Data-Driven Sailing

For a long time, data analysis was relegated to the highest levels of our sport. Given how much time and money, the top pro teams put into data collection, hiring professional analysts and hanging out in wind tunnels, it’s no secret that data analysis is the secret to performance improvement. But how can we, the regular folks, incorporate data analysis into our own sailing? 

Sailors looking to improve their performance face a lot of challenges. For one, it’s very hard to get accurate, moment-to-moment wind data and that makes it difficult for us to identify causality. Was that acceleration because of your sail trim or did you just hit a puff no one called? 

Two, every boat sails a little differently. What are the “shoulds” for your boat in particular? How much twist should your sail have? How deep should you sail downwind? What’s the lowest speed you should tolerate as you soak down before you head back up? 

We recently sat down with Cyrille Douillet, one of the top sailing analysts in our sport, to answer this question. He’s worked on 3 America’s Cup campaigns and 4 Volvo Ocean Races, winning 3 of them. When it comes to sailing performance improvement, this man is among the best.

In this interview, Cyrille lays out his process for analyzing and improving sailing performance. As he points out, sailing analysis is part science, part art. You have to marry what the numbers say with what the sailors experience on the water. 

What’s his best solution for connecting feel with the data? Video. 

Video Keeps It Real

Video gives you objective feedback. It lets you see clearly the parts of your performance that are within your control, i.e. the way you drive, the weight placement, the sail trim. 

We were recently analyzing a race with a group of sailors–on the GPS track, you could see clearly that the boat had come out of the tack way too low. The question was why. Did the driver just oversteer? 

It turned out no. In looking at the video, it was plain as day – the jib trimmer was a couple seconds too late on the release, which caused the jib to backwind. As soon as it did the boat kicked hard downwind and accelerated. The delayed release wasn’t long, but it was enough to cost the team valuable seconds. 

Without the video, relying just on the GPS, the team first assumed that the driver was at fault. But the GPS track merely alerted them to a moment that needed deeper analysis.  With the objective feedback of video, the team could see clearly where the issue lay, and now the trimmer has a better understanding of what their timing needs to be in the maneuver. 

The added bonus of this: when a sailor understands why they’re doing something a certain way, they will be able to continue to improve their performance on their own. 

Learn from the Pros

Watch the full interview with Cyrille to learn how he approaches data analysis with his teams and how you can apply his methods to your own sailing. 

Want to step start using video and data to step up your sailing game? Schedule an appointment to learn more about Kinetix AI.