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How does it work in reality?

Discussion on Victory Challenge IACC yacht "Örn"In yacht racing development project, the team usually starts with a bank of ideas retrieved from the team member's previous projects and experiences. The development process starts with making a plan testing the different ideas, make conclusions and make decisions based on these. The conclusions can be drawn when facts become obvious to the crew members and decisions about how to proceed from there can be made.

The human brain is a wonderful creation and the most important asset in any projects. Its strength is to see and find facts, findings and correlations by using all our senses. The human weaknesses usually lies in the ability to hold big amounts of data, making unbiased conclusions on underlying facts. That's why we have computers and store data in databases. The computer is a lot better in doing computations, have a perfect memory and always interprete and present the right result based on the instructions it was given.

A high-profile yachting project today spend a lot of money, man hours and other resources to achieve the best possible result. Any sane person would rather get the best possible result for a given amount of resources, use less resources for the same result or a combination of these two.

  • Not using a scientific method in the continuous improvement process is actually a waste of time.
  • Not handle the process of performance development and analysis with software tools makes is very hard and time consuming.
  • Not having a platform that helps with the processing and makes the results available for anyone in the team at an instant just calls for extensive communications, leaves people out of the loop and slows down the iterations in the learning cycle.

Usually it ends up with someone grabbing their computer and firing up Microsoft Excel. Extracting the log file from the onboard computer, doing some filtering on the dataset and making some graphs can usually be done with a few hours work. The problem is that if you want to analyse every day, the same manual work has to be done every time. OK, maybe you can automate a bit with some Visual Basic or macros but you will be stucked everytime someone wants to analyse another parameter in another way. After some regattas you will also start having problems just handling the bulk of data. By this time the enthusiast usually gives up and the whole thing goes back to "manual mode" on square one.

Trust me on this, I have seen or gone through these stages myself. From my first version of a Windows-application on an Access database, I have continued iterating and improving my collection of software tools for analysing yacht performance data. I know that even many top teams at the last Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup are using something similar to my first version. Now I am in my 5th or 6th version.

I am not saying that you should put all you have in the hands of an IT system. Sailors or shore crew with a professional attitude and with experience and skills in their area are still the most important factor for success and should be the drivers in any yachting performance development. One should never underestimate the gut feeling of someone that knows what they're doing. Using a good software tools is and should give support and guidance to the people involved.

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