More tech, more money, more fun?

Published on December 21st, 2023

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
It was late in 1982 when I was rigging my first Snipe. As there is a mast bend ram aft of the spar, the deck mounted compass was positioned alongside, making it less ideal on one tack than the other. The standard size compass at the time had maybe 3- or 4-inch dial, but Richie had a 6-inch dial that was easier to read. I had to have it.

There was no class rule limit on compass size, and while the larger compass was significantly more money, soon everyone had them as standard equipment. While the Snipe Class was generally conservative in its rules, to protect the innocent from the trophy winning money spenders, it was changes like this that slowly increased the cost to compete.

I think back on this, and so many other advancements in the sport since then, when I learned how Melges Performance Sailboats had partnered with Vakaros to bring RaceSense to the 3-event 2024 Melges 15 Winter Series in Jensen Beach, FL.

I am widely impressed with the Melges 15, and the growth this Class has enjoyed since its launch in 2020. A verifiable home run for yacht designers Reichel/Pugh, with evidence as the 2023 Winter Series attracted upwards of 70 boats.

For the uninitiated, Vakaros provides a smart digital compass for something like $1,000, and when synched with RaceSense, can… according to MPS, “call the start with centimeter accuracy, putting an end to general recalls, black flag starts, and protests. It can enforce boundaries, handle scoring, and even show you a live leaderboard while you race.”

The technology has proven quite helpful for the M32 Class which has their high-speed catamarans starting on a reach – not easy for the Race Committee to detect when a boat is OCS. An easy decision for the M32 owners, who are already spending cash for pro crew, to dig a little deeper for fair starts.

Full disclosure: I’m not fan of a compass that helps people get good starts. That should be an accrued skill, like tacking on wind shifts, calling laylines, and other tactical decisions. The more we defer those skills to a computer, the further we get away from the essence of the sport. And the more we add to the cost and complexity to compete. I’d prefer limits where possible.

For the 2024 Melges 15 Winter Series, teams that don’t already have Vakaros units will be supplied with demo units for the three-event series. I suspect the top competitors will have already bought them, and people that get loaners will get attached to them. And so on…

The Vakaros team will be onsite for the series to run data-driven debriefs leveraging insights from the Atlas’s data logging. Additionally, they will host an educational webinar after the Midwinter Championship in March. It does all sound pretty amazing, and the Melges store is ready to sell them too.

“Fun is a top priority both on and off the water,” said Eddie Cox, Melges Performance Sailboats. “When attending an event, the focus should be on racing rather than dealing with multiple general recalls or excessive downtime between races. By incorporating RaceSense, we’ll optimize our time on the water with competitive races, which will give us more time for a great party and keep things fun for everyone.”

I hope Eddie is right…

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