Into the Look­ing Glass

Sailing World - - Starting Line Jobson Report - PHOTO : MORRELLI & MELVIN

Twenty-five years ago, dur­ing my an­nual lec­ture tour, I made a few out­ra­geous pre­dic­tions about in­no­va­tions in sail­ing. When I re­flect on that list to­day, I’m sur­prised by how many of these out­landish ideas have be­come re­al­ity. For ex­am­ple, I thought some­day we’d be able to use GPS tech­nol­ogy to de­ter­mine whether a boat was over the start­ing line, that a boat would ex­ceed 50 knots, and that some­one would sail around the world in less than 60 days. Of course, we now know that tech­nol­ogy de­vel­oped for the Amer­ica’s Cup can de­ter­mine when a boat is over the line (and do­ing so while the boat is reach­ing across at 20 knots, no less). In 2012, Paul Larsen’s Ves­tas Sail­rocket 2, flew across a 500-me­ter stretch of Walvis Bay in Namibia at 65.45 knots. In late 2016, Fran­cis Joyon’s IDEC 2 com­pleted an amaz­ing cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion in 40 days, 23 hours.

Sixty days? Pshaw. I was way off. With­out a doubt, the sport has evolved dra­mat­i­cally. But where does this leave us to­day, look­ing ever fur­ther into the fu­ture? As I did many years ago, I have a few ideas to­day.

Sail­ing ad­min­is­tra­tors and naval ar­chi­tects have been for­ever search­ing for a fair hand­i­caprat­ing sys­tem. There are sev­eral in use around the world, leav­ing po­ten­tial and cur­rent boat own­ers eas­ily con­fused as they try to de­cide what kind of boat to build or buy. With the use of su­per­com­put­ers, we will achieve the un­think­able and launch a hand­i­cap rule that is re­li­able and fair for boats of all sizes. The sys­tem will be based on ac­tual per­for­mance in all rac­ing con­di­tions. Here’s how: Every mo­ment while rac­ing, a boat’s per­for­mance will be recorded and an­a­lyzed against every other off­shore boat in the world, in real time, and in every sea state and wind con­di­tion. Hand­i­caps will be ad­justed con­tin­u­ally. Time on the race­course will there­fore be the key de­ter­mi­na­tion of suc­cess — not size, shape, dis­place­ment or mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the boat.

To­day’s speed records will con­tinue to fall as light­weight ma­te­ri­als be­come stronger and con­trol sys­tems more re­fined. As a re­sult, with the use of foils and high- ef­fi­ciency aero­dy­namic rigs, boats will sail at ex­traor­di­nary speeds — let’s now put the tar­get at 100 knots on the 500-me­ter course and 30 days for a cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion. Out­ra­geous? I think not. One-de­sign classes will be built us­ing three­d­i­men­sional print­ing for hulls, rigs and parts. Ev­ery­thing will be made to ex­act stan­dards, and boats will all have equal po­ten­tial. The re­duced man­power will dra­mat­i­cally cut the cost of pro­duc­tion, and pre-re­gatta mea­sure­ments will be greatly re­duced. Thirty years from now, there will be so many dif­fer­ent onedesign classes on the wa­ter that very few boats will race in each class. Re­gatta or­ga­niz­ers will rec­og­nize this trend and es­tab­lish a con­fer­ence to dis­cuss the prob­lem. The de­ci­sion will be made to de­clare that only four classes will be sanc­tioned as one- de­signs. Each will have a dif­fer­ent size rig de­pend­ing on the age and size of the sailors. The boats will be fast, strong and easy to right af­ter cap­size.

On the tech­nol­ogy front, bat­ter­ies will be able to hold an ex­tended charge. So­lar power in­te­grated into the sails and deck, along with a new con­cept of us­ing a yacht’s mo­tion, will gen­er­ate en­ergy to keep bat­ter­ies charged, elim­i­nat­ing en­tirely the need for fos­sil fu­els.

Minia­ture drones will be launched while rac­ing to project aerial images around a 1-mile perime­ter of the boat’s po­si­tion, which will as­sist with read­ing the wind.

Li­dar read­outs will dis­play wind speed and di­rec­tion ahead of a boat. Li­dar uses tiny laser beams to mea­sure the flow of dust par­ti­cles in the air. Small-scale in­stru­ments at the top of the mast will ac­count for the move­ment of the mast as a boat sails through the waves, and sen­sors on the luff of the sail will record ap­par­ent wind speed and in­di­cate how sails should be trimmed ac­cord­ing to wind shear, in real time and in the next few boatlengths.

Here’s one we can all get be­hind: Protest hear­ings will be a thing of the past. Images from small cam­eras with po­si­tion data from each yacht in­volved in a dis­pute will be fed into a com­puter. The re­sult­ing cal­cu­la­tions will de­ter­mine

Tech­nol­ogy has ad­vanced on a steep curve in the past few decades, and in com­ing years we will see more come into play on the race­course.

who wins the protest. It will save a lot of ten­sion usu­ally found in the protest room, elim­i­nate the cost and need for in­ter­na­tional judges on-site, and keep sailors from push­ing the rules.

Rigs will fa­vor sin­gle sail plans with wing struc­tures. Masts will bend in con­cert with wind strength, and the boat will sail at peak ef­fi­ciency at all times. Helms­men will con­stantly be tested on their per­for­mance ver­sus a com­puter’s pre­dicted num­bers. This tech­nol­ogy is in use to­day, of course, but the dif­fer­ence will be the abil­ity to mon­i­tor a sailor’s vi­tal signs, and fa­tigue. When a helms­man starts to stray of­f­course, the in­stru­ment pack­age will set off an alarm, or speak to the skip­per through a small in-ear de­vice. While self-driv­ing cars will be­come com­mon­place on land, sailors like to steer, so rules will be in place to pro­hibit self-steer­ing boats while rac­ing (au­topi­lots for short­handed sail­ing ex­cluded, of course).

Sea­sick­ness will be a thing of the past too. One small pill will work for sev­eral days, with no side ef­fects. Lighter, more-breath­able foul­weather gear will keep you drier and warmer, and their fab­rics will sense de­hy­dra­tion, alert­ing us when it be­comes detri­men­tal to per­for­mance. A per­sonal bea­con will keep track of our ex­act lo­ca­tion if we fall into the wa­ter. An EPIRB is used to­day to send a lo­ca­tion sig­nal, but the new ver­sion will be a small, wear­able and water­proof strip cus­tom­ized for each sailor.

Tele­phone ser­vice will be less ex­pen­sive, thanks to laser-satel­lite tech­nol­ogy that works any­where in the world. It will be small and light. If there is a health is­sue off­shore, a sailor’s health in­for­ma­tion will be re­layed back to a small wear­able de­vice. An in­te­grated screen will be on the chest of each piece of cloth­ing.

Com­pu­ta­tional fluid dy­nam­ics will be used to de­sign the pre­cise sail, hull and keel shapes for a given weather con­di­tion. An ex­pand­able mem­brane on the ex­te­rior of the hull or skin will change shape to max­i­mize per­for­mance. Anti-foul­ing agents will keep all or­ganic growth off hulls, and the film will be en­vi­ron­men­tally clean. Sus­tain­abil­ity will be a reg­u­lar fea­ture of every sail­ing re­gatta. The en­vi­ron­men­tal suc­cess in the sport of sail­ing will in­spire other sports to fol­low suit.

So­cial me­dia will help own­ers re­cruit crew for rac­ing. Skill level, phys­i­cal size, ca­pa­bil­ity and even com­pat­i­bil­ity will be part of the equa­tion. Naval ar­chi­tects and en­gi­neers will come up with ever-faster de­signs us­ing IBM’S pow­er­ful com­puter, Wat­son. We will learn that early naval ar­chi­tects such as Nathanael Her­reshoff (who had no com­puter as­sis­tance) were well ahead of their time with their cre­ations. I sus­pect we will be go­ing back to older de­signs to un­der­stand what might pro­vide some­thing new. Imag­ine if Her­reshoff, Clin­ton Crane or Olin Stephens had the use of su­per­com­put­ers.

In a 1972 edi­tion of this mag­a­zine, a Prince­ton sail­ing-team mem­ber Tad Lafoun­tain wrote an ar­ti­cle about the ad­vent of pro­fes­sional sail­ing, say­ing that it was made for tele­vi­sion. At the time, his vi­sion seemed com­i­cal. To­day, how­ever, pro­fes­sional sail­ing is preva­lent, but in the fu­ture, there will be a re­turn to am­a­teur sail­ing. Tele­vi­sion broad­casts will fade away en­tirely in fa­vor of on­line de­liv­ery. Every team will have the abil­ity to show­case its own boat on the pre­ferred so­cial plat­form of the day.

As tech­nol­ogy makes de­ci­sion-mak­ing eas­ier, the in­tu­itive skills of a sailor will fade. To re­tain the hu­man el­e­ment in the sport, some sail­ing events will for­bid any out­side or tech­no­log­i­cal as­sis­tance. The Amer­ica’s Cup will be one of the first ma­jor sail­ing events to em­pha­size a sailor’s skill over com­put­ing power. The boats will be sailed with­out any in­stru­ments at all. The event will be­come so in­ter­est­ing that mil­lions of view­ers (on per­sonal mo­bile de­vices) will watch with great in­ter­est. This raises one fi­nal con­sid­er­a­tion: How far should tech­nol­ogy take us be­fore we lose the fun­da­men­tal at­tributes of sail­ing? That too is up for fu­ture dis­cus­sion. Q

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