-powered ships was Dr. William Lohman. He was the best. When a ship won a race, Dr. Lohman almost certainly had a hand in the design of the airfoils. He was active all his life and received many awards. In fact, upon his demise, the New York Times carried the simple, tasteful headline, “Death of a Sailsman.”

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