Peter van Oossanen is a Dutch scientist, naval architect and author. He was a principal scientist at the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN) from 1969 to 1991. His research on sailing yachts, between 1976 and 1982, resulted in the design of ‘Australia II’ that won the America’s Cup in 1983 – the first time the USA lost to a challenging nation since 1851. In 1992 Peter founded the first of the Van Oossanen Group of companies working in the field of yacht and ship design. He was author of the definitive text on the resistance and propulsion of ships in 1988. His work in the field of ship hydrodynamics earned him various awards and medals. After he retired in 2013, he wrote a series of books entitled, ‘The Science of Sailing’, and in 2020-2021 three science fiction novels.
Early life and education
Peter (Pieter in Dutch) was born in Haarlem, The Netherlands, to Pieter van Oossanen, a construction worker in the steel industry, and Adriana Johanna Bakker. He was the eldest of three children, having a younger sister Hermina Grada (Hetty), and a younger brother Robert Alexander (Rob). The family emigrated to Australia in June 1951, as a result of a lack of work and adequate housing in The Netherlands in the years after the Second World War. The family was temporarily housed in Bathurst in New South Wales while the father looked for work and a place to live. This led them to locations in Sydney, such as Dee Why, Narrabeen, and finally Mosman, on Sydney’s North Shore. Peter attended Mosman High School from 1952 to 1958, where he obtained his Intermediate Certificate when he was 15. His father wanted him to leave school and start earning a wage at that time, but his mother was instrumental in allowing him to attend Balgowlah Boys High School in pursuit of his Leaving Certificate, which would allow him to enter university afterwards. He excelled academically at Balgowlah, attaining the highest marks in physics and mathematics. He there also excelled in athletics, breaking school records for the 880 yards and the mile. Peter represented the school in state championships in those distances. On obtaining his Leaving Certificate when he was 17, he wanted to study aeronautical engineering at the University of New South Wales. His father, however, was determined that he should start earning a salary and Peter was forced to study part-time. He enrolled in a course in naval architecture instead because of his affinity with boats and sailing, which would have led to a B.Sc. degree in 8 years. During his third year at university, when he was 20, he decided to leave the family home and return to The Netherlands to study naval architecture full time at Delft University of Technology. A few days later, his parents announced that they had decided to also return to the Netherlands. They returned as a family in December 1963. Peter enrolled at Delft University of Technology in September 1964.
While embarking on his Master’s thesis in 1969, Peter was asked to join the Maritime Research Institute (MARIN) in Wageningen, The Netherlands, by its director who also held an academic position at Delft University. Peter re-located to Wageningen in March of that year. At MARIN, he became involved in ship hydrodynamics. He obtained his M.Sc. in January 1970, and a Ph.D. in 1974, also at Delft University of Technology. For his Ph.D. thesis, he developed the first analytical procedure for the calculation of the occurrence and the extent of cavitation on foils and ship propellers. He published frequently and attended meetings and symposia all around the world. He became a member of various international committees and working groups and worked at the forefront of developments in ship propulsion and cavitation. He was awarded the Royal Institution of Naval Architect’s Small Craft Medal in 1981 in London, England, the Tideman Medal awarded by the Royal Netherlands Navy in 1983 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and the Royal Institution of Naval Architect’s Maritime Innovation Award 2015, in London, England, for the results of his research.
The 1983 America’s Cup
In 1976, Peter embarked on a research project aimed at the development of a calculation method to determine the detailed performance of sailing yachts. He did this in his own time. This was completed in 1979 and the developed methodology, the first of its kind, allowed for discovering performance improvements to the then used 12 Meter Class yachts used for the America’s Cup. The most important of these consisted of adopting a length on the waterline that was shorter than earlier yachts, if the lead in the keel could be positioned low enough. That shorter length enabled the yacht to possess a greater sail area. Peter approached Alan Bond in Australia about his results and Bond requested that he travel to Sydney to explain to him and to Ben Lexcen, the designated designer of his America’s Cup yachts, the philosophy of what the method was indicating. This eventually lead to the hiring of the towing tank in Wageningen by Bond, and Peter’s involvement, for designing and testing models developed according to this philosophy in January 1981. To obtain a low enough center of gravity of the lead in the keel, Peter hired the services of the Dutch Aerospace Center for calculating the merits of a number of radical keel shapes. This resulted in the finding that an “upside-down” version of the keel of the type then adopted, would suffice. Peter worked together with Joop Slooff of the Aerospace Center in developing this keel, which was given novel winglets to reduce the strong circulation from the high-pressure side to the low-pressure side, at its bottom. The yacht that was built according to the work that Peter did was called “Australia II”, and it won the America’s Cup. It was the first time the USA lost to a challenging nation after originally winning it in 1851.
The involvement of Peter in developing “Australia II”, was the subject of a significant controversy between the New York Yacht Club and the Australian Challenge, about which several books have been written,,,, , .
Between 1983 and 1987, Peter worked for different syndicates representing both Australia and challenging countries for the America’s Cup, held off Fremantle in 1987.
Peter was invited to lead the design effort on behalf of the ill-fated Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron challenge for the America’s Cup in 1992, for which he left MARIN in December 1990. He acquired Australian citizenship to enable him to take up this position.
Founder of the Van Oossanen Group of companies
Rather than return to MARIN in 1992, Peter founded his own ship and yacht design company in that year, called Van Oossanen & Associates. The demand for his services steadily grew, and the company designed many ships and yachts, and was involved as a consultant on various hydrodynamic and naval architectural issues. When Peter retired in January 2013 the company had grown to include some 30 naval architects, hydrodynamicists and engineers. As such, it is one of the largest companies involved in ship and yacht design in The Netherlands. In that period, a number of associated companies had also been set up for specific purposes such as Van Oossanen Naval Architects b.v., Van Oossanen Fluid Dynamics b.v., Excellent Naval Architects b.v., and Hull Vane b.v. Together, they form the Van Oossanen Group.
Some of the inventions that Peter developed are protected by patents. Four of these cover the design of the Hull Vane© (see below). Another covers de concept known as foil assist, and another a unique type of rudder for vessels that operate in shallow water.
Peter possessed a particular interest in regaining some of the energy the hull of a ship or yacht expends in propelling itself through the water. That energy is manifest in the nature of the flow near the stern. Ever since 1992 he researched ways and means to retrieve some of that energy. He was successful in identifying how to do that in 1996 when he tested the effect of different foils, oriented horizontally behind and below the hull, and found reductions in hull drag of up to 30% in certain cases. Further research revealed where and how such a foil needed to be located and oriented. This led to the concept of the “Hull Vane©”, and the setting up of the Hull Vane b.v. company for marketing, selling, manufacturing, and the mounting of the foil to the stern of various types of vessels. Up to January 2021 more than 40 ships and yachts had been fitted with the device. Four patents have been awarded covering the particulars of the Hull Vane©. Each of these patents have been validated in different countries.
Published papers and books
Peter published more than a hundred scientific papers on various subjects. Some of these are definitive in nature and are often referred to by others working in the field. These papers have been collected and made available to the public at large, free of charge, from www.vanoossanenacademy.nl.
In 1988, Peter wrote the second volume of a 3-part book on the Principals of Naval Architecture, published by the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME). This second volume covers the resistance, propulsion, and vibration of ships. This book has become a standard text on this subject:
“Principles of Naval Architecture”,Second Revision, Volume II,“Resistance, Propulsion and Vibration”,edited by Edward V. Lewis, The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, Alexandria, VA, USA, 1988; ISBN No. 978-0-939773-01-5, Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 88-60829.
On retiring in January 2013 Peter embarked on the writing of a series of books entitled, “The Science of Sailing”. This is a multi-volume guide to the physics of sailing and the naval architecture governing the performance of sailing yachts. Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4,have been completed andare available from: www.vanoossanenacademy.nl.
“The Science of Sailing” Part 1, “The Attainable Speed Under Sail”, Buijten & Schipperheijn, Amsterdam, 2018; ISBN No. 978-90-827682-0-6.
“The Science of Sailing” Part 2, “The Origin and Nature of Fluid-Dynamic Lift and Drag”, Buijten & Schipperheijn, Amsterdam, 2018; ISBN No. 978-90-827682-1-3.
“The Science of Sailing” Part 3, “Phenomena and Drag Originating From the Boundary Layer”, Buijten & Schipperheijn, Amsterdam, 2018; ISBN No. 978-90-827682-2-0.
“The Science of Sailing” Part 4, “Phenomena and Drag Originating from the Air-Water Interface”, Buijten & Schipperheijn, Amsterdam, 2019; ISBN No. 978-90-827682-3-7.
In 2020-2021, Peter wrote 3 science-fiction novels featuring a character referred to as “Guardian”. The second of these books is a sequel to the first, and the third is a sequel to the second. These books have been translated into Dutch, and both the English and Dutch versions were published in 2021.
“The Protector: His Origin and Rise”, second edition, Buijten & Schipperheijn, Amsterdam, 2021; ISBN No. 978-90-827682-9-9.
“The Protector: His Loss and Retribution”, second edition, Buijten & Schipperheijn, Amsterdam, 2021; ISBN No. 978-90-827682-5-1.
“The Protector: Removal of the President”, first edition, Buijten & Schipperheijn, Amsterdam, 2021; ISBN No. 978-90-827682-7-5.
Peter married Dina Hendrika (Dini) Kersten in June 1969. They lived in Veenendaal, and then in Elst (in the Provence Utrecht) until 1975. They have lived in Wageningen, The Netherlands, since. They have two children. Their daughter Elizabeth Adriana (Lilian) was born in June 1970 and his son Pieter Gerrit (Perry) in July 1977. Perry became CEO of the Van Oossanen Group of companies, together with Niels Moerke, when Peter retired.
- Dan Spurr, The Hydrodynamicist, Professional BoatBuilder magazine, No. 121, 2009.
- Michael Levitt & Barbara Lloyd, Upset: Australia Wins the America’s Cup, Nautical Quarterly, Inc., ISBN 0-89480-674-2, 1983.
- Tony Fairchild, The America’s Cup Challenge: There is No Second, Nautical Books, London, ISBN 0-333-32527-3, 1983.
- Doug Riggs, Keelhauled: The History of Unsportsmanlike Conduct and the America’s Cup, Seven Seas Press, Inc., 1986.
- Bob Fisher, An Absorbing Interest: The America’s Cup – A History 1851-2003, John Wiley & Sons Ltd., ISBN-13: 978-0-470-51612-6, 2007.
- Alan Sefton & Larry Keating, Exposed: The Dark Side of the America’s Cup, Adlard Coles Nautical, London, ISBN-13: 978-1-4729-4289-0, 2017.
- Joop Slooff, Australia II and the America’s Cup. The untold, Inside Story of The Keel, Published by the author, ISBN-13: 9781530590230, 2016.
- Patent 1545968 (Spain, Romania), 7617793 (USA), 2029420 (Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Finland, France, United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Malta, The Netherlands, Turkey), 10-1644506 (South Korea), I339633 (Taiwan), 9862458 (USA), 3169580 (Turkey), 11201700247Q (Singapore), 2678733 (Russia), 3169580 (Romania, The Netherlands, Italy, Greece, United Kingdom, France, Finland, Spain, Germany), 6650448 (Japan), 2017314715 (Australia), 17762230,5 (Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, United Kingdom, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Monaco, Norway), 2019-511543 (Japan), 16/327191 (USA), 11201901487W (Singapore).
Peter van Oossanen
The Netherlands and Australia
Delft University of Technology