Load sensors and data gathering have been a familiar part of the sport going back to the late era of IOR – in particular the final generation of IOR supermaxis like Bill Koch’s data-muncher Matador3. Today the technology is prevalent from the America’s Cup to big offshore trimarans to IMOCA, VO65s and including most of the modern superyacht fleet. The demand for data from raceboats is continually increasing – but it’s a form of technology that to date has been relatively inaccessible to the mainstream sailor, not to mention many designers and builders.
However, for some time Spinlock has been working on developing load-sensing technology that is accessible to the wider world of sailing, as the company’s marketing manager James Hall explains: ‘Spinlock has been measuring load on ropes and rigging for 20 years, but recently more and more people in the sport have acquired an appetite for data and the performance benefits data can bring to a team if used correctly.’
The benefits are many and varied, including:
• validating design loads, static and dynamic
• validating line choices
• validating winch and block sizes
• adding in or taking out purchase
• as an accurate and repeatable trimming aid
‘We’re finding it’s not just sailors who are interested in the data,’ says Hall, ‘it’s also boatbuilders and designers looking to validate actual loads against design predictions. The same is true for spar-builders while sail designers want to understand more about the loadings on their sails and modify their designs accordingly.’
Spinlock offers two ranges of Sense products – Digital and Wireless – with several models working through the tonnage spectrum: 5, 10, 20, and 50T. The units are simple to attach into a system using soft loops, so can be moved around the boat and installed or removed in seconds.
A feature of Sense load cells is Bluetooth connectivity, allowing data capture to phones and tablets via the Spinlock app.
According to Rán project manager Jan Klingmüller, this opened up their data to the whole sailing team. ‘With your iPhone in your pocket it’s picking up data all the time, giving you backstay tension and mainsheet loads etc.’ Klingmüller admits he finds it all a bit addictive. ‘The more you use it the more ways you find of using it. We now use it to weigh our motorbikes…’
‘America’s Cup world has always been good at data capture,’ continues Hall, ‘and also the Mini Maxi fleet and the TP52s. Teams realise this kind of data capture offers the incremental gains that can make a massive difference in a tightly contested fleet.’
The Sense tools have also proved important to the rapid development of the M32 catamaran on the World Match Racing Tour. ‘The builders of the M32 used Sense load cells to validate loads during development and then better tailor their deck equipment to the live loads encountered.’
If there’s one part of the sailing world that needs no persuading of the importance of measuring and limiting load, it’s the superyacht race circuit. With owners commissioning yachts for cruising but then catching the racing bug, it’s easy for design loads to be exceeded. This makes it vital to know how highly you can load up sheets and running backstays, for example, before fittings start to rip out of the deck with potentially catastrophic consequences.
‘With larger yachts and superyachts in particular,’ says Hall, ‘insurance liability is becoming ever more onerous. If a rigger has made a soft loop for attaching a block, they need to prove it is properly tested and that the recognised certificate has been issued. More and more we are seeing riggers turn to load sensors to validate their work.’
According to Andrew Martin, product development manager at Oyster Yachts, Spinlock’s Sense products have become integral to the testing process at Oyster. ‘We use Spinlock products for weighing spars, for running winch load tests and for halyard and sheet load tests to build up empirical data.’
Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss team have been using Spinlock equipment for load testing their Imoca 60 leading up to the Vendée Globe. ‘In a development class like the Imoca 60, everything needs to be as light as possible while being strong enough to do the job all the way around the world – so using the Sense load cells has been a vital part of the testing process for Hugo Boss,’ says Hall.
Comanche is another state-of-the-art campaign that tests the edges. Every element of this super powerful 100-footer has been designed around achieving the perfect compromise between weight and strength. Project manager Tim Hackett says: ‘We used a 5T Spinlock load cell for Puma in the Volvo, which we used for checking sheet loading, load testing at the dock and so forth. On Comanche our maximum sheet load is around 9 tons – we’ve used the Spinlock gear for testing winch pods, leads to the primary winch pods and setting up configurations.
‘It’s an easy tool to set up, so sometimes we’ll have the load pins in the winches and runners during a big manoeuvre, using it as a check-in to make sure the boat’s permanent gauges are giving us the correct information…’
The thirst for data in the wider market has led Spinlock towards investing further in the technology sector, in particular in the data acquisition field, to the point where they have positioned their growing ‘Sense’ range of products alongside the established ranges of personal protective equipment and deck hardware, now respectively labelled as the ‘Protect’ and ‘Control’ sectors of the business in a recent re-branding exercise.
Charlie Carter, Product Manager at Spinlock explains the new direction for the company “In the technology era, information and numerical data on just about anything is available instantly in the palm of your hand. Driving this is the public need for instant access to previously hard-to-find facts and figures, and also the appetite in society for metrics to quantify performance on a huge range of everyday activities, from knowing your ETA on a car journey, to predicting the value of your house. The marine industry can adopt available technologies and Spinlock recognise the opportunity in developing products tailored to meet the wider sailing markets appetite for measuring, analysing and responding to new information streams.”
A new product launched at METS in 2018 is the Spinlock Sail-Sense. This revolutionary new electronic device will record and share the sails flogging and UV exposure levels experienced by the sail, to be stored in the cloud via an app on iOS or Android mobiles or tablets. The virtually invisible electronic device simply sewn onto a sail above the clew patch. It is completely sealed, the sensors, battery and all electronic components potted in resin to ensure the harsh marine environment cannot affect its function.
The device shares data via Bluetooth, to an app on a iOS or Android device, which uses a data connection to store the accumulating data in the cloud. At its most basic functional level, the device is a tool for managing a sail inventory, storing the vital statistics of sails, with NFC chip to quickly identify a sail and view this information, then augmenting this info with GPS position of the mobile device to log the sails geographical location. An annual subscription service will make the sail usage data available to the owner, and this can be shared to other specified parties, which could be the sailmaker, the boat captain or the crewmember responsible for the sails, for example.
Spinlock hopes that the product will eventually be commonplace on sails of all types, becoming a ‘passport’ for the sail, recording all the manufacturing information and the sails usage over its lifetime. Providing a usage profile of a sail will provide a clear picture and some valuable data to a spectrum of interested parties.
First and foremost, the information will be used by the owner or manager of a boat to manage and monitor the use of sails, in particular to create an accurate record of use which may potentially extend the life of some sails, by providing a better view on the sails actual use, in comparison to its age. At the performance end of the market, analysis of exported data will provide insight into the efficiency of tacks and also, when integrated with high end performance analysis software, will greatly increase the validity of the multitude of data streams that are being analysed, because it will pinpoint the precise moment a sail was ‘in-use’ eradicating the need to piece together and fill in the gaps from systems which currently rely on user input (usually buy the navigator) to specify what sails are being used and when, which in a race situation can be delayed.
But the manufacturers, Spinlock, are aiming firmly at the wider market, and not just the high-end superyacht or bg budget race campaigns. This is reflected in the development brief of the inventors, a tech company called SmartSail, which specifies that the device to be affordable for a much wider chunk of the market, and with a retail price of £150, which is a magnitude of 10 cheaper than the expectation of some prospective customers asked what they thought the cost might be.
Accumulated data could eventually provide valuable information to the designers and builders of the sails themselves, who have welcomed this technology. Deeper learning about the effects of use on the shape and condition of sails, across the range of fabric technologies used in sail making, will allow sailmakers to refine their products and offer a more accurate prediction of the lifecycle of a sail. Actual flogging and UV exposure data, and accurately recorded time that a sail has been flown, acquired from a Sail-Sense device, can be analysed alongside draft stripe analysis and hi-tech photographic sail-shape analysis methods, to provide detail on the relationship between these factors – both known to degrade considerably integrity of sail fabrics – and hence the lifetime of a sail – but which up to this point have not been able to measured effectively in the marine environment. Furthermore, the data will provide insight to sailmakers to profile of the types of customer they are selling to and their typical sailing behaviours, to help build the right product for each user’s specific needs.
The real benefits to the marine industry will take time to crystallise, as any new technology comes with the challenge of educating the industry and consumers in its potential. If it becomes widely adopted, a reasonable period of use to accumulate periodic data to account for seasonal trends will be required to make a big impact to the industry. But some might argue that some data is always better than no data, if the context is appreciated, and appropriate caveats applied. Even before use of the device has grown to the scale where reasonable conclusions can be drawn from the data sampled, sailmakers could immediately use the data source to verify warranty claims.
Insurers are another group who are enthused by the prospect of a completely new source of data. Alongside other information feeds, it could be conceivable that data collected in a ‘black-box’ style recorder, recording a range of feeds from GPS location to wind conditions and including the sails being used at any one time, from the Sail-Sense (though perhaps stopping short of aviation style cockpit recorders!). The fact that data being recorded could be used by insurers to build safe parameters of operation would certainly by some leisure marine users as a compromise of their freedom, but if such a system could help to improve overall marine safety (and with it insurance payouts), and reduce premiums for those who choose to adopt it, it could gain traction.
In time, the device could be adopted widely enough in the sailing fraternity to be an able to offer a surveyor or prospective buyer of a second-hand yacht a clear picture of its sails condition, and if Spinlock can turn this huge slice of the market on to the concept, it will really be able to live up to the ‘passport for sails’ moniker.
Charlie Carter continues “Part of the challenge to reach the wider market is making the information palatable for those regular sailors who are interested and see the value in data acquisition and data analysis tools for performance reasons, or otherwise, but who aren’t professionals running performance programmes for the top race teams. Automating the processing of data to present results in a clear and useful, often graphical way, requires bridging the gap between having highly technical capability to record and manage big data, and distilling exactly the benefits or outcomes the mainstream customer wants to quickly draw from that information, while dealing with a range of technical ability in the end-user. At Spinlock we often refer to what we call ‘the Strava effect’ – where the sports market is fascinated with the report on their running or cycling activities, regardless of whether they are seeking performance gain or just through intrigue. What Strava and many other apps do brilliantly is pitch the complexity of use perfectly at the mass market – simple enough for an average person learning the ropes to manage and enjoy, but with enough depth of complexity to engage the professional sportsman.”
The sailing world is ready for the technology revolution, and with high tech data acquisition systems becoming more affordable, more compatible with existing systems and more user friendly in their implementation and use, expect to see some exiting new products reaching the market in the coming years as start-ups and established names recognise the potential for transferring technology into the leisure marine world.