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Life through a lens

by Mark Jardine & John Curnow 26 Dec 2021 00:06 PST
A pilot's head-up display - with the SailGP cats literally flying, could this technology soon be on yachts? © SW

We spend much of our time on our smartphones, snapping away photos at this, that, and everything, and increasingly our phone cameras are giving us tips about suggested focus points and camera modes, and two weeks ago I wrote about virtual reality, focusing on how it can benefit sailing.

Today my thoughts turn to augmented reality, prompted by the massive crash we saw in Sydney at Sail Grand Prix Australia, where Ben Ainslie's GBR team took the bow clean off Nathan Outteridge's Japan team during the Race 3 start, and a video I saw on the BBC website, taking a look at the Nreal Light augmented reality glasses.

Let's first analyse what happened in Sydney...

SailGP uses reaching starts, which present an added challenge to sailors and rule-makers alike. As the teams ramp up the speed, trying to get their time on distance spot-on for top speed towards the first mark bear-away, the sailors have most of their focus on the yachts just to weather of them, as they are the ones who could take their wind.

With a traditional upwind start, once you've found your lane and are up to speed on starboard tack, the threats are again the boats to weather of you on the line, who could potentially take your wind if advanced enough, and those to leeward who could pinch up towards your line, either luffing or taking your wind, with all of these interactions happening in a mostly predictable fashion.

In the pre-start of Race 3 Nathan Outteridge was sailing a more upwind course than Ben Ainslie and Jimmy Spithill, as was his right to do so, but when the two boats above are on their final attack runs, a boat pointing higher and to leeward is perfectly in the blind spot of the accelerating boats. There is no doubt about the fault of the crash, but it is understandable as to how the incident happened.

The result was catastrophic for Team Japan's starboard hull and could have been horrific if the collision point was slightly further aft. I have no doubt SailGP organisers and looking at how this can be avoided in future, whether the rules need modifying and what technology could help. Enter augmented reality...

I doubt I know a single sailor who hasn't been in a port-starboard situation where the boat on the other tack has seemed to 'appear from nowhere', hidden by a jib, genoa or mainsail until the very last second, resulting in a crash-tack, emergency bear away or in some cases hitting the other boat amidships. It's just one of those things which happens in sailing.

Any crash has the potential to be life-threatening, but with the speeds involved in the America's Cup and SailGP racing, this danger is taken to another level. With an augmented reality visor, the sailors could have either a live wireframe view from above of where the surrounding boats are, or a view 'through' the wing sail and jib, showing what is happening to leeward.

Augmented reality is entering the mainstream, and has been available to pilots for some time, so the technology is there. We know the data is available with SailGP, as it is all used remotely by the SailGP umpires and commentators tucked away in an office in Ealing, London, wherever the sailing action is happening around the world, so combining this all together should be an achievable step for Season 3.

Then, just like is often touted with Formula One motor racing, the trickle down of technology could help us all on the racecourse, and before long our new pair of sailing sunglasses will display positional information overlays, making our own sailing safer and maybe even our insurance premiums a little bit less!

Sydney Hobart - Now that was a start

Keeping with the action in Sydney, Boxing Day saw the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race start in the harbour, and while I was sleeping off Christmas dinner, our Australian editor John Curnow was following all the action...

With just a minute to go it seemed like conservatism was the flavour of day. So many had stayed well below the line. Perhaps there was even a little bit of trepidation due to lack of practise. Maybe it was all about not wanting to be OCS after such a long hiatus.

However, with everyone outside the Harbour inside 25 minutes, including the 30-footers, it certainly made for an action-packed event. Without doubt, Scallywag won the start, then went low to go for pace, offering up bad air to Law Connect. Black Jack came up and did the same, but a bad furl of the Code Zero at the inside mark hurt them, as they looked like they were off to lunch at Manly Pier.

Interestingly, it was Scallywag who opted for the early slab, and their huge zero just seemed to have the kind of grunt you'd associate with a massive V16 Diesel. After recovering, Black Jack came back on the breeze with the slab we'd thought would be with them from the get go, but were a long way behind Scallywag and Law Connect, who had muscled their way to the front by the outer mark, and then opened the throttle.

Stefan had done well early, showing real pace off the breeze, and playing with the supermaxis, but later fell back to be with the mini maxis. Her new sails looked good, so hopefully they can hunker down and let the 80-footer go to work. URM never threatened, and it was certainly tense on board, which you might argue is a legacy of having mikes and cameras on board. They struggled often with their kite, and this only raised tensions further.

Yet they were not alone in this category, which had to be owned by Denali, who seemed to be very keen on letting the crew master semaphore at every manoeuvre.

Back out the front, and Scallywag looked to be able to make a fist of the battle with Law Connect and that stupendous prodder of hers that poked through the mounting seaway. Alas, misfortune arrived, and the headsail tack came away with her furler. Not a pleasant thing to recover, so heading back home to shield it all behind the main, whilst the others marched on at virtually your reciprocal course, definitely stacked up a huge deficit.

They returned to be on the wind, but with the storm jib flying off her inner, inner tack point. There did not seem to be an issue with the deck mount for the inner stay, so when the recalcitrant heady got mounted back up, you had to think the issue was with the furler mount and not the deck, but the sail was not hoisted immediately, so perhaps there was more damage than one could observe from the footage.

They were making reasonable way considering the handkerchief that was now for'ard of the stick, and perhaps they were assessing when might be a good time to run away once more and get what looked to be the J2 airborne again. There would have a been a few calories burned up by the ten crew, who did an incredible job of the recovery, and certainly the Andy Dovell penned hull form looked like it could go hard all night long, which they will certainly have to do to be in the mix by the new light.

Our coverage will continue throughout the race, and we will have more video features once the craft arrive. In the meantime, we will author material based on the best intel going around. So, enjoy your coffee, showers, the lack of stench in your environment, and the real food, which we're sure the crews will be missing badly by now.

Seeing as it is Christmas time, it allows one some introspection. Being the Managing Editor of the Sail-World and YachtsandYachting team is a delight. Our focus is to bring you as close to the action as possible, though the lens and our editorial, so you can keep on top of all the sailing action around the world. I feel so lucky to have David Henshall focusing on the past, and how it's so relevant to decisions made today, John Curnow's unique take on what's happening today across sail and power, Richard Gladwell's unparalleled knowledge of the goings on in America's Cup land and David Schmidt's commentary from North America, unafraid to air stories which need telling, as well as our many contributors and marketing partners. 2021 has been a hard year in many ways, but we're fired up for 2022 and so grateful that you have chosen us to get your sailing news fix. Thank you!

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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