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Twelve Meter Yachts

Twelve Meter Yachts and their Sailing Instruments

Twelve Meter YachtsAll through the 1980’s the America’s Cup was contested in Twelve Meter Yachts, and significant advances were being made in hull construction, sailcloth and panel layout, and in Sailing Instruments Systems.  But, perhaps more than the others advances, Sailing Instruments were beginning to change how boats were sailed. The information regarding wind angles and speed were better than ever, but being able to make calculations which could indicate how efficiently the boat was being sailed was what was changing the game for the world’s best sailors. The combination of the world’s best sailors, the most important sailing regatta, and the continued persistence of Dick McCurdy, in his search for the very best sailing instrument system possible, led to a “perfect storm” of advancement. Let’s look at some of the history:

America’s Cup Regattas in the 1980’s

1983: Because of the success of the earlier one-off systems, Ockam was installed on most of the 12’s, including the winner, “Australia II“ who also created a clone of Starship Nova. Dennis Conner was doing his second America’s Cup, and had hired Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to build an instrument system. It came with at least 4 scientists to keep it up and running. 1 week before the event, Dennis scrapped the whole SAIC rig and put on an Ockam system (installed starting at 3 in the morning, and was up and running the next day). During this week, Dick discovered that Dennis’ “B” boat skipper, Jack Sutphen, was using a card with boat speeds and wind speeds on it. This was developed over the next day or two into the “Target Speed” idea, complete with a readout generated by an attached HP-41 calculator.

1987: This was the “take it back” Cup, and was probably the best Cup event ever held. There were 12 challengers including Dennis Conner with “Stars & Stripes” (4 revs), and 4 defenders. All but a couple of them had Ockam systems. Every syndicate had dedicated instrumentation and analysis staff, so the technical progress was the best ever. One of the things that got everybody’s attention was the seemingly regular wind shifts that were created by vortexes to leeward of Rottnest Island. Every tech team was working in secret, trying to create shift prediction software. There was only one thing that you could count on however; if the prediction was “bet the farm”, don’t believe it. This work eventually led to the Wally concept. Key to the accurate calculation of the Wally, polars had advanced to the point that they could be differentiated. They were so valuable, that Dennis Conner, at the final press conference, got into an argument with somebody about how his polars were better than theirs. Polars! Not boats

1988: This was the “Cat Cup” where New Zealand challenged with the monster sloop KZ1 against Dennis Conner with a wingsail catamaran. The cat had Ockams, and KZ1 had a custom system based on B&G. In terms of technology, it was the polar opposite of the 1987 campaign; no instrument development occurred. There was a lot of fear that KZ1 would run away because of her enormous size. To try to find out how KZ1 performed, a spy mission was sent to NZ, and we created project “Daryl” which monitored performance by tracking from Point Loma with transits. Not to worry…

1992: The first IACC cup had 5 defenders and 8 challengers. Most of the yachts used Ockams, but by now the blush was off the rose. The rapid-fire development that had happened during the 1980’s was gone. The defender was Bill Koch, and the secrecy, big egos and professional crew model destroyed the technical advancement in sailing instrumentation.

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