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Building a Two Boat Program - Advice from the 52 Super Series

March 15, 2017

In Part 1 of the story, we looked at how two teams put aside their rivalries, at least up to the five-minute gun, and collaborated closely to great effect in the TP52 Super Series of 2016. Quantum Racing won the Series, and Platoon finished fourth. In this follow-up article, team coach and analyst James Lyne delves further into what the data revealed, and team boss Ed Reynolds talks about early gains from the expanded group of Quantum-powered 52s, which now includes Gladiator as well.

Even without a big boat or access to the tools, data and budget of a Grand Prix program, there are ways you can apply these lessons to your racing program—see our pro tips at the end of this article. As discovered by the pros, the gains can be exponential.

GIVE, AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE

With two TP52s coming from two different designers and with very different performance profiles, it was important for the teams to be patient and generous when sailing in their favorite conditions. President of Quantum Sails, Ed Reynolds, comments: “It is really critical that both teams are not only committed to getting better themselves, but are committed to the performance improvement of their partner. So, you may feel at times that, ‘wow, we’re so good in this stuff, we don’t need the help’. But there’s an element of fairness and transparency that you have to maintain if you are going to make the partnership work.”

CREW SWAP

One of the big steps forward at the beginning of the 2017 season has been to swap over some of the key crew during training sessions. “We would always get the trimmers off the TP52s and on to the chase boats to look at the rig and the general set-up from behind the boat. But then during a training session at West Palm Beach we switched the trimmers on to different TP52s and that was a huge eye-opener for each of the teams. 

“It’s really frustrating when you are on a boat that’s not moded to perform in a certain condition because you can lose your confidence. And then you start manipulating your setup and your trim, just trying to come up with an edge. But then when you take someone off Gladiator and put them on to Quantum Racing in say, six knots of breeze, you soon realize that everything you were doing was already really good. A lot of it is about gaining your confidence and staying true to the science, not going on your hunches too much but paying attention to what the hard data is telling you.”

James Lyne says that, while swapping the trimmers sounds like a very obvious and simple exercise, it’s surprisingly rare in the TP52 world where information can be jealously guarded. “It was probably the single most important exercise we did during that training session, because the level of learning and understanding for both teams went up exponentially when we switched over the trimmers.”

Both crews had different outlooks on trim set-up although it wasn’t a case of one being right and one being wrong. Rather, it was a matter of both teams sharing their philosophies and learning from each other, says Lyne. “I think that’s one of the great things about having a proper, cards-on-the-table debrief is that you can get really candid, lively discourses. Having different views is really good in terms of learning faster. If we all sat there and had the same points of view, it would make for pretty mundane meetings, and maybe we wouldn’t learn so much. But when we got different views as to a boat’s performance, how it felt, all of a sudden if you keep your mind open, you may find some little gems worth exploring further.”

THE ‘RELEVANT OPINION’, AND ITS LIMITATIONS

One of the big reasons why Reynolds brought Lyne into the TP52 program was his ability to analyze data in great detail, although that can also bring its own set of problems if not handled carefully. “What has driven the industry and put a lot of professional sailors in very strong positions are their distinguished resumés,” says Reynolds. “And what really has been the driving force in top-level sailing is the ‘relevant opinion’. If you’ve competed in an America’s Cup, all of a sudden you become the relevant opinion. The relevant opinion drives a lot of the decisions about performance and how people do things, and you see that filter all the way down to club-level racing.”

Reynolds wanted to challenge that accepted wisdom by bringing in a more data-driven, analytic approach to improving performance. “If you’ve ever seen the movie Moneyball, it’s all about how professional baseball was run by the ‘relevant opinion’, and then in comes this guy, the Jonah Hill character, who brings an economist’s approach to analyzing the sport, with data points and statistics, and he redefines how baseball is played. That’s kind of what we’ve wanted to do at Quantum, but it can be threatening to professionals who have always done things a certain way and never been challenged by such an analytical approach.”

DIFFERENT STROKES

That said, Lyne points out that often the data backs up the anecdotal feedback of the sailors. More often than not, relevant opinion and statistical analysis point in the same direction. But one of the challenges of the 2016 collaboration between Quantum Racing and Platoon was the distinct differences between the two boats. 
“Obviously the whole process would have been a lot easier if we’d been running a pure two-boat program where we started with two Botin boats,” says Lyne. “But sometimes that’s not real life, and we started off with two very distinct designs. There were significant differences in the mast tubes and the rig geometry, which meant the sail plans were nothing like the same. It wasn’t the same as the Olympic programs I’ve worked on where essentially you’ve got identical boats or with the Samba Pa Ti teams in the Melges 20 where the rigs are within half a percent of each other. We were dealing with big, fundamental differences.”

According to Lyne, the Botin boat was strong upwind in most conditions, and good through a range of heel angles. The Judel/Vrolijk design of Platoon struggled a bit in the low wind ranges upwind, but was really good once the boat was fully powered-up, especially in flat water. And the J/V boat was strong downwind in all conditions. “In terms of their relative strengths and weaknesses, the two boats couldn’t have been much more different,” says Lyne. “That made it very challenging in the early stages, but it gave us a good baseline of performance in helping bringing the weaker boat up to speed. That enabled our sail designers to optimize the sails for each boat and close up those gaps in performance.”

Lyne says that Platoon ended up developing sails that were a little more rounded in the back while Quantum Racing adjusted the geometries of its sails so that the Botin design ended up being much more competitive in flat water upwind. “The great thing for both programs was that they always had insight into what the other boat was doing. They could talk with the other boat, talk about settings, talk about concepts, and with me moving from one boat to the other and seeing the comparisons, over time the trim of both boats came very, very close to each other for any given wind condition or sea state.”

THE VIRTUOUS CIRCLE

Quantum’s iQ technology® is one of the key tools that Lyne uses for his analysis. It’s an intelligent sail-design system used for making membrane sails. “iQ is very useful for a sail’s CFD (computational fluid dynamics), how it works in terms of the actual sail mechanics, lift/drag etc. and what yaw moment and what rudder moment potentially the boat should have. It’s very useful for the sail designers, but my use of iQ is in analyzing the daily data to see if we’re hitting our target numbers. 

“One of the big targets when we started the 2016 season was seeing where Platoon was struggling with a lack of rudder angle in the sub-10 knots conditions. They were running rudder angles of between 1.0 to 1.5 degrees, whereas with the TP52 we are typically looking for a total angle of incidence for the rudder of around 7 to 8 degrees. So we made a concerted effort with the trim to develop more rudder angle. In the light stuff, it’s a win-win because we get more rudder angle, we get more lift, so we have more side-force and we make less leeway. Since we are making less leeway, we see the wind more lifted in relation to the rig plan. So now we can ease the sails, and all of a sudden the boat’s speed has come up. It’s a virtuous circle that started working nicely once we’d sorted out the leeway rudder angle.”

IF YOU WEREN’T YOU, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?

While much of Lyne’s work comes in hard analysis of the data, he is also a fan of encouraging anecdotal feedback from the sailors, as is team tactician Terry Hutchinson. At every end-of-day debrief, Hutchinson likes to ask his team mates: “Which boat would you pick as the winner of the day today?” 

As Lyne explains: “It’s Terry’s reality check as to how Quantum Racing is going, how the other boats are going. It’s a useful question because it’s cuts through the BS. We can talk about the minutiae of data all day along, that you are 0.005% slower VMG for this 10-minute period, but there’s a danger that everybody’s just falling asleep. Sometimes it’s nice that you’ve got someone like Terry who’s just going to cut to the chase and say, ‘hey which boat would you take?’ Like, if you’re going to go racing again in the same conditions today, which boat would you rather be sailing, and why? And then, which boat would you take upwind and which boat would you take downwind? And sometimes that opens up a great discussion amongst the team that can lead to some interesting ideas to take into the racing the following day.”

WHY YOU CAN’T AFFORD NOT TO BE TWO-BOAT TUNING

While Lyne is a big fan of the technology that really helps him dig deep into the detail of what’s working for the TP52s under his watch, there really are some good basic practices that anyone can adopt, no matter how small your budget. “I think the biggest thing is organizing a tuning partner. Team up with one tuning partner, or maybe two, and be regimented about where you are going to meet each day on the race course if you’re doing a regatta.” 

Working outside of a regatta environment can be even more useful when you don’t have time pressures and the distractions of competition. “It’s great if you are all in contact on the same radio channel because it makes coordinating your tuning runs much easier. Whether it’s two or three of you, you can do a tuning run on what each of you believes are your best settings and compare performances. If there is one boat that’s showing up as slower, then give that boat time to make a change to their set-up and make sure everyone knows what’s different. Then go again and see if there’s a difference. 

You’ll be amazed how quickly you learn things. What would take you days, weeks or months to learn on the race course, you can sometimes learn in a couple of hours of well-organized two- or three-boat tuning.”

Pro Tips: Two-boat Lessons for Your Program 

Here’s a rundown on best practices from the pros that you can apply to your own program.

Crew Swap

If you race regionally or even local beer can races, pick a time before a regatta and swap teammates with other boats; either in the same class or from other fleets. Even if you need different approaches to sailing the boats, it’s amazing what you’ll learn that can help make your team better rounded. Don’t forget to debrief afterwards!

Pictures Tell the Story

Grab a GoPro and video your races from different angles. Watch the movement of the team around the boat. Note sail shape and trim. Pay attention to sets and roundings. Much like a coach goes over film after a big game, take an analytical eye to your boat. Share it with the team and note their opinions and observations. 
Make sure the session is constructive and give everyone a chance to share their views. Afterwards, test some of the suggestions or tweaks. Don’t forget to keep recording throughout the season. The more data points collected, the more information you have to build on. If you don’t have a GoPro or a similar recording device, having someone on or off the boat snap photos of sail shape to be analyzed later will still yield valuable information.

Feeling stuck? Don’t shy away from enlisting your local class guru or sailmaker for help. They will bring an objective eye, helping to identify areas where requiring more attention.

Engage & Learn from Other Teams

Even if you’re not doing a formal two-boat program with another team, don’t keep your debriefs to yourself! Chat with other teams on the docks or in the club and find out what did and didn’t work for them that race. Share your tuning numbers and look for new ideas.

Make Your Debriefs Count

Don’t let a race go by without a debrief…and make sure they’re worth attending! Much like Terry, don’t just talk numbers. Talk strategy, talk strengths and how to repeat them, talk about constructive improvements to mitigate weaknesses. Engage your team in recalling the race, even if it’s just for ten minutes before putting the boat away.

Find a Training Partner

Sound like something you’d like to try? Spread the word in your local fleet to find some takers and set up a session for an off evening or weekend. Sure it’s great to have a more regular program, but even a day of playing around on the water will yield a lot of benefit for everyone and set the stage for further teamwork in the future.

The Discussion