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Eight Bells: Richard S. McCurdy

Published on July 8th, 2019

Dick McCurdy

Dick McCurdy, a marine electronics legend who was the driving force behind OcKam Instruments for almost 40 years, passed away quietly on July 5th at his home in Bethany, CT. He was 78 years old.

After graduating from MIT and working for Kenyon Marine for many years, Dick became one of the first to put a computer to work on America’s Cup 12 meters in the 1970s; it was a bilge-cooled computer suitcase.

Dick developed the first integrated instrument system for variables like wind speed, wind direction, boat speed, angle of heel, course over ground, and others to provide real time performance measures for comparison with design predicted polar curves.

For the first time, boat owners could refine these curves to better understand when their boat’s optimum true wind angle and speed through the water would maximize VMG (velocity made good) upwind and downwind in all conditions. This helped develop many tactical advantages such as the optimum upwind strategy in oscillating winds; i.e., foot the lifts and pinch the headers.

Rich was a significant contributor to Dennis Connor’s team that won back the 1987 America’s Cup in Perth having created the wind shift prediction program nicknamed “Wally”. Dick’s efforts also opened the door to a far better understanding of wind shear on sail trim and tactics.

Ockam Instruments became the vehicle for Dick and Art Ellis to take instrument-assisted sailing a step forward into the future. Ockam Instruments were so named for Occam’s Razor, a principle that says the simplest explanation is usually the right one.

The system was the first to work in what Dick called a ‘daisy chain’ structure. Instead of multiple wires running from each sensor to a dedicated display, all sensor data inputs went through a single box (processor) and were available at any display. This simple solution was Ockam’s strong selling point; wherever you wanted a display, for helmsman, trimmers, navigator, you could view any boat performance variable or calculation at that display.

This eventually led to real time history for wind direction/speed on small strip charts which then became screen compatible. And as computers became small and affordable enough, Ockam software was born. Rich was one of a few in the industry who was on the leading edge…and can rightly be called the inventor of the integrated instrument system.

Rich, we will all miss you and thank you for your significant contributions to performance instrumentation in the sport of sailboat racing. – Peter L. Wilson, brother-in-law

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