When I stepped onboard Rainbow Warrior during her stopover in Seattle last weekend, I realized this was not your ordinary ship. Immediately striking is not the vast steel hull, or the rainbow colors. What sets her apart are two intriguing A-frame masts supporting 13,000 ft of sail area. And at 180 feet tall, apparently she has the second largest sailing rig in the world.

Rainbow Warrior Seattle skyline

Rainbow Warrior visited Seattle as part of her West Coast tour.

The first question I asked was "Why an A-frame design?" The primary reason for this, explained the third mate, was to accommodate a helicopter bay, which takes up the center section of the ship. A conventional design would have put the mast through the middle of the hanger. And as I have never seen a heli that split in two, the design immediately made sense.

The other major difference between Rainbow Warrior and a typical motorsailer is that the bridge is set far forward. This feels really disconcerting as a sailor, because I kept looking up only to see the roof, when what I really wanted was to view the sails. So underway, the ship operates with a helmsman on the bridge (which was nice and toasty warm even on a cold rainy day in Seattle) and a sail trimmer out on deck handling the winches. Even though the winches are hydraulically controlled, I know which I would prefer on a passage through the Arctic!

Rainbow Warrior A frame rig

At 180 feet tall, Rainbow Warrior's A frame masts are apparently the second largest sailing rigs in the world.

While she looks big and bulky, the hull has been designed for sailing performance. Her cruising speed is 11 knots with a max speed of 15. I doubt in practice she is under sail alone that often, and then only off the wind. But her sail power allows trips to be extended for many months, with limiting factors more to do with provisions and crew stamina than fuel. At that point, getting yourself ‘voted off the island’ might be a welcome relief.

Yachtworld.com has a few motorsailer listings, ranging from 26 to 216 feet, and they look like amazing vessels. But Rainbow Warrior could well be the ultimate motorsailer.

Rainbow Warrior is currently on a west coast tour from Vancouver to San Francisco. For more information visit the Rainbow Warrior webpage.

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