HTC Client Pterosail Brings Sailing to the Roads
John MacTaggart is giving sailing a new definition, trading the open seas for broad stretches of asphalt.
On calm days, he pedals his recumbent tricycle along roads in The Woodlands. But when the wind is blowing, he hoists a sail and is propelled forward by gusts of air.
MacTaggart is the inventor of the Pterosail – the “p” is silent as in pterodactyl – a non-polluting form of transportation that he hopes will appeal to cyclists, sailors and baby boomers, who may want to spend more time outdoors, but would prefer something more comfortable and less strenuous than pedalling a bicycle. With the 13-foot sail, MacTaggart has clocked speeds of 30 miles per hour, effortlessly whizzing down the road, almost with a sense of flying.
There’s just an exhilaration because we’re not conditioned to feel that on land.
MacTaggart has worked on the Pterosail for more than a decade, sidetracked by his service in Afghanistan and the illness and death of his father. His business is still in the early stages, financed by his savings and $25,000 in seed money through the Houston Technology Center, provided by the McNair Group.
He has also found a partner in Myrmidon Corp., a Houston metal fabrication and coating manufacturer, which is building two single-seater Pterosails to feature in a crowdfunding campaign although the selling price has yet to be determined. Robert E. Driver Jr., president of Myrmidon, is helping foot upfront costs of manufacturing Pterosails, paying for labor and materials.
“When I saw a product that has some patent-related ideas that nobody’s ever seen before and has a neat novelty concept,” he said, “then I’m like, wow, that seems like something that might be worth looking into.”
MacTaggart estimates that Pterosail has a potential U.S. market of $15 million to $25 million, based on an analysis of bicycle and boat sales. Charles Coyne, publisher of Recumbent and Tandem Rider Magazine, said the appeal of recumbent trikes, which have three wheels and allow riders to recline in their seat rather than hunching over handlebars, is growing.
“There’s a broad spectrum of people who are attracted to recumbent trikes,” Coyne said.
Coyne called Pterosail a clever idea, but said it would likely have a limited market. It could take up a lot of storage space and a lot of the road. It won’t be easy to maneuver on bike trails, either.
Still, he said, he wants to try it. “I’m sure there’s a market for it because some people have access to wide-open roads,” Coyne said.
MacTaggart, who served as an officer in the U.S. Merchant Marine, began tinkering with Pterosail more than a decade ago as a family project. It began in 2005 when MacTaggart, who graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy two years earlier, was working aboard an oceanographic ship and his father emailed with the idea of creating a wind-assisted trike to sail across the country.
It took MacTaggart years to perfect his design and ensure the Pterosail wouldn’t tip. The Pterosail can be steered with one hand, allowing the other hand to hold a line – called a sheet in sailing – that’s attached to the 13-foot sail. When the line is taught and the wind is blowing, the Pterosail will be pushed forward. Drop the line and the sail goes immediately limp, slowing the trike down.
The Pterosail was completed and ready to sail in 2008, but MacTaggart, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, was called to serve in Afghanistan before he could make the cross country trip. He resumed work on the Pterosail after returning home to Iowa.
He embarked on a cross-country trip from San Diego on June 28, 2010, pedaling and land-sailing for 46 days, 3,100 miles to St. Augustine, Fla.
“I had the time, and I wanted to do something for my 30th birthday that no one’s ever done before,” MacTaggart said.
His invention was gaining publicity and momentum, but MacTaggart got sidetracked again when his father fell ill and later died. Looking for a change of scenery, MacTaggart moved to Houston to work as a service engineer for Drew Marine, which provides a variety of services to the maritime industry. He picked up Pterosail again about two years ago.
MacTaggart said he expects to begin selling Pterosails this summer. He is still deciding which features should come standard with the Pterosail and which should be sold as accessories. Those features include electric-assist motor. As the wind pushes the trike, the spinning of the back wheel drives a generator that charges the motor’s battery. When the wind stops, the motor can be switched on to assist with pedaling.
The trike also has a solar panel to charge mobile phones.
MacTaggart left his job at Drew Marine about three months ago to work full-time on his startup.
“I’m so excited to be able to be at this point,” he said, “to really take this to the next level.”
Source: Andrea Rumbaugh, Business Reporter, Houston Chronicle