Panbo

AC34 San Diego, some good photos

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jan 24, 2012
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I spent some time recently looking through the wonderful photography AC34 is making available to the media (the public can browse large thumbnails). Most of the images were taken by the superb shooter Gilles Martin-Raget, and I thank him for taking some that illustrate my story obessions with the underlying technology and the support fleet. Like the one above which frames the intense racing with the AC45's space-age boomkin. As described in November that gray disk most aft is a NovAtel high-precision GPS which works along with inertial motion sensors and a high speed wireless data network so that the entire AC system knows exactly where this boat is...

Note too the three-layer high-intensity flashing LED light also seen on the boomkin, which can be understood as the other end of the elaborate race management system. Known as the "Christmas tree" and just added to the AC45's other light signals in San Diego, it's especially good at letting competitors and fans know when a racer is within three boat lengths of the course's virtual boundaries...

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For instance, if the boat ahead got close to the boundary, its Christmas Tree would start flashing green to indicate that it had special rights to tack back onto the course. Meanwhile, its crew would be warned about the approaching boundary by the flashing amber lights seen at lower right on forward cross beam. The "police" color blue is used to let everyone know when a boat is penalized. The light system is well explained at cupinfo.com and the committee boat system for establishing the marks and boundaries was discussed here last week. Also note the boomkin's pan and tilt camera, one of four on each boat. I've yet to identify the manufacturer, but I did observe that they even have little power wipers to clear their lens, and anyone can see how much they add to the video coverage....

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The image above is not an official Gilles Martin-Raget photo but rather a screenshot of a video showing the LiveLine overlay that's unique to broadcast coverage of AC34. In this case, the LiveLine team has enabled the boundaries along with laylines to the gate and a ladder of distances to go. Many other overlay elements switched, but for now just consider how fast and accurate the position sensors and geometry calculations must be to create this realtime overlay on a video being shot from a helicopter. (Eventually I'll write a detailed entry about the LiveLine team based on a race afternoon spent hovering around their container.) Note too how the up and down-wind marks are gates, not turning marks... 

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Thus one of the major tactical decisions for the racers is which side of the gate will lead to the best wind, passing lanes, etc. Given the tools and skill the race managers have, the choice is often not obvious, as seen in the lovely dance above. By the way, you can click on any of these images for a much more detailed view. And in the one above you'll see that the two umpire PWC's seem to throw more wake than the racing catamarans...

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While the on-the-water umpires seem to serve as assistants and back-up to the team watching the telemetry in a container, even these little vessels are accurately tracked and have the little Stowe Marine screen that distributes umpire and race committee texts around the fleet. I got a close look at this technology too (and there will be an entry), but I don't know if that GoPro camera on the umpire's helmet is standard issue...

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The helicopter shot above shows what AC34 means by "stadium racing" with the last mark and finish line set right off the San Diego piers where the public could watch. There was no charge for pier access in San Diego, but AC Event Authority is definitely trying to recoup some of its vast investment with various VIP offerings. Thus, as seen lower right, the elaborately tented and teak decked observation area set up on the bow of the aircraft carrier Midway. The view was sensational and so was the food and drink!

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One technology I'd like to know more about is the radio system. Above is one of the eXtreme ribs support boats I wrote about and it's easy to identify the Garmin 7000 MFD used for race management and the Stowe text chatter screen. I also see a standard Garmin VHF remote mic, but I'm not sure what the guy's headset is plugged in to. A private UHF system?

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I really enjoyed visiting the committee boat Regardless, but sure would have loved to stay aboard for some racing. However that was before the America's Cup Act of 2011 became law, exempting the foreign built support fleet from certain limitations on passenger carrying. So that means there will be more opportunities for the press and VIPS when the AC World Series comes to Newport next June...

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And by Newport I think there will be six of the VIP mark boats like hull #1 -- named America, and seen above -- that I got to climb around in San Diego. Besides dynamic positioning and other interesting tech, these boats have gourmet catering galleys and super comfortable day accommodations. Save up your allowances, kids!
  Finally, here's how the AC34 World Series will arrive in Newport. I don't know where the mother ship is now, but this extraordinary race "kit" will get unpacked in Naples and Venice before coming back to the states.

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Comments

The technology is just "wow"... The boats are like science fiction...
Yet, I am not impressed that these Americas Cup winners are what was intended - the racing of ocean crossing yachts...
Were I empowered to make the rules the boats would qualify by first making an Atlantic crossing, then compete in the Cup races with the same crew, the same equipment, and the same sails they used on the crossing... A bit closer to the real world that you and I sail in...
Now having said that - I continue to be keenly interested in the races...

denny-o

Posted by: Dennis O'Connor at January 26, 2012 9:44 AM | Reply

"Intended" by who, Denny? Hasn't it been over a century since a Cup boat could cross an ocean? Meanwhile, hasn't ocean racing evolved pretty nicely, both at pro and amateur levels?

The weird thing about the America's Cup is that it is organized by its last winner (though hopefully with cooperation from the challengers). That's often led to too much emphasis on competing lawyers, money, and design technology... and boring races. By contrast, AC34 seems to be putting its money and technology into establishing a form of pure around-the-bouy racing that's fair, exciting, and very accessible to fans.

I enjoyed watching NFL football on Sunday, and it's definitely that combination of technology and competition that's inspired AC34, not 19th century yacht racing.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Dennis O'Connor at January 26, 2012 10:22 AM | Reply

Having joined a chartered boat (with catering) for AC33, I have first hand experience with the logistical nightmare of attempting to casually watch a race on the water and on another day from the shore.

With all the extra sailing rules, I can appreciate the AC34 could seem like an unholy combination of obstacle course and drag race, very much unlike the original AC.

But, it seems like a necessary evolution to bring the boats close to shore for the fans, plus other fan and media friendly changes so the event can be enjoyed all over the world in real-time and sponsors can be found by teams to support this great sport.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at January 26, 2012 10:44 PM | Reply

AC34 does not mess around. Now they're building 12 meter wing extensions for the AC45's to use in light air. Mind you that the carbon cats only displace a little over 3,000 pounds and their main wing sails are already 21.5m (70.5 feet)tall and a little over 900 square feet: http://goo.gl/VP9E1

Posted by: Ben at January 29, 2012 7:23 PM | Reply

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