Sunday, October 23, 2011


Stan Honey, Director of Technology for the 34th America’s Cup (AC34) and John Craig, Principal Race Officer (PRO) for AC34 talked to members of the San Francisco Yacht Club last week, reviewing the World Series events in Cascais and Plymouth and explaining the technology they’re using in their jobs - technology which is changing the way that races are being run and facilitating better than ever accuracy in umpiring, and for the viewer of the sport, making races easier and more interesting to watch across different platforms.

Craig also talked about the logistics of course building under the new regime and gave an overview of the different boats used in race management, from jet skis to rad camera boats

The following excerpts from their presentation were both entertaining (yes, there is stuff that perhaps wasn’t funny a few months ago but in hindsight…) and informational.

Bringing it HOW close to the beach?

JC: 117,000 people went through the viewing area in Plymouth during the course of racing there. My best memory is of Spithill saying: “This is the first time at any event I could hear the roar of the people cheering.” And this was on a day when it was rainy, cold & miserable - you could hear it going on from the committee boat.

That goal is something we keep trying to do and the venues we keep getting ourselves into we have to keep in mind that it needs to be on the beach, as Russell likes to say. One of the ways in which we do that is to set the course with the virtual boundaries or the limits within which the competitors must sail. Outside of those limits, the sailors get penalized. We can control the box that they sail in.

What changes will we see for the World Series in San Diego (Nov 12-20)?

JC: All activities will occur between Midway and Broadway Piers. It’s a very tight area and there’ll be a hub of activity there for sure.”

One of the things we’ve been looking at changing is OCS. With a reaching start at 35 kms, when the boats take off and you’re over, really your race is over. To come back to the other side of the line and re-cross the line, the rest of the guys are in a different time zone. The reality is that we’re looking at ways to look at maybe having a penalty for OCS - perhaps slow down to ¾ of your VMG and let everybody catch up.

Additionally, the format changes so much its pretty entertaining…it’s almost a daily thing, i.e. ‘We’re doing match racing today and this is how it’ll work out,’ - I think in Plymouth we ended up with version 60 by the time we were all done, so that’ll definitely change.

People like the speed trials so we’ll try to keep those in but that being said, a speed trial in 6-8 knots isn’t much of a speed trial so we’ll have wait to see what happens in San Diego.

Other observations of the new format?

JC: The ability to move around the course quickly is a critical requirement under the new format (ie, boats going 30 knots over a race that’s less than 20 minutes long), as well as being able to move the limits and everything else, like in a dropping breeze. All of the marks are boats. We don’t anchor them which gives us the ability to move them quickly. We have very skilled drivers that have a Garmin chart plotter in front of them and they can see all of these points that I have placed on the chart plotter. Mike Martin our rules guy decided it’d actually be okay if racers hit the marks…(LOL). Not only do you make sure that you keep that boat in place, but when someone is coming at you at 30 knots you can’t flinch!

The beauty of it all is that it’s really flexible. No matter what happens, if we have a boat break down (course boat) we can put another in its place and everybody that’s on those mark set boats can see what’s going on. The teams have a (computer) display so know what I’ve done to them, how I’ve committed the boundaries, whether I’ve made them tight for a specific race which means there’ll be a lot more tacking & jibing, or whether I’ve opened it up a little so it’s not as much of a physical fest for them.

About the new course boats?

JC: The camera boat is a first generation boat that will change but it is basically two Extreme 40 (carbon) hulls that make it a catamaran with very small, highly maneuverable engines. It’s allowed in the middle of the racecourse and with a sailor sitting on the back calling moves, has done a very good job of staying out of harm’s way so far.

The first of the new mark set boats has just done sea trials. 45 foot catamarans, these will be some of the best seats in the house with a VIP area with a bar, TV and seats for 12. The boats are run on Volvo IPS drives that can spin 360 degrees. Once they are engaged they will keep the boat on position, rather than the guys having to work to keep the boat in position. The first one will be delivered in San Diego - it wont be quite ready to work but it will be there. We expect delivery of one every month until we have our full complement of 8.

Is the AC45 just a one-dimensional crash and burn form of entertainment?

SH: The real question is, “How can we turn this into a sport with real intrigue and competition and unpredictability and the rivalries that you get in sport." The answer is, it’s a huge challenge. We know we have to do that but we can’t sort of coast this kind of thrills and chills although it’s a good head start! The good thing about it is that Russell had the sense to involve early on folks who have a really strong background in the business of sport - Richard Worth and Craig Thompson. They’re not sailors and that has pluses and minuses but they’re some of the most knowledgeable businessmen in the field of sports. If we’re going to make this work, one of the signs will be that the sailing athletes will be recognizable on the street - we’ll turn them into personalities then sailing will have the same sort of attraction that other sports do in terms of the rivalries between teams and individuals, the unpredictability and all of that.

Will there be broadcast quality improvements?

SH: There’s been a lot of improvement in the TV production between Cascais and Plymouth and we hope there’s a lot of continued improvement - in the directing and producing and commentating etc. The TV compound is really an astonishing set of equipment - 23 shipping containers and a total of 60 cameras and 120 audio feeds - it’s on the same level as an A-level football game. But what you have here is a TV crew that had never worked together before Cascais so it was pretty challenging to begin with. It’ll get better with time.

How do penalties do work?

SH: Once a penalty has been assigned, whether it's a limit penalty or whether its S-P tack penalty, the computer assigns a penalty line which is two boat lengths behind your boat and that penalty line is moving at ¾ the theoretical speed of your boat and you have to slow down until that penalty line overtakes you. The reason that penalty line is moving at ¾ of your speed is to give you an incentive to pay it off quickly. The idea is to keep you in the race so if a penalty hurts you, you’re still in the hunt, which keeps the race exciting and interesting. Plus, to have these boats do circles if it’s windy is just too frightening!

JC: It’s taken the teams a long time to get used to the penalty system incurred by the new electronic boundaries. “They would, say, it’s saying 80 meters then two seconds later I was done,” - yeah, you were doing 30 knots! It’s been a process and I’m happy to report there are very few limit penalties anymore. We really are able to keep the guys in the box.

Will the AC technology trickle down to REAL sailing?

SH: We have actually responded to an inquiry from ISAF to see if our tracking technology (tracks to two cm versus two meters as do inexpensive tracking devices often used in dinghy regattas) could be repackaged into a smaller device and the answer is yes but it’d be pretty pricey. You could package the device in a package the size of a paperback book that weighs less than a pound - we’ve done it for horse racing. It’d take a major sponsor to make it affordable in sailing.

When is it too much data?

SH: That’s really the determination that gets made by the professional story tellers - the director, the producer and the commentators. We build tools and they have the availability of these tools to tell the story - which is the key thing to sports, the story.

But what’s the most interesting thing about this whole project is what happens in the morning just after the skippers’ meeting (as an example of how the data is used). Mike Martin (Director Umpiring and Rules Administration for AC34) replays the previous day’s penalties on a screen and all the teams talk about them. What’s fascinating is it’s completely non-confrontational because there’s never an argument about the facts - the discussion is about the rules. Someone puts their hand up and says, “Yeah, I own it,” and in some cases it’s the umpire who’ll say, “Yeah, I called that wrong.” It’s fascinating how friendly everything is and there’s never a dispute about the facts.

What happens to the data?

SH: In other sports I’ve worked in, it’s been a very slow process for the sports to realize the best use for this data is to make it open. In sailing we’ve managed to persuade the Event Authority to allow us to publish the data so at the end of every race we post the log of all of the data and that’s all the positions of all the mark and race boats, all the wind measurements etc. By streaming the live data for free so people can access all that precision data from all the race and mark boats, our hope is that innovative technical folks and companies will come up with interesting ways of viewing this data - multi player games, automatic reality viewers - come up with things we haven’t thought of to make the Cup more accessible to more people. I think it’s a brilliant decision.

What info do the competitor’s have?

SH: The competitors don’t get anything during the race. The idea is to keep the competitors in the same test of skill that we all are at - they have to judge when they’re in the 3-boat length circle, they have to judge the starting line, when they do or don’t have an overlap etc. And they know whatever they do, whether they get it right or wrong, the umpires are going to make the right call so it’s a better test of skill. That was Russell’s vision and he’s been batting very high on those kinds of decisions.

How does this all scale up as far as the 72s go?

JC: That’s the million dollar - the multi million dollar question (LOL) - the 72s - take 3 of the 45s and stack ‘em beam to beam and that’s a 72, then take 4 of the mainsails from the 45 and that’s a 72 mainsail. There’re a lot of people spending a lot of time in design rooms right now trying to figure it out.

Pic 1: Stan Honey
Pic 2: John Craig
Pic 3 World Series Layout San Diego Nov 2011 (pic credit Paige Brooks)
Pic 4 World Series Course Area San Diego 2011 (pic credit PB)
Pics 5 & 6 - SH & JC at SFYC Wed Oct 19 (pic credit PB

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dean Barker: "We're about winning the America's Cup"

38-year old skipper Dean Barker and his team Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) currently sit at the top of the leaderboard of the America’s Cup World Series Championship with 38 points (19 scored in match racing, 19 in fleet racing), just four points ahead of Oracle Racing Spithill. With the third and final World Series event for 2011 just around the corner, Barker updated Sailblast on ETNZs training progress…as well as shared some thoughts on the new AC game…

What was one thing that you took away from racing AC45s in the recent in events in Cascais & Plymouth?

The biggest eye opener is the maneuverability and how the racecourse and boundaries operate. It makes the racing just so much tighter and more emphasis on crew work and boat handling than ever before.

Emirates Team NZ (ETNZ) did extremely well - what do you attribute your strength to this early in the game?

We were really happy with our performance. We know we can sail a hell of a lot better but I’m sure like all the teams you make a lot of mistakes around the course but it’s a challenge with these boats in tough conditions and close quarters with other teams. It’s going to be hard to sail at a high level.

We’ve put a lot of effort into our crew work and boat handling and that’s paid dividends. I think during the period in Auckland we’re a bit off the pace. At our first crack at the soft sails, they were good but not good enough so we’ve developed our sails - we're into our second generation and that’s been a big improvement in our speed. We feel like we’re a lot more competitive now against Oracle who in Auckland who had quite a big jump it felt over the rest of us. We’ve made some good gains there. But we’ve worked really hard on things like getting around the corners and being able to react in all different situations around the course. That’s been a big strength.

How are you preparing for San Diego?

To be honest we’ve been pretty full on working with boat design for the 72. San Diego is rolling around pretty quickly so we will need to get our heads back in the game for racing but we have a few practice days there before racing proper starts so that’ll give us an opportunity to get back into it all. We’ve been doing a bit of sailing back here in Auckland on the 33s as obviously like everyone else, except Oracle who have a couple of extras, our 45 is en route to San Diego.

How’s the transition to the multihull been for you?

I’ve been sailing multis now for a year and it’s amazing. It feels like the progress that we’ve made since we came last in Almeria in the Extreme Series last year. It feels like we’re making some really good progress. I’d say it’s still not necessarily instinctive like monohull sailing was. There’re times when you know what you want to do but you can’t quite make it happen instinctively. But it’s coming - it just takes time to reprogram yourself to adjust to different situations where things happen very very quickly. You have to be able to make decisions a lot quicker than in the monos. But it’s all a really good challenge.

Who is your back-up skipper?

We’re a pretty small sailing team at the moment. We really don’t have a lot of back-ups in any position to be honest! Depending on who is injured at any time we’ve got cover by three grinders and a few others who aren’t sailing on the boat.

When will ETNZ expand its sailing team?

That’s about it really. We’re not going to have two 72s. We just don't have the resources to do it. It’s too expensive to take two 72s off the dock and go two-boat testing. It’s an expensive game we’re in and to take two 72s sailing, you’d need an army of people. There’s probably only one team that’s in that position right now.

Where are you at in the 72 design/build process?

We’re in the final stages of our design. What we’re learning pretty quickly is that the more you learn the more you don’t know! You just have to try to narrow in on the first design. The good thing is that we’re making good progress, the hard thing to know is what is the level you’ll need to be at in 2013. The learning curve makes it seem like we’ve got a long way to go but we’re at a level where we think we’ll be competitive enough. We have a design group of about 30 people we draw from including Pete Melvin, Scott Graham, Luc Du Bois - there’s a bunch of guys who are contributing. Cookson’s will build the hull and structures, and Southern will build a lot of our wing and wing components.

Who is developing your sails/sailplan?

We’ve done most of sail development in-house so far. We get a lot of input off the chase (boat) and evaluate our sails against where the opposition is. Oracle is by far the most experienced in these boats and have sailed them more than everybody else and have probably built more sails than the rest of us. You’re always looking to measure yourself against where they’re at and the direction they’re going. But, we’re pretty happy with the choices and development we’ve made.

What are some things you can see from the 45 that will translate to the 72?

The 45 is a nicely balanced boat, it’s fun to sail, it’s relatively easy to sail compared to the more traditional X-40 type designs, it’s quite a robust boat and seems to perform well across a variety of conditions. We’ve learned a lot just from sailing that but it is limited in a lot of ways. It’s got straight boards, it doesn’t have any real lifting component, it gets limited by wind speed, it’s a bit hard to push up the range but it’s a fantastic boat for learning about multi hull and sailing with a wing.

The 72 is a hugely more powerful boat. When you scale the 45 up to a 72 boat, it’s quite underpowered. The challenges that are going to go with the size of the 72 are pretty daunting. The boats in a strong breeze are going to be animals. They’ll be very hard to sail in SF conditions and you’ll certainly have to have your wits about you to get around the course. They’ll have capability of very high speed and you’re going to have to be really in tune to sail with them well.

What’s different about this Cup Campaign for ETNZ?

Apart from the obvious, lifestyle and scenery, it’s adapting to a different world. We’ve moved from a world of detailing and fine tuning to one of complete new world of open book, fresh paper design. Any ideas are certainly worth consideration. There are no stupid questions or ideas right now. With this multihull world, we’re just scratching the surface of a huge unchartered territory. It’s not even like a new design rule within the monohull environment.

Do you think it was entirely necessary to move up to the 72 for the real deal in 2013, or do you think a successful Cup could be staged in the 45?

Well, the 45 would really detract from what the essence of what the America’s Cup is about. It has always been a design race. I think to take away that aspect of the Cup would be a tragedy. It’s about managing so many different aspects of a campaign for a successful America’s Cup. When you get it right, then rightfully you deserve to win the America’s Cup. From a sailor’s point of view, one design racing is great because in the end the best team wins. There’s no argument about who had the better boat. It comes down to who sailed the best. So, there’s two schools of thought but in some ways I still believe in the traditional values of the Cup. It’s about managing a whole lot of different aspects: design, sailing team, campaign management and just getting to the start line. I still think it’s the right move that we’re racing in a development boat in the America’s Cup.

If Oracle was so committed to keeping costs down for AC34, how could they then go buy four AC45s while the other teams have only one? What’s ETNZ’s position on this?

There’s no way Oracle is committed to keeping costs down. It’s a complete fallacy that they’re trying to keep costs down. It’s absolute bullshit. The whole idea of this next America’s Cup was to try to make it more affordable for the teams. I can tell you right now that the budget for doing this campaign is at least what we spent last time and you can do it for less but you just don’t have a chance to perform. It’s a complete joke if they can sit back and say it costs less money, it’s not. It’s way more expensive. But that’s the game we’re in. If you want a crack at winning the America’s Cup you have to play by the rules and these rules are more expensive.

* Ed's note: America’s Cup Race Management (ACRM) does not limit the teams' training outside of World Series events, for instance, some teams will sail as soon as boats are off the ship in San Diego and others will opt not to sail until closer to the start of racing. And, any team can purchase an additional AC45 for training…assuming that they can afford to.

If ETNZ knew what it knows now before you signed up, do you think you guys may have given this next one a miss?

Definitely not. Emirates Team NZ exists for the America’s Cup and we’ve weathered the storm since 2007 to give ourselves the opportunity to compete in the 2013 event. You can’t afford to sit out, it’s just too hard to come in green and expect to get straight on the pace. If you miss a cycle, with all the development you’ll never catch it back up. It’s too much time. We decided that whatever the direction the Cup took that we’d contemplate it seriously, evaluate whether we could raise the money and give it a really good go at winning it. We're not it in to make up the numbers, we’ve only entered because we think we can put up a challenge with a team that’s good enough to win. Time will tell if that’s the case. But, we’re a team that’s about winning the America’s Cup.

Much of the excitement over the 45, particularly for the non-sailing fan, is thanks to the crash factor. We wont (hopefully) see that with the 72. Without the crashes do you think the event will remain interesting for the non-sailor?

There’ll be an element who tune in to just watch the crashes, looking for the capsize or the collision. Those people you’ll try to capture - you have to accept that there’ll be that element. Hopefully people will be interested in watching the racing for what it is as well and we’ll be able to capture a new interested audience. In the short-term while there’s still a lot of spectacular action that’s going to motivate people to watch. It’s no different to the X-40s - the biggest hits come with the best action.

Do you think a nationality rule would help the AC grow as a fan sport?

I think it helps countries identify with their teams. We’ve got other nationalities involved in our team but it’s still pretty much all NZ, which certainly helps our fan base within NZ and the support we get as opposed to some of the other teams. Even though they may represent the US, Sweden and so on, they’re not true national teams to the degree we are.

How does your family take your busy lifestyle?

Fortunately my wife Mandy is really good with it all because I’m a bit of an absentee dad at times. I have four kids - 3 girls and a boy between six and one. It’s a lot of fun, never a dull moment. You feel like you leave one circus and go home to another one!

What’s your other business and how do you find time for that while still running a top AC team?

My primary focus is with the team so I spend the majority of my time sailing and working with the design group when I’m not traveling to events. When I do have a little down time I try to keep up to speed with Kiwi Yachting Consultants, a company I’m involved with in NZ, and also Nexus Marine which marine electronics company in Sweden.

When do you expect to be moving full-time to SF?

As a team we wont go up to San Francisco - mainly because of cost - until April/May 2013 full-time. We’ll be there next year for the events in August and September which will be great. I’m absolutely looking forward to sailing on the Bay, I’ve done a little bit of sailing there but not much. It’ll be an amazing spectacle for sure.

Pic Credit: ETNZ

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One Million Dollars Saves Lives

The sad news this afternoon of Steve Jobs’ death at the way-too-young age of 56 of a rare form of pancreatic cancer got me off my butt to write up my notes on the fabulously successful 6th annual Leukemia Cup, hosted by the San Francisco Yacht Club, raising a massive one million dollars for cancer research.

In fact, I may not be writing this today if it weren’t for my MacBook, iPhone, iPod and multiple other iAccessories, and I extend my gratitude to Jobs for his ingenuity, creativity and courage to continue his incredible contribution to life as we know it today, especially in the light of multiple misfortunes he encountered in his own life.

I like a quote that Jobs made six years ago, talking about how a sense of his mortality was a major driver behind his vision:

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Jobs’ words lend meaning to the all-around success of last weekend’s Leukemia Cup.

It was one filled with stories of local sailors who have survived the disease and live to continue their passion - racing sailboats.

Guest speaker at Saturday night’s VIP dinner was no less than John Doerr, of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the world’s most famous venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley.

Doerr’s first words Saturday night?

“Cancer sucks!”

Any thoughts I initially had that Doerr’s speech may be on the dry side were quelled pretty much instantly. He held a spellbound audience for a good 45 minutes and they/I would have happily let him continue.

In 2008 he and Jobs announced the Kleiner Perkins $100 million iFund, declaring the iPhone "more important than the personal computer" because " it knows who you are" and "where you are," stated Doerr, reminding a captive Leukemia Cup audience that mobile media began with Apple’s resurrection in the late 1990’s, and combined with other incredibly innovative Apple products are worth $88 billion a year in new biz for Apple.

“Apple makes you lust for its products,” Doerr categorically stated.

Oh yeah! Do they ever. I fondly remember my first desktop computer - an Apple. I was in love.

Doerr focused his speech on “the tsunami of social media” - So, Lo and Mo - Social, Local and Mobile, and how Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Twitter have transformed the way we live today.

“Our teens have 500 Facebook friends," he said. "If Facebook was a country, it’d be the third largest in the world.”

Doerr’s sincerely inspiring words followed the audience out on the Bay on Sunday where some 100 boats enjoyed perfect fall racing conditions as a steady westerly breeze of 10-12 knots came in for a noon start.

A challenging regatta to get off the line, with 9 divisions catering to boats ranging in size from 20 to 50 feet, PRO Bartz Schneider sent racers on a “Bay Tour” with almost as many courses as divisions.

“My target was to have all of them finish in about 2 hours,” Schneider said. “The range of ratings and the range of speeds was tremendous. The lowest rated boat was a Farr 400 with a rating of -21 seconds and the slowest a Cal 20 with a rating of about 250. That’s one big difference. The other difference is that for most regattas today we use inflatable marks so we can control the course. For this regatta we use all government marks so I don’t have a choice. And, 90-100 boats is a lot of traffic when they’re all milling about in the starting area!"

First place in Division A (spinnaker boats with a PHRF rating of 54 & under) went to Skip and Jody McCormack racing their Farr 30 Trunk Monkey, beating the Farr 400 Team Premier by 24.6 seconds on corrected time over a course of 13.6 NM.

Pro sailor Dee Smith skippered Team Premier, a brand new boat just built in Dubai that Smith brought over to race in last month’s Big Boat Series and kept it around just for this regatta. Smith is a cancer survivor and sailed with fellow cancer survivor Paul Erickson (grinder), and leukemia survivor Dave Wilhite (grinder).Third in Div A was Farr 40 Astra skippered by Mary Coleman.

“The event’s got a lot of great support even from the really good sailors in other yacht clubs. It’s not just exclusively a SFYC event by any means,” Schneider acknowledged.

A great weekend of fun…and most importantly, hope.

Photo Credit: Ellen Hoke

Pic 1: Tom Perkins & John Doerr (Perkins is a perennial support of the Leukemia Cup)

Pic 2: Team Premier

Pic 3. Winner Div A Trunk Monkey: Matt Noble, Will Paxton, Skip McCormack

Pic 4. Team Premier: Norm Davant, Paul Erickson, Dee Smith, Doug Holm, Russ Silvestri, Dave Wilhite, David Blanchfield, Peter Cameron, and Katie Pettibone

Pic 5. Div 4 Winner Yucca skippered by Hank Easom

Full results at: