Museum at Home

Animal Athletes Challenge 5 | Long-distance Sailing

Greatest Human Achievement

The world record for solo sailing around the world is 42 days, 16 hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds by François Gabart from France in 2017.  

Animal Competitor: By-the-wind Sailor

Amazing ability

This colony of animals, related to the Bluebottle or Portuguese Man-O-War, travels long distances across the ocean with only wind power.

Built for long-distance sailing

  • Flat oval disc floats on the surface of the sea
  • Thin erect sail, set at an angle across the disc, catches the wind. Sail can angle to the left (left-handed) or to the right (right-handed)
  • Deep blue colour of the float provides camouflage from predators above and below the water and protects from the sun.

Where do they live?

By-the-wind Sailors are found in the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. They are often found washed up on beaches after strong winds. Right-handed By-the-Wind Sailors are the most common type in the southern hemisphere.

At Home Challenge

You will need:

  • Animal Athletes Challenge Sheet 
  • Small boat with a sail. See below for instructions on how to make one at home.
  • Flat container filled with water
  • Straw 

What to do:

  • Put your sailing boat into the container at one end.
  • Gently blow on the sail through the straw. Blowing through the straw directs the wind. 
  • Count how many breaths it takes to push the boat across the water.
  • Record this result on your Challenge Sheet

To make this activity into a scientific experiment you need to identify a variable:

  • Add some weight (ballast) into the boat. Does this make the boat faster?
  • Increase the number of sails.
  • Turn the boat around and blow towards the back of the boat. What happens?
  • Add a keel to the bottom of the boat. Does this make it go faster? Is it more stable?

Video your results, post them online and tag #museumoftropicalqld #qldmuseum

At Home Activity

Make a mini wind-powered boat

This is a design activity using limited materials. The challenge is to build a boat that will travel successfully by wind force (from blowing through a straw).

You will need:

  • 1 sheet of aluminium foil about 30 cm long
  • 1 piece A4 paper
  • 1 piece of cardboard
  • 3 straws
  • 2 craft sticks
  • Scissors
  • Sticky tape
  • Small ball of play dough or Blue tack
  • Container of water to test the boat

What to do:

  • Make the hull (body) of the boat. Should it be flat bottomed? How high should the sides be? How thick on the bottom? How will it hold the mast and sail?
  • Check that it floats.
  • Design the mast. How will you attach the mast to the hull?
  • Design the sail. What shape will it be? Will there be one or two? How will you attach the sail to the mast?
  • Attach the mast and sails to the hull.
  • Float the boat in the water. Is it stable? Do you need to move the mast?
  • Use your straw to gently blow onto the sails. Does the boat move in the right direction?
  • Do you need to redesign the shape of the hull or sail?
  • Does it need a keel (underneath the hull) to help it stay up?
  • Does it need ballast (weight) in the hull to keep it stable?
  • Can you blow your boat across the water?

Image credits: Queensland Museum