Please select your home edition
Edition
Wildwind 2016 728x90

America's Cup- Speculation on Oracle Team USA's foiling system

by Richard Gladwell on 26 Sep 2013
Oracle Team USA foiling - America’s Cup - Day 15 Kurt Molnar ©

The following notes are circulating in Auckland media circles, as an explanation for Oracle Team USA's improved foiling performance, as time progressed in the 34th America's Cup.

The notes were dated September 23, 2013, but were received by Sail-World mid-morning September 26, after the regatta had finished. But the device was first highlighted by the Television NZ commentary team during their coverage of the vital Race 19, of the 34th America's Cup. Click here for the full race coverage and NZ commentary including comment on the Oracle Team USA foiling performance.

This afternoon, Tim Smythe, principal of Core Composite Builders, Oracle Team USA's Warkworth (NZ) based building facility, said that the team used the same set of foils through the regatta and that the 'special foil adjuster system, was there before the regatta Click here for the TV3 report and interview with Tim Symthe.

The matter was taken by Emirates Team NZ to the International Jury on September 3, and a Decision issued on September 6, just one day before the regatta started. It was rejected on the basis on being filed outside the allowable time, but added a rider, that had it been issued inside the time limit, but on the basis of what had been heard, the application would have been unlikely to have been upheld.

Emirates Team NZ's Ray Davies said 'their boat is rock steady up wind, that takes us a lot of effort, and we have been trying to it for a long, long time, and yet they master it in just a few days.

It is well recognised that Oracle was having serious foiling stability difficulties at the outset of the regatta and that their performance could not match that of ETNZ.

Half way through the series it was acknowledged that Oracle had fitted an automatic control to their hydrofoil trim, and that this modification was approved by the measurement authorities.

Since this modification Oracle's performance has almost unbelievably improved. This has been 'explained' by skipper Jimmy Spithill as being due to the superhuman efforts of the crew to improve their handling skills. However, in view of the intensive training Oracle were able to do, prior to the regatta, with their highly skilled team partner, it seems unlikely that only now have they discovered the 'magic bullet' they they clearly have. It is much more likely to be the result of the modifications, possibly enabled by their surprising decision to use their lay day card and the subsequent lucky postponements.

It must be remembered that this is the first time that this contest has been sailed by yachts 'flying ' on Hydrofoils and it is probable that new and different criteria should have been applied.

In the aeronautical world it has long been known that the stability of swept wing aircraft can rapidly be lost by uncontrolled yaw leading to a dangerous situation known as 'Dutch Roll'.

A device known as 'Little Herbie' was developed during the commissioning of the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jets over 40 years ago, to over come this tendency. Little Herbies, or 'Stability Augmentation Systems' (SAS) as these are now designated, are equipped with sensors such as Accelerometers and Gyros which can detect and instigate corrections to stability with a speed and accuracy which exceeds the ability of even experienced airline pilots. They are therefore now installed in virtually all swept-wing aircraft.

The 'legality' of this device has been justified and accepted on the basis that it does not actually 'drive' the trim of the foils.....this is still performed by the muscle power of the crew, via hydraulic linkages. That may be so, but the device, using its sensing and directives, has been described as 'automatic'. This implies that the trim of the foils is determined by what can only be described as 'superhuman' technology. If this technology has been used to overcome the foiling stability difficulties of Oracle it will have enabled the use of higher speed/lower drag foils which the crew would otherwise be unable to manage. This would give a significant speed advantage during foiling. This has been clearly in evidence since the modification. Improvement in stability and speed has been staggering.

The high speed/low drag foils do have a downside in light conditions where, due to their lesser lifting characteristic, foiling is difficult or impossible. This was also clearly seen in the abandoned Race #13 when ETNZ were only 4 minutes from the finish, with a lead of over 1000metres.


Oracle Team USA have not provided any official comment on the system they used.

While it would seem that the actuator device is legal, if it is attached directly to its own power supply, the wider question remains as to whether a boat should be raced with a computer, rather than a human, driving a primary control function.

The Racing Rules on the matter are very clear RRS42 Propulsion states: A yacht shall compete only by using the wind and water to increase, maintain or decrease her speed. Her crew may adjust the trim of the wing, sails, rudders, daggerboards and hulls, and perform other acts of seamanship.

The vital words are at the opening of the second sentence 'her crew' - meaning that an automated adjustment which works independently of crew intervention is illegal.

Then BMW Oracle Racing did have very sophisticated on-board systems in 2010 in the Deed of Gift Match, which amongst other things they were able to overlay a line image of the optimum wingsail shape against the actual image, enabling the crew to make the adjustment required to get the two shapes into alignment, and achieve the ultimate performance.

That is one step away from having the wingsail shape adjusted by a computer independent of the crew which under RRS42 is illegal. Even under the current America's Cup rules such a system is quite legal, and it is hard not to believe that such systems were not used again in the 2013 America's Cup. The key point being that there must be a crew intervention between the computer and the sail or other control named in RRS42.

Of course computers are not infallible, and any intelligent computer system requires a lot of tweaking and refinement to be operate consistently and at a refined level. It all takes time - and time is the most vital commodity in the America's Cup.

The time for application to the International Jury over such a matter, is long gone. The rules require that a competitor protests or lodges an application to the Jury as soon as they are aware of a measurement issue, not later or at the end of a regatta.
Wildwind 2016 660x82Bakewell-White Yacht DesignCollinson and Co

Related Articles

America's Cup - Emirates Team NZ give first look at the pedaling AC50
Emirates Team New Zealand formally christened their new AC50 America's Cup Challenger on a rainy Auckland afternoon. Emirates Team New Zealand formally christened their new AC50 America's Cup Challenger on a rainy Auckland afternoon. The team has been sailing for the previous two days making news headlines after it was revealed in Sail-World.com that the AC50 would become only the second yacht in America's Cup history to use pedal power.
Posted on 16 Feb
America's Cup - Kiwis sign Olympic Cyclist for the Tour de Bermuda
Ttop cyclist Simon van Velthooven, a 2012 Olympic Bronze cycling medallist had been signed by the America's Cup team Emirates Team New Zealand put in a second foiling display on Auckland's Waitemata harbour ahead of the official launching of their AC50 tomorrow. With brighter skies the cycling team took their places on the pedalstals and used leg power to provide the hydraulic pressure necessary to run the AC50's control systems for the foils and wingsail.
Posted on 15 Feb
A Q&A with Anna Tunnicliffe about her return to competitive sailing
I talked with Anna Tunnicliffe before the Sailing World Cup Miami to learn about her return to Olympic-class sailing. Anna Tunnicliffe won gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in the Laser Radial before shifting her sights to the Women’s Match Racing event for the London 2012 Olympics. Here, she came up shy of expectation and left sailing for the CrossFit Games, but now she is returning to her roots. I talked with Tunnicliffe before the Sailing World Cup Miami to learn about her return to Olympic-class sailing.
Posted on 23 Jan
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – Race record smashed
On Day Three (just) of the 72nd Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race Perpetual Loyal smashed the race record On Day Three (just) of the 72nd Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, in the strongest downwind conditions in recent times, certainly as good as the 1999 iteration of the blue water classic, Anthony Bell’s supermaxi, Perpetual Loyal, the former Speedboat and then Rambler 100, smashed the race record for the famous 628-nautical mile event.
Posted on 27 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – right turn means record in mortal danger?
A while ago we talked about not unprecedented conditions, but certainly ones that had not been seen for ages. A while ago we talked about not unprecedented conditions, but certainly ones that had not been seen for ages. Those that did a lot of Hobarts in the 90s would scoff at the thought of using the kite sheets for the whole journey. Their memories would be why they even bothered to clip them onto the rail at all.
Posted on 27 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – The Derwent awake or asleep for Loyal?
With steady winds now pushing everyone down the Tasmanian East Coast With steady winds now pushing everyone down the Tasmanian East Coast, it does appear that barring a mechanical failure, Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal will be the first boat into Storm Bay tonight, and well on record pace too!
Posted on 27 Dec 2016
AeroMedia Drone Video from Rolex Sydney Hobart Race start
Jono Whiity drives the 18-Footer, Line 7, and also pilots the hAeroMedia drone for these images of the #RSHYR start. Jono Whiity drives the 18-Footer, Line 7, and also pilots the AeroMedia drone that captured these images of the #RSHYR start.
Posted on 27 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – Situation normal
You could easily say that all is right with the world again. You could easily say that all is right with the world again. After the worst start in 12 years, the Oatley family’s 100 foot Wild Oats XI, the eight times line honours winner skippered by Mark Richards is leading the fleet South, as she has done so many, many times before.
Posted on 26 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – Changing of the guard
So as darkness descends on the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, watch systems and red lights take over from sunglasses So as darkness descends on the 72nd Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, watch systems and red lights take the place of sunglasses and hats. Yet another of the Hobart maxims is now coming into play. You go out early and come in late. It means you stay offshore early to pick up the East Australia Current running down South and then come in back to the Tasmanian coast and stay there.
Posted on 26 Dec 2016
Wild Oats XI Training Day - VIDEO
As your Christmas Day preparations get into full swing, chances are you won’t have much time to get into the mood As your Christmas Day preparations get into full swing, chances are you won’t have much time to get into the mood for the big race to Hobart on Boxing Day. So here’s a pacey one minute video we've compiled from a training day that we shot aboard Wild Oats XI this time last year in a solid nor'easter, shortly after her major rebuild was completed. Merry Christmas to all from Crosbie and Dale
Posted on 23 Dec 2016