Charles Rowan was a modern 300ft Le Tourneau Class 116-C jackup, built at the Vicksburg Shipyard, Mississippi. The unit was delivered in 1981 and chartered by Shell to drill in the Leman gas field offshore Great Yarmouth, it was the first Rowan rig to work in the North Sea.
In the middle of May 1981, Charles Rowan arrived under sail in Great Yarmouth with the aid of one tug boat. Putting two sails on the forward leg was an idea of Bob Palmer, chairman of Rowan Industries. The aim was to speed up the Atlantic crossing and cut the fuel cost. At an average of 5 knots, the voyage was 4 days shorter than it would usually be expected under a normal tow. The towing company could also deliver the rig with a single tug instead of two. The idea originated from 1977 and Rowan tested it on two other rigs; but is was the first time it was used in service. An equivalent bollard pull of 10 tonnes was measured during the tests and Rowan had plans to fit such sails to other jackups. It was definitively a good idea but later on heavy lift vessels came on the market and dry tow was preferred for all the long ocean transits.
Charles Rowan is today drilling for Aramco offshore Saudi Arabia. Its white sails on the forward leg are just a distant memory.
(Image: New Scientist)