Driven by data

Visit Orient Express Racing Team

Bruno Dubois

One of the most interesting aspects of yacht racing over the past 15 years or so has been the way in which performance has evolved so dramatically so quickly. It is a common picture both offshore and all the way to the close inshore racing in the America’s Cup.

If you look back at the French K-Challenge in 2005, for example, the ACC V5 yachts were rarely exceeding 12kt; today an America’s Cup AC75 will hit 50kt on a daily basis. And it’s the same to cross the Atlantic where the west-east record is now below four days. Both represent huge improvements within a couple of decades. And the point here is that it’s not the materials, the carbon or the alloys that have changed so much. What has changed is the data, what we are able to capture with sensors and how that informs our understanding across all sailing conditions, analysing rig and hull loads, allowing us to assess, for example, where additional stiffness and strength are most needed, and where not, continually saving weight while often increasing strength at the same time.

That data and its interpretation and application are what is driving the progress we have made at Orient Express Racing Team, in large part led by the remarkable team working with our head of design Benjamin Muyl.

When we go out sailing now we are collecting around four gigabytes of data every day, accounting for about 3,000 variables… Some of the data is harvested at a rate of 10Hz, so that is 10 times a second, and some at 100Hz, so 100 times a second. We also collect about 20 gigabytes of video every day which is used in later analysis pursuing constant incremental improvements.

All of this has, of course, gone hand in hand with the critical work done in developing the AC75 simulator which is playing such a vital role in our progress towards the America’s Cup. Benjamin’s company has been working on the simulator for almost a decade, creating and developing the software driving the simulations and refining the Human Machine Interface through which our sailors interact.

Main picture: A watchful eye over the eyes. Members of the French Women’s America’s Cup squad get more time in on the AC40 simulator while they wait to get hold of the real thing in a few months’ time

Using virtual reality goggles and cockpit mock-ups, the simulator allows us to create dynamic situations which can be continuously developed as it is all interwoven with the array of data we are collecting. We then use the data to validate the models we have and improve them, so it is all part of an endless ever-evolving cycle. It is also useful for the whole team as we prepare the same way, with a briefing and all the other preparatory work before a sailing session – whether it is in the simulator or actually out on the water.

Looking ahead we will be able to use the same system and process for our Youth and Women’s America’s Cup squads when they focus on the AC40 after the challenger squad graduates to the AC75 next year.

So Orient Express Racing Team’s performance in Vilanova i la Geltrú at the first America’s Cup pre-regatta was in large part down to the success of our simulator. We only had the AC40 for a few days before the event, a very short time compared with other teams, yet from our first time out on the water the crew was able to interact with the boat very naturally, just like on the simulator. They were able to complete a foiling tack successfully at the first attempt…

The sailors were also able to communicate effectively, again helped by their time in the simulator, and all this combined to help us take a podium place in Vilanova. It is not the only story of course, but it shows the importance of having good data systems in place.

Benjamin compares these boats with spaceships because of their speed and complexity, and, as he rightly says, to bring all the elements together requires all the skills of all the people taking part to come together as one team — it is not a one-man job.

While Orient Express Racing Team’s main focus is of course the 37th America’s Cup, it is also a key element of the project to highlight French excellence in technology, manufacture, design and associated specialist hi-tech areas.

Above: You’d be smiling too. The Orient Express sailing team only got hold of their AC40 a few days before the Vilanova pre-regatta, but because of the quality of the simulation work undertaken in partnership with the design and data teams they slipped seamlessly aboard the real thing… then won their first ever race

The K-Challenge Lab, started by Stephan Kandler in 2001, is now a world-leading sport-tech company which is at the core of this project, offering a technological crossover between America’s Cup level sophistication and commercial possibilities with the added benefit of maintaining momentum between Cup cycles.

Next year’s America’s Cup protocol also requires each team to have one 10m hydrogen-powered foiling chase boat on the water, so that also offers an opportunity for French expertise to highlight its quality, again with ongoing commercial potential. And, on a different scale, our title partner Orient Express has also embarked on a new venture with the world’s largest sailing ship, the 220m Orient Express Silenseas set for launch in 2026, marking a unique French partnership between the hospitality brand Accor and leading shipbuilder Chantiers de l’Atlantique. Similar connections now exist between Orient Express Racing Team and numerous other specialist local companies in nearby southern Brittany.

This techno-ecosystem includes Morbihan-based SMMTechnologies who will create the precise AC75 hull mould, and hull, deck and structures experts Multiplast in Vannes.

We are also depending on the experience, know-how and responsiveness of other sub-contractors who include North Sails in Vannes, Mécanique JLB in Theix for the deck fittings, Usibreizh 3D in Muzillac for machining carbon, small moulds and small parts, and Modul-Tech in Vannes for other tooling.

Then there is Heol Composites in Treffléan, who we rely upon for their almost invisible work on composite materials, to transform appendages and rudders into high-performance parts, and L’Atelier sur Mer in La Trinité who showcase the team and our partners on sails and hulls with minimum weight and no aerodynamic impact.

Finally, though we have a skilled team of in-house electronics engineers and developers, we can call on local specialists on an adhoc basis for very specific issues around the onboard electronics.

From the data to the simulator, from design to reality, the Orient Express Racing Team knows how to work together in-house and in the wider marine community.

Click here for more information on the Orient Express Racing Team »

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