Low-drag catamaran prototype unveiled in California

Proteus exhibits its unusual profile as it skims across San Francisco Bay. The hulls of the catamaran conform to the surface rather than pushing through the waves. The resulting reduction in drag reduces fuel consumption and increases the vessels range. (Marine Advanced Research)

A strange looking catamaran with a hull that dramatically reduces drag is undergoing sea trials in California.

Called Proteus, the 100-foot-long vessel with four long legs was developed by Marine Advanced Research Inc., of El Cerrito, Calif. The WAM-V concept was invented by Ugo Conti, who is known for design work in low-frequency antennas and geophysical instrumentation. He devoted several years to developing the novel concepts that led to the WAM-V.

Very low draft is one of the important design features of this new class of ultra-light flexible catamaran known as the “wave adaptive modular vessel,” or WAM-V.
Carrying a half load of 6 tons, the draft of Proteus’ twin 100-foot-long air-tube pontoons is only 8 inches forward and 16 inches aft.

Proteus’ four legs support the control and payload modules high above the water’s surface, giving the boat a spider-like appearance that sets it apart from other catamarans. With a length of 100 feet and a beam of 50 feet, Proteus has a low length-to-beam ratio for superior stability.

Based on concepts designed to achieve a radically new marine experience, the hulls of a WAM-V conform to the surface of the water instead of piercing or pushing through the waves. The design is a refinement of the basic concept that the less water a hull displaces, the more efficiently it travels through the water.

Structural flexibility is achieved through the use of springs, shock absorbers and ball joints that allow components to move in relation to one another, mitigating structural stresses.

The sponsons for Proteus required wing inflatables to create the largest and longest sponsons ever made.

The vessel is powered by two Cummins Mercruiser Diesel Quantum Series QSB 5.9-355 engines driving Twin Disc MG-5061A marine gears and Anderson ASD8 surface drives. The two engine pods, which also contain the ancillary systems, are fastened to the hulls with specially designed hinges to keep the propellers in the water at all times. The engine pods are mechanically separate from the main hulls, allowing them to be switched for different propulsion systems such as diesel to gas or propellers to water jets. Another design feature allows for the installation of two sets of identical engine pods to maintain constant vessel operation even when engines require servicing or repair.

To date Proteus has been tested over a thousand miles of open ocean by a two-man crew. The WAM-V is designed to achieve a range of up to 5,000 miles with very low fuel consumption. The low draft results in minimal wake even at higher speeds, thereby reducing environmental impacts. Final sea trial results have not yet been released by Marine Advanced Research, Inc.

The payload modules can be removed by lowering them. Switching to a different module for a different use takes less than one hour. The WAM-V designers envision payload modules that accommodate a wide range of applications, including simple cruising accommodations for up to six passengers, a luxury cabin for two, a scuba diving platform, an emergency response unit or cargo.

The modular design also allows a WAM-V to be easily disassembled for transportation in standard shipping containers.

By Professional Mariner Staff