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Odd ways to harness the wind

There are more ways to take advantage of a breeze to power a boat than there are to put up a sail. Four University of South Florida engineering students showed delegates to an international conference on sail-assisted fishing boats that a wind propeller will do the job, too.

Their craft, dubbed the Winded Bull, was perhaps the oddest to be seen in this fishing town. Rising from the base of a 10-foot-long catamaran was a pole that held a three-bladed wind propeller. By turning the pole with a T-bar, the craft's two-man crew could face the propeller's 7 1/2-foot blades into the wind, no matter which direction the boat was going.

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As the blades turned, they powered a shaft and gears connected to a propeller in the water. The craft never got up a lot of speed in an impromptu sea trial, but then the wind was not very strong.

Jack Shortall, a naval architect and lecturer at the University of South Florida, said wind-propeller power is only one method that boat designers are examining to take advantage of wind.