August 21, 2012, 4:03 AM —
Image credit: Oracle Team USA
Forget the fastest sail boat; next year's America's Cup could come down to who has the fastest computer.
The boats competing on the San Francisco Bay next year will be kitted out from bow to stern with high-tech gear, including sensors that measure variables like wind speed and the amount of stress on their hulls, and a server that analyzes the data and sends instructions to the crew.
High tech has long played a role in the America's Cup, but this year its impact could be more decisive than ever. That's because of the high-performance catamarans selected for use in the race, which are designed for speed rather than stability, and because the course covers only a small area of the bay.
"It's a monumental shift in terms of how we do things. Not only are the boats faster, but the course is more restricted so you're maneuvering almost every minute," said Asim Khan, the New Zealander in charge of IT for Oracle Team USA.
Preliminary events in the cup are already underway. Teams have been racing smaller, 45-foot catamarans to help them get a feel for the boats. The contest starts properly next summer, when they race the giant 72-foot craft known as AC72s.
It's hard to appreciate the scale of the AC72s without standing next to one. The main sail, known as the wing sail, is a towering 131 feet (40 meters) tall, or roughly 10 storeys high, and each hull is as long as two city buses parked end to end.