How technology is tilting the playing field

Published on April 30th, 2018

In F1 Lewis Hamilton knows where his power is coming from because his Mercedes McLaren is fueled up before the race with a carefully calculated amount of fuel that depends on conditions, track layout, driving style and so on. A sailor, however, never quite knows how much power he’s going to get, which direction it will come from and how long it might last.

Solving the problem of predicting weather and current conditions has gone through a quantum leap in the past few years, particularly in long-distance offshore racing. But big gains are also being made in short-course competition, particularly in Olympic sailing. At the forefront of this drive for greater knowledge and forecasting accuracy is Buell Software, in Germany.

It all started just over 20 years ago when Ingo Buell, a PhD in physics, entered a national competition to win a prize fund put forward by Daimler Benz Aerosail to develop technology that would help Germany’s Olympic sailors succeed at the Atlanta Games in 1996. Aided by his Masters students at Kiel University, Buell developed some routeing software. Jochen Schümann, competing in the Soling keelboat, analysed the printouts every morning before racing. He went on to win the gold medal, and so Buell Software was born.

Buell have provided current and tidal analysis to a number of Olympic teams for the past two Games, London 2012 and Rio 2016, but their new program for 2020, SailTokyo, takes things to a new level with integration of wind data and many other new features.

“It’s a cloud-based team solution designed to prepare your sailing team for the Olympic Games – Tokyo 2020, Marseille 2024 – and all the World Sailing events and Olympic class world championships,” explains Yvette von der Burchard of Buell Software.

Marcus Baur represented Germany in the 49er at two Olympic regattas, in London 2000 and Athens 2004, as well as winning the European Championships twice. He has worked closely with Buell Software for a number of years. ‘Sailing Team Germany were sponsored by the German software giant SAP from 2009 to 2016. During this time SAP and Sailing Team Germany partnered with Buell Software for the Olympics, with Ingo Buell coaching the team and providing his tidal analysis.

“Hardly anyone in the world has thought more deeply about the influence of sea currents on sailing races than Ingo Buell. As a physicist and programmer he completely demystified the problem and developed algorithms, software applications and easy-to-use apps that empower sailors to get to grips with the subtle, and sometimes paradoxical, influence of complex tides.

“Apart from being a great learning tool, it enables sailors and coaches to predict the impact of the current in relation to prevailing wind patterns. A priceless performance gain and a must-have tool in a sailor’s tool-set. I wish I’d had access to that weapon during my time as an Olympic sailor.”

The core element of the tool is the unique routeing algorithm that reflects the characteristics of Olympic boat classes. You can plug in the polars for a Laser Radial and the system will draw in wind forecasts and tidal data and crunch the best course for a Radial. You can even analyze the differences between going left, right or tacking with the shifts up the middle.

“SailTokyo enables you to create models of currents and wind from your measured data,” says Buell. “It also offers various wind patterns and current models for education. Teams can collect, store and share their data in their own cloud. Plus SailTokyo offers interfaces to all common measurement systems for currents or wind and integrates your existing data.”

Buell Software have a number of products that have proved popular with the keelboat community, such as their Solent tidal analysis tool which integrates the polars of a number of popular racing classes. One sailor who has become a firm convert is Andrew ‘Dog’ Palfrey, the much sought-after coach who has worked with many top-flight teams including Artemis Racing in the America’s Cup.

“I have used Race Area Analyzer in the Solent for a number of years. I have also used it in La Rochelle. During long days on the Solent I will often validate the information by doing physical current checks, particularly during the tide-change periods. I am very impressed with the accuracy of the tidal information.

“I like that Race Area Analyzer helps to keep things simple for racing sailors. The routeing feature gives a gain/loss time delta. This helps in deciding if the current is going to be key on a given leg, or if we can largely discount the current when making strategic decisions.

“Having come to rely somewhat on the accuracy of Buell’s Race Area Analyzer in my adopted home of Cowes, I asked Yvette about a solution for the Etchells Worlds held on San Francisco Bay last year. They did not have a ready-made product, but offered the SailTokyo solution with a chart of SF Bay and all the functionality for me to set up courses and import a third-party GRIB current file (which we easily accessed from TideTech).

“Buell did a great job in preparing and delivering the software with a set of easy-to-follow instructions. SailTokyo proved to be a very important aid during our campaign. Early in our trip, during the pre-worlds and training, we validated the readings. They were very accurate, which gave us confidence that the output of the routings would also be accurate. We were not disappointed.

“A lot of the time the routeing result indicated very little advantage from one side of the course. We would call that ‘open course’, which meant we could focus on making strategic decisions on wind strategy, start-line bias and fleet management.

“But even when there was not a favored side, there was still a lot of flow. In this way the accuracy of the software helped a lot with laylines from long range, as we knew the compass angle the tide was coming from and the angle we’d be sailing on the other tack.

“If the flow was adverse a small deviation either side of our bow would make a big difference. It gave us a lot of confidence, armed with that knowledge. It enabled us to focus on speed and fleet management.”

Source: Seahorse magazine

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