Data in sailing is crucial for success

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Comparing the sailing boats from the past to today’s state-of-the-art catamaran, would be more akin to matching Juan Manuel Fangio’s Mercedes W196 up against Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes-AMG F1 W08.

As with F1, nowhere else is the cutting edge of technology more apparent in the sporting world than in the sport of Sailing. Such is the technology necessary to guarantee success in this marquee event that the Land Rover BAR team’s budget, according to many sources, was around the £90 million mark for their unsuccessful Americas Cup campaign.

With so much money being spent on cutting edge tech, there could easily be a point where the human element of sport is minimised. But according to Andy Claughton, Chief Technical Officer of Land Rover BAR, creating a fast boat is simply impossible without the very best sailors onboard.

“The golden rule of the Americas Cup is that you can’t win it without a fast boat and it’s virtually impossible to win without a very good crew and helmsman,” says Claughton. “The great challenge for the design team is to give the sailing team a boat that makes the most of their talent.

“Back in the day there was a guy with a hand pump and a knob to turn. Now we can’t go sailing without half a million lines of computer code all correctly assembled and the ability to measure things has improved so now you have got mountains of data coming at you from both sides.

“One of the key things we’re trying to get from the data is how easy or difficult is the boat to sail. What we’re looking at is trying to find out where is this boundary between how fast can we make the boat without making it too unstable. You can make the boat faster if you make it more difficult to sail but what that means is that you’re consuming more of the helmsman’s skill just to keep the boat sailing. They have to go to war with equipment they’re absolutely confident in.”

We currently live in an age where we can pay for everything on our mobile phones and are able to control household heating and set our televisions to record programs whilst on the move.



Trying to predict what will happen even further into the future is a fun game to play, especially for the avid Sci-Fi nut. For now, however, sports fans can rest easy. Despite the increasing reliance on Data Analytics and cutting edge technology in the most advanced of sports, the human element appears to be just as important as ever. 

“A conundrum I’ve never solved is I know about how a sailing boat sails,” concludes Claughton. “Ben (Ainslie) has no idea what a Reynolds number is of a lift co-efficient is but I’m never going to beat him in a yacht race. It’s a bit like the odd couple. They’re polar opposites but they have to live together to make each other’s lives work.”


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