Bermuda Race Organizers Demonstrate Sound Judgment

"First Beat" from our June 14, 2006 /SW eNewsletter/

bermuda maximus
Carlo Borlenghi/rolex

Proponents of these rocketships will say technology has outpaced the power output of a normal crew, and this is a natural evolution of the sport. I think this is the first step on a slippery slope.

A few weeks ago I was in Valencia for Acts 10 and 11 of the Louis Vuitton Cup. In casual conversation with one designer, we discussed an America's Cup Class rule interpretation-which is how syndicates query the class rule administrators to avoid potential violations-that had recently come to light. As this designer explained, the proposal was driven by the idea of creating a electronic and hydraulic system that would keep the rig in perfect tune for the wind at all times. A grinder would spin the handles all the way upwind, powering a series of hydraulic pumps, which would be controlled by a microprocessor imbedded with all the team's data on exactly how to tension each aspect of the rig for every wind speed and angle of attack.

If this technology, which I understood to be quite theoretical, were to migrate to IRC racing, where auxiliary power is allowed for things like canting keels or powered winches, what's to stop someone from designing a system that would run off the main engine and keep the rig in perfect tune all the way around the course. And why stop with the rig, what about the sails? Surely at some point, if not already, a computer will be able to more effectively tweak a headsail upwind in gusty conditions than a human.

I don't propose that we abandon canting-keel technology. In fact I hope the current crop of super maxis continues to prosper. They are magnificent boats and deserve their own circuit of buoy and distance races. And I appreciate the fact that even the most advanced canting-keel systems require human management. But race organizers should remember that the bulk of ocean racers are competing on more traditional boats, and the records and primary honors from those races should be reserved for crews that get their boats from Point A to Point B on their own sweat and perseverance, and without the aid of the "iron genny."

Photo credit: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex