“It’s time …” the pilots don their body armour, walk from the hanger and head towards their flying boat under the watchful eye of the dagger board team.  

Interesting intro, but I’m not talking about the dystopian virtual world of Ready Player One. This is the 35th America’s Cup, the biggest sailing competition in the world.

I recently spoke to David Durocher, the engineering manager from Altair, the firm responsible for creating a detailed simulation model of the new dagger board for Artemis Racing. His team’s ambition is to change the sport of sailing forever. Artemis Racing is one of the crews battling for the 35th America’s Cup.

“I saw the America’s Cup as high profile race competition, but it is much more than that, it is a design competition pushing the limits of physics and engineering.”

flying boats americas cup

The keels of boats have undergone substantial development since the notable use of the winged keel by the Australian team in 1983 Americas Cup. This type of keel essentially lifts the boat out of the water in spectacular fashion to gain a significant speed boost.   

Since 1983 keels have evolved somewhat and this year Altair has designed a ‘dagger board’ for Artemis.  

A dagger board is a high-performance keel that allows a boat to ‘fly’ over the water.  It does this by turning side force into driving force which then lifts the boat.  

Since their introduction, to the America’s Cup, dagger boards have helped racing boats double their race speed (not that they were going slow in the first place).

“Show someone a 30% to 40% gain, and they get nervous very quickly.”

boats 2

With high-performance equipment, small differences in design can lead to significant gains (or catastrophic failure). To manage this, the design team uses advanced simulations to test design ideas. Simulation is significantly faster and cheaper for anything more than simple design products.

To perform a simulation, the team builds a structural model of the dagger board and a fluid model of the water using advanced simulation software. They then run hundreds of design ideas and thousands of iterations to test the stresses and forces being placed on the boat. By performing simulations, Altair automates a large part of the design process and allow the physics drive the design.

“This is not traditional sailing; it is flying, they no longer have a sailing crew – they have pilots.”

With the relentless technology explosion, the growth in computing power equates to faster and more complex simulation models.  

flying boats americas cup

All this has led to incredibly innovative designs in a very short timescale.  

The engineering manager, David Durocher, talked about how they need to supplement the traditional ways of design.  

“Innovation requires new design tools,” he said. 

Another interesting comment made by Durocher was how significant gains and innovative designs scare people. “Show someone a 30% to 40% gain, and they get nervous very quickly,” he observed. 

I saw the America’s Cup as high profile race competition, but it is much more than that, it is a design competition pushing the limits of physics and engineering. If you are interested, watch the film below. It’s extraordinary.

Altair is not just developing a new, faster keel for a boat; the firm is re-inventing sailing and what it means to sail. This is not traditional sailing; it is flying, they no longer have a sailing crew they have pilots.

Article by Mike Harlick.

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