© Vincent Curutchet / Team Sodebo

Looking into data analysis: data at the heart of ocean racing4 min de lecture

 INVESTIGATING available in the last Bretagne Sailing Valley® News – Newsletter #8 – Winter 2021

The installation of instruments aboard ocean racing boats is not new, but over the past few years, there has been a giant leap forward. Everything that can be measured is today providing us with tons of data. Analysing all this information means we have to adopt new work methods, but it offers us enhanced performance and greater reliability. At the forefront of this progress, Breton firms have developed their know-how with increased demand coming from the teams. We look here at what has been going on.


Technological progress and the new requirements from the boats that fly means that today we have to measure an ever increasing amount of data. That concerns navigation of course, but also the strains on the rig, the appendages and key structural areas, as well as the 3-dimensional positioning of the boat, the angle of incidence of the appendages and so on.


If we look at the example of a rudder on an Ultime, today among the measures we take, there is the height, because it slides up and down, the rake (tilt), the angle and strains it undergoes at a precise moment. Multiply that by six – the number of appendages on a giant trimaran – and there we have the information that the skipper sheltered under his cockpit cover can only view by looking at the data on his screens.


Fifteen years ago, a sophisticated boat was fitted with around thirty sensors. Today, there are more than 300 on an Imoca and up to 500 on an Ultime or an America’s Cup boat,” explained Jean-François Cuzon. Founded in 2008, his company, Pixel sur Mer, which employs 20 people in Lorient, is one of the leaders in the area of data recovery with an all-round service: the installation of sensors and fibre optics, data recording using the Exocet Blue box, the display for the skipper on themed dashboards, alarm management and finally the transmission of data back to dry land.


The analysis of this data primarily interests the teams, designers and research units. It is useful in case of accident of course, as the Excocet is like a black box, which meant it was possible to recover the data from Banque Populaire IX after she capsized off Morocco in the spring of 2018 and analyse the dismasting of Bureau Vallée 3 in the last Transat Jacques Vabre. Associate Director of GSea Design, Sébastien Guého explains: “As a structural engineering design team, we work on digital models which are based on a lot of hypotheses. With the data that is recorded, we are able to adjust our load factors. We are clearly in a new age now.”


Useful in order to enhance reliability, this data is also vital in terms of performance. But before being able to use it, it has to be sifted. This work takes a lot of time, which is something that few designers or teams have at their disposal. To deal with this problem, Renaud Bañuls, one of the designers of Sodebo Ultim 3, signed an agreement with three laboratories (Inria, Ecole Polytechnique and the CNRS) to develop his own data processing tools. “This matter has in my opinion not been fully thought through by some of the teams, as they are faced with millions of pieces of data. They need to establish mathematical models in order to process this data and sort out where and when the data can best help them understand the behaviour of the boat in action.”


Olivier Douillard, sailor and an expert in performance analysis, is in a similar position. A year ago, he launched AIM45, a platform, which can be used as a filter when you get back from a trip. “This is part of the process that didn’t really exist before. Our aim is to provide teams with data that has been sorted, enabling them to get to grips with the figures, because we have a global vision of the conditions at a precise moment in time.


Taking place when training, but also when racing – “the best context, as that is when they are going for it,” added Renaud Bañuls – the recordings make it possible to share data directly with those ashore providing them with all the different parameters concerning the boat. Forbidden by some class rules, the technique is allowed by others, such as the Imoca class, providing that the teams do not send information back to the boat. As is the case with routing, this provision relies on a sworn statement and may well be looked at as changes are made to the rules in the coming years.

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