The America’s Cup Digital Revolution

Ambassador, Anderson Reggio currently works as the in-house PRO for Sail Newport, managing upwards of 25 regattas a year.  A certified Race Officer and Umpire, Anderson finds that maintaining a high amount of activity as both a competitor and race official has helped to better develop his skills on both sides of the equation.

ACSW Newport- AndersonThe America’s Cup has always been about technological innovation and this year’s event has taken that concept to a whole new level.  With four races now complete, many have been focused on the foiling cats and the revolutionary television broadcasts.  Stan Honey, the brain behind the new “LiveLine” system, has become a household name in a very short time as his genius has made sailing understandable for the average viewer.  While all of the unprecedented technical achievements have made things faster, more exciting, and more comprehensible, it is the benefits to the sport from a Race Management perspective that may really have the best chance of trickling down to the average regatta.

When the Cup World Series was here in Newport last year, I had the luxury of working in the role of one of the primary course managers.  The telemetry data coming off of the competitors was in front of my eyes on a GPS along with the position of all buoys and support boats.  With the click of a button, I could zoom in on the action and see live data coming off each boat including overlaps, true wind speed/direction, apparent data, boat speed, etc.  From the Race Management perspective, this allowed for adjustments to be made on the fly to keep courses square, boundaries fair, and race timings to be hit with unbelievable accuracy.    If John or Harold Bennett wanted a mark in a new location, they simply moved the buoy on their screen to a new location and sent that out to all as a new way point.  The mark boats/buoys then simply drove to that new location and held position dynamically in a similar way to how large tankers and cruise ships hold station without anchoring.  Imagine a world where all buoys held position on their own; no more anchoring big bags of air to the bottom.  As a PRO that would make life a whole lot easier for sure and the technology is now there and being proven live in front of us.

NZL Penalty Race Three An interesting piece of video was put online last night about another key component of the event which has benefited tremendously from Stan’s developments.  Umpires, key to any match race, now have more information in front of them than ever before.  Similar to what we had in front of us on our screens on the water in Newport last summer, the umpires have telemetry data in front of them on shore in a booth.  This has been a similarly fascinating development as the calls are now coming faster and with better accuracy than ever before.  Mike Martin and his team still are on the water in a military style, 1200hp, 13m long racing machine (necessary for sure to keep up with these cats), but the data coming off the boats in real-time and with 3cm accuracy allows the umpires in the booth to see and instantly replay all Y flag requests.  As a fellow umpire, I have found myself glued to the AC Umpire page on the noticeboard daily ( catching up with each call, often watching them over and over again.  For true fun, check out some of the AC World Series calls with eight or nine boats involved in one incident.  You’ll soon be able to appreciate how happy the umpires are in having access to this technology.

I remember being in my room in college during the two cups in New Zealand, trying to encourage all of my Philadelphia friends to watch the finals and appreciate a sport they only knew of through my stories.  Now that we are four races in, I have followed up with them again and their perspective has completely changed.  In their minds, it is no longer boring and too complex to understand.  It is unfortunate that we may never see these foiling cats again compete for the Auld Mug, but, and this is a huge BUT, we may be watching our sport develop into something that finally has potential to draw non-sailors in as fans.  While Stan Honey has done a fantastic job of working to bring his technological developments to fruition from the perspective of television broadcasting, the positive side effects on the Race Management side of the equation may very well lead to a trickle down from which the entirety of our sport may benefit.