Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Getting the Boat Right & Making the Boat Right - Preparing to Sail Solo Around the World

The only woman competitor in the 2022 edition of the Golden Globe, Kirsten Neuschafer
has already sailed Minnehaha, her Cape George 36, some 15,000 miles in the past eight months. Over a call, Neuschafer, a 40-year-old professional sailor and adventurer from South Africa, sounded upbeat and cautiously optimistic about her upcoming voyage, and like her boat, solid in her ability to take on the grueling 30,000-mile Golden Globe race. We talked about her boat, the most important weapon in her arsenal that will carry her safely and – hopefully – expeditiously on her journey around the world.

Minnehaha is one of three Cape George 36s that Neuschafer looked at in late 2019 after she decided to enter the Golden Globe. She was searching for a boat in the North American market, because that’s where she was at the time, that would meet the event’s specific requirements:

Competitors must sail in production boats between 32ft and 36ft overall (9.75 – 10.97m) designed prior to 1988 that have a full-length keel with rudder attached to their trailing edge.

It was suggested that she look at the Cape George 36, which originates on the US west coast. Designed and built by Cape George Cutters out of Port Townsend, Washington, on paper the boat appeared to check all the boxes.

“It looked like it would be a heavy and sturdy sea-worthy but also fast boat,” she said. “I spoke to a lot of boat designers, racing sailors etc. and by looking at the numbers on paper, the consensus was it would be an ideal boat for my purposes.”

Apparently, Cape George 36 boats rarely hit the market however at the time three were available: one in Seattle, one in Newfoundland and another in Italy. Ultimately the boat in Newfoundland – Minnehaha - seemed the best option and from the moment she saw it, Neuschafer felt it would be a good choice.

“I instantly liked the boat even though from the start I could see it was going to be a lot of work,” she recalled. “And Cape George Cutters confirmed that she had been professionally built in their yard which helped as they knew the boat.”

Neuschafer learned about the pitfalls she could potentially expect for a vessel of its nature and age (she was originally launched in 1988). Minnehaha is somewhat of a hybrid, with a fiberglass hull, a requirement of the race, with a wooden deck.

“The yard had done a lot of refits of old Cape Georges and most often what needed repairing were the bulwarks because they’re built of wood and bolted onto the hull above, they would often rot in the colder northern climates where they’d experience the freeze thaw cycles, plus the teak decks are an ongoing maintenance challenge,” Neuschafer noted.

By the end of 2019, Neuschafer was back home in South Africa raising funds to purchase Minnehaha. With that done, she returned to Maine to start the 2020 season working as a skipper for Skip Novak’s Pelagic Expeditions, but Covid soon hit shortly after her arrival, and borders quickly closed putting both a halt on her Pelagic job and her ability to get to Newfoundland to start work on her own boat. She waited it out in Maine for months until a friend identified a legal loophole which would enable her to get to Minnehaha in Canada. By then it was November 2020 and quickly turning into winter in Newfoundland.

Her original plan had been to sail Minnehaha to Maine to work on a refit. However, following a sea trial it was clear that the boat wasn’t in any condition to sail into the North Atlantic, let alone in winter. Neuschafer also had to be mindful of where she ventured given that international borders were closed, and she didn’t want to run the risk of not being able to get into any country.

Meanwhile, friends had come through with connections to help her haul the boat on Prince Edward Island (PEI), but she still needed to sail the short distance from Newfoundland before the seas froze over. It took weeks to leave, as one winter depression after the next passed the Cabot Strait. Local fishermen were looking out for her, and she relied on their wisdom before deciding to leave.

“It was either really stormy on a boat that wasn't entirely up to standard, or it was freezing conditions,” Neuschafer recalled. “The fishermen would tell me, 'Whatever you do, do not leave tonight because the moisture in the air will freeze anything it touches, like ice aloft, which makes your boat heavy in the rig and destabilizes it.'"

After some six weeks a short weather window enabled her to cross the Cabot Strait to PEI, making it in the nick of time as ice was already forming on the water. Minnehaha was hauled, which was an event unto itself. While a crane was available, there was not a truck or trailer on the island designed to transport a keel boat.

“Being as innovative as they are on PEI, the job got done with a lobster boat trailer,” Neuschafer recalled. “One young guy, Eddie Arsenault, who was considered a genius on PEI, told me, 'Relax, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was doable,' and he pulled it off.”

With the boat in a shed and safe for the winter, the refit of Minnehaha got underway. The PEI community picked up interest in the project and Arsenault quickly became her right-hand man, basically dropping his regular work to work with Neuschafer full-time on the massive 10-month project, which included rebuilding of the upper layers of the decks, the bulwarks and bowsprit.

Keeping in mind that all this was being done during an international pandemic, on a remote island, in the middle of a severe winter, sourcing materials was not exactly easy. But Arsenault proved to be incredibly resourceful.

“He persuaded an old guy who owned a lathe bench which wasn’t being used any longer but was built

of Douglas Fir to sell us the bench so we could build bulwarks out of it,” she said. “He’d recall where to find things he’d seen somewhere ten years previously which he knew we could use. What we couldn’t source he would machine himself.”

With this incredibly bright talent - a person who could do the same amount of work as four people in one day – Minnehaha was refit. By the time summer rolled around, Prince Edward Islanders had really
adopted her as their own. She had moved into new friends’ spare room right next to the shed where her boat was being worked on.

“The community support was otherworldly,” Neuschafer said with heartfelt gratitude. “I just don’t think it’s possible to find that kind of support somewhere else other than an obscure little place like PEI.”

The community held fundraisers for her just to keep the project ticking over and while Neuschafer knew there would be big expenses like replacing the rig – the original rig was wooden spars - she had no idea the extent of the rest of the work and what it would cost.

“If it had not been for Eddie, the project would not have been possible,” she said. “He charged me half of what he would charge typically for his labor, and he put hundreds of hours in that he didn’t charge me a cent for. Where we could we repurposed material that he sourced which was much less expensive than it would have been otherwise, which was cool because the problem with old fiberglass boats is that they’re not recyclable and typically they become landfill once they’ve been discarded – I now have a repurposed round-the-world-boat. It’s nice to give the boat a second life because it’s a beautiful classic boat that may not have ever been recovered.”

Neuschafer lived on PEI for almost a year, and once again, it was late in the season by the time she was ready to depart. Leaving in late December 2021, she was headed into the same kind of winter conditions as the previous year that she had arrived in - one depression followed the next.

After three weeks she realized winter wasn’t getting better, it was getting colder and ice conditions were near. She had already spent three weeks on the east side of PEI waiting for a weather window when a gap appeared, which was not ideal – it meant leaving in 40-50 knots.

She left PEI on a staysail and trysail in storm conditions through the Canso Canal, Nova Scotia, before entering the Atlantic Ocean. She spent one night in Fisherman’s Harbor, an obscure little fishing harbor close to Canso where the fishermen had all hauled their boats for the season. When she came into port, they let her know that she should call them if she needed help. She called the next day, requesting assistance to cast off so that she could leave to head into the Atlantic.

“They didn’t want me to leave, they said it was blowing 40 knots inside and that it would be blowing 50+ outside, 'Are you sure you want to leave?' they questioned me. I said I had to leave because if I didn’t, I’d never get out there. I did leave and sailed non-stop to South Africa, making landfall in Cape Town.”

It was a rough sail with winter conditions that didn’t really subside until she was well east of Bermuda, but Minnehaha proved her worth and it was an invaluable experience to have sailed the 7,700 miles
from Nova Scotia to Cape Town. After three months at home in Cape Town, she sailed another 6,300 to the Azores where she stopped to haul the boat one final time to anti-foul. From the Azores it was another 1000 miles to the Bay of Biscay to prepare for the start of the Golden Globe.

“I’ve already got almost 15,000 on Minnehaha, it’s been a huge blessing to have already spent so much time sailing her,” she shared. “Leaving from Nova Scotia for South Africa was hard beating conditions while leaving Cape Town was light, running conditions all the way to the Equator. On that stretch I got to experience different conditions sailing in light winds and using spinnakers and code zeros.”

She feels like she’s encountered most of the conditions she could encounter on the race except the big heavy Southern Ocean conditions, which she had only had a little taste of approaching Cape Town.

“The Southern Ocean makes me a little nervous, but I do really trust the boat. If we don’t do well, it’s me!” she laughed.

In hindsight, she couldn’t have chosen and refitted her boat in a better way. She knows Minnehaha so intimately at this point and has developed a special relationship with the boat.

“I love the boat; I’ve put so much of my personal energy into it,” she said. “There’s hardly a nut, bolt or screw that hasn’t passed through my hands. I had lots of tools and materials left from the refit which were fantastic – correct sized - spares to take on board.”

While she never really considered changing the name of her boat, she deferred to the advice of the local northern fisherman.

“They said to me, 'Don’t change the name; you change the name, you change the luck,'" she noted. “I like the name and the fact that she is a North American boat with a North American name. They were so kind to me, all those Canadians in those far northern and somewhat isolated islands are such nice, kind, generous people.”

Now the time has come and she’s almost underway. Her biggest joy, Neuschafer shared, will be when she’s out on the ocean.

“Getting offshore, away from traffic and into the trade winds when it gets warm and the weather is nice and consistent, and leaving all this behind – it’s hectic here at the docks in the South of France, the start line will be intense, so to finally start, break away from all of this and find yourself in your world and living to your own rhythm again. That’s going to be really rewarding.” - Follow Kirsten Neuschafer:

*The 2022 edition of the Golden Globe Race will be the third edition of the original Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. The race starts on September 4, 2022, from Les Sables-d'Olonne in France. Event Info:


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Fiona Wylde - Doing it Differently and Doing it All

Not long after she signed with Starboard as a pro athlete in stand-up paddle boarding, Fiona Wylde was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  She was 18. “Here was my chance to be a professional athlete and I was so excited. But I did one race and was in second the entire race, it was super long and in the last mile I just tanked. It was a big shift for me.”

Wylde couldn’t help but think, “How does this work? I’m a professional athlete, my body is supposed to work!” She had just signed her dream, but she wasn’t sure how it was possible to be a professional athlete with a body that wasn’t working for her.

She started on insulin and three days later flew to Europe to race for the first time in the European Championship tour in England. She won the race.

After many years as a SUP athlete in both paddle racing and surfing, Wylde, 24, is switching her attention to the iQFoil (Innovation Quality), a new class for the 2024 Olympic Games. She’s got a ton of experience behind her, and a healthy appetite for competition. At 5’-2”, she’s one of the tiniest people I have ever seen on a windsurfer, let alone on top of a windsurfing foil board.

Born in Port Townsend, WA, her first introduction to the water was on her parents’ sailboat, Bryony, a 36ft gaff cutter on which Ellen and McCrae Wylde ran sail charters (Fiona’s mum has always had a business making dodgers for sailboats). While Fiona was not much more than a toddler, Ellen and McCrae began to spend time in Los Barriles, Mexico, on the east cape of the Baja peninsula.

Pretty soon, Fiona’s routine became Port Townsend in the summers and Baja in the winters - she’d play on the beach while her parents sailed and windsurfed and occasionally McCrae would sail her around on the nose of his board until she was old enough to be on her own gear.

“Windsurfing for me was our family sport – it’s what we did together and it’s how it all started for me,” Wylde said, with her characteristic enthusiasm. “I would be asked what I did after school, and I would say, “I go windsurfing!”.

The Wyldes moved from Port Townsend to Hood River, Oregon, and by the time she was 10, she was already an accomplished windsurfer competing alongside her dad.

Wylde laughed, “I couldn’t water start and I couldn’t jibe but I could go fast in a straight line – they let me do a couple of races when I was 10 and that became the thing that I looked forward to the most – windsurf racing.”

Through to middle school, Wylde would attend school until mid-November when her parents would take her out, telling school, “She’ll be back first week of March, what does she need to know?” She spent 12 years attending Mexican school, making life-long friends with local kids, and becoming fluent in Spanish.

Wylde competed in windsurf racing into her mid-teens but also joined a kids’ SUP team, training twice a week at 6:30am, a big deal for a bunch of teenagers, she laughed.

“We weren’t sure why we were doing it as we were a bunch of windsurfers, but I really liked the physical, technical and training aspects of it. Windsurfing is technical but when I was younger it wasn’t very physical so for me. SUP was a cool balance between the two sports.”

16 was a pivotal age for Wylde – she competed in the Gorge Cup windsurfing slalom series in Hood River for the first time and beat everyone of any significance including her dad.

“While just a small series, the caliber was really high, so it beating everyone was significant,” she said.  Wylde also competed that year in the Gorge Paddle Challenge for the first time, a World Cup event where the world’s best SUPers compete. She won.

“The combination of those two big wins reinforced my passion for competing,” Wylde commented. “I told my parents that’s what I wanted to do. I was already doing an online school program, so I didn’t need to physically attend high school which allowed me to travel and compete. I had the passion and for me competing was the direction it was all going.”

About the same time, Wylde learned to SUP surf and started competing in that, as well as windsurf wave sailing. She was a water hound, competing in some slalom, a lot of wave sailing, a lot of SUP surfing and a lot of standup racing, juggling the four different sports although her two main focuses were windsurf wave sailing and SUP racing. It was a unique lifestyle for a teenager and one that she successfully pulled off from 16-20, spending a lot of time in Hawaii and learning as much as she could about waves and surfing.

She won the Youth World Title in 2014 for wave sailing and took second in a World Cup Event in Hawaii in 2014 and 2015 where all the top pros were competing. She also competed in SUP racing, making podium at international events, and winning the SUPtheMag Breakthrough Performer Award presented at the annual SUP Awards. She was also winning at a plethora of other competitions across multiple events.

The hard work paid off - when she was 17, Starboard invited her to sign with them for the 2015 season. She’s been on the Starboard International Dream Team for SUP since then. That she wasn’t signed for windsurfing - Starboard was looking for a SU paddler at the time - really changed her career path.

After joining Starboard, she competed for another year on the windsurfing tour, but it was complicated for Wylde to compete in all four disciplines all at the pro level within a calendar year. She turned her focus to SUP surfing and SUP racing.

Not long after she signed with Starboard, Wylde was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes yet just some months later she won the women’s SUP Racing World Title.

“That’s been my biggest accomplishment, the diagnosis of Type 1, and then going onto win major competitions back-to-back,” Wylde commented. “Physically and emotionally, it was a big step forward in my career as I had to jump start everything, including the mental side of competing. If you have a passion for something, you just have to work your butt off and pay attention. In my case I had to pay attention to my body, but I wasn't going to give up because I had a faulty pancreas.”

That same year she won her first SUP world title in SUP racing – a world tour with up to six events throughout the year – she also competed in SUP surfing and took second in that world tour series, and in 2019 won the European tour for SUP racing.

Wylde’s focus on SUP rather than windsurfing changed when the iQFoil became the new Olympic class for 2024. Wylde saw the equipment evolving, and the potential that Starboard would win the bid for the Olympics to supply that equipment. Her interest was seriously piqued.

“Windsurfing is something I have loved from the beginning, I have a long history of racing in it and really enjoy the technical aspect of it,” Wylde said. “When I learned foiling was coming in, I wanted to give it a go.”

Due to Covid she hasn’t raced SUP this past year, although she’s kept her training up, so moving into the iQFoil class was a good opportunity to learn something new. This past fall she trained in Florida with US Sailing. Her experience with the iQFoil gear was limited, she hadn’t sailed on it with other sailors, and had never sailed course racing, only slalom, so learning tactics was key. Transitioning from a regular windsurfer to a foiling windsurfer had its challenges.

You’re going a lot faster when you’re foiling so it’s been a steep learning curve, with the biggest thing being the different timing in maneuvers, and balance,” Wylde explained. “Of course, the crashes a gnarlier, too! However, I find it fun because not only are you trimming the board and your sail, but now you get to include the foil, which is an entire new dimension unto itself. It takes time to learn the response of the foil. I am reading and riding the water differently than if I was sailing with a fixed fin.” 

For now, there’s just one other female in the iQFoil class contending for the US spot on the 2024 Olympic sailing team – Farrah Hall, the current U.S. Olympian for RS:X windsurfing.

“She’s definitely good!” Wylde expressed. “Initially there was no way I would have been able to beat Farrah but by the end in slalom I would win a few, she would win a few. In course racing she would mostly win but in the last few days of the regatta I was right behind her or getting her in a couple of races. The cool part about it is that she has so much experience and I’m on the same race-course as her – I learned a lot from her.”

Historically, as Hall concludes, windsurfing has had low participation at the elite level in the U.S. She thinks however, that the new class will certainly draw in more women.

“It's cooler, modern, and more fun, so I definitely expect to see more women try it out,” Hall said. “I think Fiona has a really good process and attitude, so she certainly has a lot of potential as a competitor in the iQFoil class.”

Wylde’s Olympic dream is inspired, and supported, by her family. Great Grandfather Cecil Irton Wylde represented England in the 1928 Winter Olympics in Ice Hockey, and her Uncle Peter Wylde, a professional equestrian showjumper, won gold in Athens in 2004. Wylde was there to experience his success. “I guess that’s where the Olympic effort started!” she laughs.

“My uncle Peter and I have an incredible relationship,” Wylde explains. “I visit him in Florida in between events and the biggest thing I take away from him is the hours are the hours he puts in – I watch the way he works and wonder how he accomplishes what he does. He has a passion for it and realizing that was an “aha” moment as I do that too - establish organization and routines.”

Wylde is still contracted to Starboard which for now is her job. In 2021 she plans to continue with SU paddling while also training on the IQ foil – whatever training camps she can go to and whatever opportunities there may be with US Sailing, sailing with other people, she’ll be doing it. Her goal for this year is three international regattas between the disciplines. Going into 2022-23, it will be windsurfing all the way for Wylde.

Her daily routine, whether in the Gorge or Baja or Hawaii, is structured: dry land training in the morning for both SU and windsurf, then paddle and windsurfing every afternoon. Sometimes she’ll do all three in a day, or alternate dryland with a paddle, or dryland with a windsurf.

“It’s all very well to live in great places but it’s also distracting to a routine and trying to incorporate schoolwork. My time on the water is my time to train, it’s not playtime. I go out on the water with specific ideas and goals for that session.”

Her coach Steve Wrye first met Fiona when she was in middle school and ran for the Hood River Middle School program and has been working with her since.

“Even at 13 years old she asked all the right questions and spent hours working on her running mechanics,” Wrye commented. “Fiona's strength is she is just an amazingly gifted athlete. I am beginning to think that she now may be the best all-around water woman in the world. If not pretty damn close!”


Sunday, May 5, 2019

BALANCING ACT: Tech Talk by SailGP Gurus

Day 1 winners Japan Team SF Bay 
SailGP racing left its mark on San Francisco Bay this weekend with a showcase of memorable yacht racing that will leave its mark on the Bay for a long while. An on water technology play like nothing before, the F50 was the subject of a fascinating tech talk at the Golden Gate Yacht Club last week, setting the scene for an exhilarating event.

The panel: Mike Drummond, Technical Director, SailGP, Edwin Upson, GVP, Enterprise Cloud Architects, Oracle, Warren Jones, Director of Technology, SailGP, Hans Henken, Flight Controller USA SailGP Team, Tom Burnham, Coach, SailGP and Phil Crane, Data Analyst, SailGP.

WHAT ITS LIKE FOILING A F50: It's always appreciated when techies can bring the language to the layman. Mike Drummond, describing sailing a F50 catamaran up on its foils, said, “It’s like balancing a broomstick on your fingertip.  Except this broomstick on your finger is actually only a few inches long, and has another full-length broomstick, with a broom on the upper end of it, way up in the air, balanced on top of it.  And it’s not exactly on your fingertip; it’s on the fingertip of your friend, standing right next to you, and you are telling him how to move his finger to keep it balanced there.”
Australia crosses USA Day 1 SF Bay
To keep these boats sailing on their foils, the sailors are constantly adjusting the angles of the foils and sails to achieve and maintain a most opportune “ride height” of the leeward hull above the water.

Very small changes to the bow-up attitude make a tremendous amount of difference: Russell Coutts indicated during a boat tour that a difference of 50cm in ride height when foiling can mean a difference of two to four knots of boat speed. Too low, and your hull slaps the water and that’s very slow. Too high, and the water foil will cavitate (the water around the foil breaks down / boils / evaporates), and you crash back down into the water while going 25 mph.

Hans Henken
HOW THEY SAIL THESE BEASTS: “We sail these boats as you sail most boats, with a seat-of-the pants feeling, combined with the data,” Hans Henken, racing on the US team commented. Henken races on the US SailGP Team and is a Stanford University graduate with a master’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. “We can certainly and dramatically feel when a boat “releases” (presumably from the water and transitioning into a foiling mode), and this is very positive feedback! We use the data to quantify what we did in terms of trimming, moding, and sailing the boat, and to replicate when we have been able to do it particularly well.”

Henken continued, “Pitch and ride height are the comms between the flight controller and the helmsman. More bow down attitude on the boat provides more speed. Our wing trimmer Riley Gibbs changes the attitude and twist of the wing in order to give us the power we want, when we want it.”

Getting and keeping these things flying is tremendously hard work, and it is difficult.  Data has helped these sailors to better learn and understand their flying machines. The boats are highly instrumented, with1200 sensors onboard each vessel. Oracle is helping SailGP to collect, display, transmit, store, and analyze 20 MB of data from every race boat, per 15-minute race. With 1000 channels of information from sensors onboard, and with some channels operating at 50 hz (readings per second), it’s a significant data stream. From it, they are inferring the behaviors of the boat.

HOW THE DATA FLOWS: SailGP proprietary IP is layered atop an Oracle open platform. Oracle intends that model to be replicated for additional sports applications. The SailGP electronics team build some of their own gear, using some conventional marine electronics sensors (from B&G and others), feeding real-time info to on-board displays for vital boat performance and control information. 

Day 1 SF Bay
Every race boat has individual SIM cards, hubs, and their own bandwidth, and their performance data is relayed in real-time via telemetry across a low-latency, custom-built LTE (4G wireless) network built with multiple antennas around and upon the waterfront race area. 

The data (and audio, and video) collected on each race boat flows into a popup data center and into the cloud, at 200 ms. Live video screens onshore, on coach boats, course marshal boats and other displays are powered from a 100 ms from SailGP in London. All of this info mashes up into the SailGP app that you was available throughout last week for practice races and during racing on the Apple Appstore (the app was released to Android Thursday May 2).

Coaches Analyse Racing 
Data gets loaded into autonomous data platforms that include AI. Oracle engineers can set up the data they want to look at, like a Spotify playlist. Teams have hired data analysts to interpret and help teams to learn from data collected and uploaded from sailing sessions and races to better inform performance. 

Before San Francisco, SailGP did not have an adequate dataset to fully analyze the performance of these newly-configured boats; conditions at the Sydney event had light breezes, and they may not have had the opportunity to collect enough race-quality data in heavier air conditions. That will not be the case after the end of this weekend’s racing; the dataset will be more robust, well-developed and useful, and can be compared meaningfully against designer’s polars and targets.

China Team Day 1 SF Bay
Unlike most other types of sailing, each boat gets to look at data from all the other boats, in real time and during post-race analysis. This is in marked contrast to the Americas Cup, and almost all other sailing.

Teams that weren’t performing well in Sydney have greatly improved here in San Francisco in the last week, by using stored performance data, and comparing their sailing efforts to those of the teams who made their boats perform better. In the future, new teams will be able to rapidly get up to speed by learning the boats virtually at first, with stored data, and then going sailing and trying to emulate bench-marked performance achieved by experienced and well-practiced teams.

The data being collected is leading directly to design improvements, including larger wings for lighter venues, and possibly different rudders. The boats will remain one-design but will evolve. Specific suggestions by individual teams are considered for applicability for inclusion in design mods to all boats. There’s a lot more technological development continuing upon the racing boats, and while the data being used for boat technology development and ability to fly them is the most interesting to some of us, SailGP is focused on tech development well beyond the race boats. “We are optimizing everything in conjunction…boat tech, broadcast tech, fan experience, and it’s a lot!” Drummond noted.”

Japan Gybes Day 1 SF Bay
Tom Burnham, SailGP coach, and Phil Crane, SailGP Data Analyst, worked together at the last Americas Cup and it seemed natural to do it again together at SailGP.  Beginning at the first event in Sydney, Phil prepared numerous reports based upon extensive data analysis. They are working now in San Francisco at doing this even better, and they are working on building their abilities to do more meaningful and effective real-time data and performance analysis – and providing feedback, based upon that data, to the teams, both in real-time and in post-race debriefs.

This real-time feedback and input from the coach to the teams is enabling improvement during the day while out sailing and racing, building significantly upon the effectiveness of traditional post-race analysis. In conventional sailing, this is prohibited by the racing rules, which prohibit communications or access to information that is not specifically and freely available to all competitors.

SUPER-DETAILED POST-SESSION ANALYSIS: After each sailing day, there is typically a 1-hr debrief post-race with the coaches and (probably very tired) sailors. They go through race videos, audio, hand written notes, audio notes, and the post-race debrief generates LOTS OF QUESTIONS from the sailors who, during the race, had their hands full just trying to keep the boat flying. When the action is over, they want to know how to fly better.

Tech Services F50 Foil
Boat sensor data, coupled with onboard video, onboard audio, and all boat’s GPS positions displayed in the most appropriate ways enable immersive re-creation of a session or race for analysis. More details provide better data analysis, and a more realistic and accurate recreation may enable noticing small things that might have had unanticipated or surprisingly large inputs into a process - whether it might be a crash or a particularly nice liftoff, tack, or gybe.

After the debrief, Crane digs more deeply into the data, sometimes can answer some of the ‘lots of questions’, and provides detailed reports. Comparing actual performance achieved in a race to theoretical models, benchmarked best behaviors, speeds and angles, and to performance of other teams sailing in the same conditions, in that same race, enables detailed and quick learning opportunities. Teams can look at all of the settings they used onboard for sail and foil controls, compare them to the settings used by other boats in that race and others, and rapidly learn to do things better.

Many F50 settings are automated within control buttons used on the systems. Super-detailed data logging enables post-race analysis of exactly when buttons were pressed, in what sequence, and by whom, to minutely examine what works, and what doesn’t work, as these talented athletes learn to fly these sailing machines.

With continuous improvement of systems, sails, foils, controls, and the sequencing of what they do with all of them, these guys are going to soon learn to balance their broomsticks and foil all the way around the race courses. A race with multiple boats that never slow below 19 knots will be a whole new and exciting kind of simultaneous and competitive broomstick-balancing.   

F50 Performance data seen on screens during Thursday May 2 practice race, with winds 15-18 knots:

Bottom speed in a foiling tack: 18 kts
Takeoff speed:19 kts
Upwind boat speed of 27 kts, VMG (velocity made good towards the wind) of 18.3 kts
28 kts target boatspeed upwind
40 kts of boatspeed achieved at bear away at top mark
23 kts: Lowest boatspeed during a foiling gybe

Note: Thanks to John Bonds for providing this report
Photo Credit: SailGP

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Russell Coutts: Making Sailing Cool Again

Russell Coutts, CEO of SailGP, is in San Francisco this week for the 2nd event in the SailGP global racing series, and the program's first US event. SailBlast was curious to learn more about aspects of the event which are somewhat unique ... and what it is that keeps the Olympic gold medalist and five-time America's winner in this fast-paced game.

SailGP has forged a relationship with US Sailing - how did this come about and how do you see maintaining this relationship over the long haul? 

RC: It’s logical for SailGP to partner with US Sailing as we have a lot of common interests. We both want to promote and grow sailing at the grass roots. The nationality rule that we have adopted for SailGP means that the US team must use US sailors and that in turn means the US Team needs to have a pathway for young sailors to develop their skills such that one day they can sail on an F50. It’s our hope that by presenting an exciting platform with the SailGP Championship, it will inspire more young people to become involved with or try sailing. Our goal is to create a consistent platform of annual events, returning to the same venues each year.

During our broadcast and on our Event TV within the Village we will be showcasing US Sailing programs during our US events which will hopefully help to create more awareness. We also have a number of aspiring Olympic athletes involved in the US SailGP team and they should be marketed to become great ambassadors for the sport, especially for young sailors here in the US.

What do you think is the coolest thing about the F50?

RC: The fact that teams are each racing in the same high tech boats and 
the data coming off the boats is in the public domain is a pretty cool feature. It means that the crews can analyze each others performance and compare the different techniques they are using to sail the boats. That should accelerate the learning curve for all the teams. I suspect the teams will not end up sailing the boats the same though. The play book that one team adopts may not suit another. But it will definitely give us an insight as to why one team might be performing better than another.

Of course we made the boats one design because we want to identify the best sailors rather than who has the best technology and we also wanted to save costs. But the interesting thing is the rule doesn’t stop our central design team from developing the boats, in fact it’s quite the opposite. The rule is simply that each team must use equal equipment as supplied without modification. We are currently building new wing sails to be used for the 2020 season. We’ve just introduced a new flight control system on all of the boats for the San Francisco event. And we will likely build new foils to be implemented in 2021. Whilst the current F50’s are capable of exceeding 50 knots I see no reason why they couldn’t be reaching 55 knots or more in two or three years time. 

You’ve been around the elite sailing game your entire life – what keeps you inspired?

RC: It’s never become boring for me because I’ve always kept an open mind and taken on new challenges. It’s an exciting time to be involved in sailing. I’m pretty involved in some youth programs in New Zealand and we are seeing growth in a few areas for the first time in quite a while. These new forms of sailing are exciting and inspiring the youth. It’s become cool again.

Of course sailing can and should be enjoyed in all forms and at all levels. But having a top professional arm of the sport, that’s well marketed, with a high quality broadcast tailored towards modern viewership habits, involving national teams in a consistent, year round, annual series with defined pathways for youth to make it to the top has been a missing element in our sport.


Check out SailGP in San Francisco this week:

Photo Credit: SailGP

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Classic Boat Love Affair - Building Blackfish

BVI Spring Regatta - Blackfish
Carolyn and Ron Zarrella, from Nantucket, Mass, launched their stunning Taylor ’49 Blackfish in 2017, and the boat is special to the couple for many reasons. Over and above being a true beauty, significantly it brought the pair together.

They met some ten years ago when Carolyn was Sailing Director at the Great Harbor Yacht Club on Nantucket – Ron had moved to the area and wanted to learn about local sailing conditions. He owned a 32’ Nantucket Alerion (a modified hull-molded wooden boat and 1916 Herreshoff design) and the two became acquainted as he began racing his boat locally.

An avid sailor with Trans-Atlantic racing and three Sydney to Hobarts under his belt, Ron missed big boat racing however, and thought about building a boat. He sought Carolyn’s help and before long Carolyn was having significant input into the ultimate look and feel of Ron's new boat. They fell in love and tied the knot in 2016.
Blackfish owners Carolyn & Ron Zarrella
“The building of the boat was a lot of fun - beginning to plan the boat was really the start of our relationship,” Ron recalls fondly - and with a big smile. 

Blackfish is a "Spirit of Tradition" boat designed by Jim Taylor and built by Steve White of the Brooklyn Boatyard in Maine.Taylor’s work on Blackfish came about after Ron and Carolyn saw Dreadnought, a Taylor 49c, in Maine.The Zarrella’s were big on aesthetics and being based part of the year in Nantucket, they thought a boat like Dreadnought would fit there perfectly. They also knew that they wanted to race rather than cruise, so the overall design was modified to accommodate more race-ready parameters, Taylor explained.

Top right: Designer Jim Taylor 
Primarily designed to compete with other classics( she’s done well in classic fleets the past few summers racing in New England), Blackfish does have a modern keel, rudder and a carbon fiber mast.

“The cabinhouse on Blackfish is one showerstall shorter than Dreadnought so the cabinhouse became 24” shorter, and the cockpit moved 24” forward - these changes made for less interior space but actually, it’s a considerably a more attractive boat,” Taylor commented. “Those changes made a surprising difference.”

Taylor’s proud of the fact that Blackfish does what she was specified to do and be: drop-dead gorgeous above deck and a race boat below.

“People look at the boat and don’t expect too much,” Taylor says. “She looks old school and looks like she behaves old school but she’s a race boat for sure.”
BVI Spring Regatta - Blackfish

In the Caribbean for the first time this year, she raced the BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival where she was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful boats on the docks. First time sailing under the CSA (Caribbean Racing Association) rule which arguably didn’t do Blackfish any favors, she placed 7th overall in CSA Racing 2, and the Zarrella’s discovered that BVI competition was tougher than anticipated. Taylor trimmed main, Ron helmed, and Carolyn called tactics. Friends from New England and boat captain David Abramski filled crew positions - spinnaker and jib trim, mast and bow. 

“We loved BVI racing – the venues, the courses – around islands and rocks - we don’t get to do a lot of that kind of racing on the east coast,” Ron said. “We are used to winning more (laughs) but the competition was very different. I questioned whether our boat fit there before we even went but we always finished in the middle of the pack against really good sailing, really top sailors - we were humbled and we learned a lot! We could have sailed better but we’d been off the boat for 4-5 months and we’re just getting back into it. The BVI was a great place to do that and it’s a spectacular place to sail.”

BVI Spring Regatta - Blackfish
This week Blackfish is racing Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and the Zarrella's are looking forward to going up against more “like-minded” boats. As Ron says with a certain degree of seriousness mixed with humor, they didn’t build their boat to race against plastic boats...

After Antigua, Blackfish will be shipped back to Brooklyn Boatyard for a symmetrical spinnaker, pole, and track on the mast ((she's currently set up with an asymmetrical spinnaker) so she can be better equipped for round-the-buoy windward-leeward racing this summer in New England where they'll also compete in the Panerai Classic Yacht Challenge series. 

“We’re really enjoying our boat and just love classics, especially the theme of “Spirit of Tradition” boats,” Carolyn said. “We're typically racing to the CRF (classic rating formula), against yawls and schooners over 100 years old. It’s really fun.”
BVI Spring Regatta - Blackfish

“Spirit of Tradition boats are all about the design, not necessarily the materials they are built of. It is imperative they have a nice sheer as this is the key to a pretty yacht and is what differentiates a modern practically minded design from a more classic, aesthetically driven one.”
Richard Gregson, Wooden Ships Yacht Brokers

Photo Credit:

Saturday, March 17, 2018

VOLVO OCEAN RACE: Vestas 11th Hour Racing Cautiously Optimistic Heading Into Leg 7

Enright In-Port racing, Auckland Jeremie Lecaudey/VOR

The Auckland layover has given Vestas 11th Hour Racing time to recover and regroup after their tragic collision in the latter stages of Leg 4 during the final approach to Hong Kong.The team is in 5th position following the incident and co-skipper Charlie Enright, is anxious to get back in the race. Catching up with Charlie in Auckland, he says his team is - cautiously - ready to for its next meeting with the Southern Oceans. 

How has the team recovered emotionally from the Hong Kong incident?
CE: Physically it’s easier to discern – the boat’s in great shape, it’s nothing short of amazing that the repair was coordinated in such a short amount of time and the level at which the boat came out – everybody’s ecstatic with it. It looks like there'll be a couple of windy first few days out to the east cape (of NZ) so hopefully the boat is pretty well tested by the time we get there.

On the emotional side, I trust our team more than any other team to deal with something like we went through and come out of it stronger. I’ll be able to give you a better answer on that when we get to Brazil – there’re all kinds of emotions with regard to being back on the boat again – anticipation, excitement, there’s probably some unspoken nervousness, but I think that’s all natural but there are no red flags and we’re all ready to go. We’ve done all the right things – it’s time to go sailing!

While you weren’t present at the time of the accident, as skipper what did you learn from the experience?
CE: It’s tough to say because the situation continues to evolve, and especially not being part of it in some ways was difficult because – as it should be – a shared experience for the team. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with something like this - it’s a big team and everyone deals in their own way so I think to provide unconditional support and understanding as best you possibly can is important but at the same time you have to know what everyone will deal with it in a different way – give people the space they need. It’s been a bit of a tightrope walk, that’s to be expected.

Vestas In-Port racing, Auckland Jeremie Lecaudey/VOR
Outlook for Leg 7?
This is the leg we all sign up for – this edition has more Southern Ocean miles and those are real miles from Cape Town to Melbourne, so if the forecast is anything like that, it should be pretty relentless. It looks like it’ll be a little colder on this leg though which is kind of ironic since there’s not a lot of ice as the ice gates are further south which means we can go further south…we’ve got that to look forward to! We do the race for competition and adventure and this is definitely on the adventure side for sure, but sometimes you lose sight of that when you’re crossing the equator and bobbing around and you’re just thinking about the competition but this next leg is pretty special. 

It's pretty relaxed around the docks - how's the intensity prior to Leg 7 ?
CE: For us relative to the last edition of the race, the intensity has ratcheted up – with experience comes expectation, right, so we’re looking at this race through a different lens but I can definitely see how walking around the village it may be a little different to what you may expect. It’s a probably a product of there being so much intensity on the water and having to keep it 24/7. That being said, with the one design format, there’s a lot less secrecy and more camaraderie among the teams.

We definitely have a lot more experience on the team this time and that’s proved to be a valuable thing as you can probably imagine. But we have a good mix of youthful exuberance with also some gray hair – we have a little bit of everything in all the key positions. The vibe and dynamic for us has been very strong even through some very difficult circumstances.

Vestas In-Port racing, Auckland Ainhoa Sanchez/VOR
How's racing been this edition?
CE: It’s closer than it was last time because you have folks from every single team sprinkled among this iteration’s current teams. Whatever “secrets’ everybody might have had are all kind of distributed among all the teams this race. It’s all close. I think we had a lot of people who sat out the last race as they weren’t sure about the one design concept. I think after seeing the tightness of the racing, they missed it and we’ve seen a lot of those people back.

Your thoughts on the one design aspect?

CE: Personally, I think it’s great because it’s what allowed us to compete in our first edition – we were literally over our heads as it was and added to that a boat build and the campaign cost would be twice as much. Tony Mutter on our team has won the race twice on boats like ABN AMRO and Ericcson 4 and I think he’s enjoying the close racing although the boats are certainly not what he’s accustomed to sailing because this one design racing is tight. While the boats have got a bad rap, I think they nailed the design brief on this one – we’re doing 550+ miles in a day, they do down wind really well.

Who are you chasing at this point?

Vestas In-Port racing, Auckland  Jesus Renado/VOR
CE: Everybody – in the last campaign we won the last leg, and in this campaign we won the first leg so that kind of tells you what expectations we’re up against. If everything had gone to plan, we would have sailed into Hong Kong 2 points off the lead. That’s not where we sit today but it doesn’t affect our perspective on the leader board. We view ourselves as one of the more consistent teams and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Anticipated days to finish this leg?
CE: About 19 days, just in time for my dad’s 60th birthday!