Our visit to the BMW Oracle Racing base gave a very illuminating insight into how all this money, science and technology is blended to produce an Americaís Cup contender.

That said, the fact is that, no matter how much the BMW super computers provide in the way of input, on the day, winning or losing is largely in the hands of one man, on each challenging boat. In the case of BMW Oracle Racing, that man is Chris Dickson; skipper, CEO and long time sailing companion of Oracleís Larry Ellison.

This is what Dickson had to say, in answer to questions about the team, the training, the yachts and the Americaís Cup.

Top photo. USA 76 mast being lifted - Marian Martin/BYM News. Right photo. Chris Dickson - Guillaume Grenier.

A first visit to the Americaís Cup Village, in Valencia, is a revelation into just how much goes into this yacht race. The description ďVillageĒ is really a misnomer, for ďHigh Tech Industrial ParkĒ would better describe the constant physical and financial activity, as sailors train, shore teams prepare boats, accountants deal with expenditures of tens of millions and teams of engineers probe the extreme limits of the latest technology, relating to lightweight structures, hydrodynamics and aerodynamics.


How much do you rely on what the computer says?

An Americaís Cup programme is a balance of subjective technology and objective of technology, or seat of the pants as we some times call it and we have worked hard in our program to get a very nice bland of the two. The world fastest computer is still this one (taps head) Itís a fact that the best analytical tool in the world is still the human brain and I guess it will be for a little longer. We worked very hard to have the technology to reeducate the brain, so we learned from the technology a science to recalibrate our brains. We also worked the other way, so we use our feelings, how the boat felt on a given day, our impressions from a day to reeducate the computer, or re educate the software, or smarten the software. So we worked hard on blending the two and we have had very good results doing that, not just in this program, but in the Oracle BMW Racing program of four years.

Both are important, at the end of a day of racing; if we go out and race the Spanish team, as we did a couple of weeks ago, we donít have their data, we donít have their performance information, we donít have their telemetry, we donít sit in on their debriefing, we donít know what sails, we donít know anything about what they are doing. At the and of the day we have a pretty good feeling here, on here (taps head and pants) about how our boat was going relative to theirs. In-house when we go out and do a days sailing with our own two boats and our new boat 87 at the end of the day we have got a good feeling in here and here and here (heart, head and pants) about the relativity between the boats and then with the advantage of have the performance date, the telemetry, the real numbers, the science to go with that feeling we learn a lot more. So thereís the answer.


Photo. USA 76 racing United Internet Team Germany, in training - Giles Martin-Raget

How much racing do you actually do?

Depends on the time of the campaign if you like. Three years ago we spent 90% of our time testing on science projects and the other 10% of our time we went and raced in San Francisco, against Alinghi.

Most of 2003 - 2004 was pushed towards science projects and testing. 2005 was more of a blend of the two, of course 2007 is 199% racing. So a four campaign starts with science project testing and finishes with 100% racing. USA 87 was christened yesterday and now the boat is finished the opportunity to redesign that boat is very small. So the emphasis for USA 87 is a little bit of testing, to confirm that what we have got is what we ordered. OK, you put in a request for a Christmas present or you order a new car, new watch and it might take six months until itís delivered. We are at the stage now, where we have the new toy

and we have to do a reasonable amount of testing and tick of all the things we requested. Has it got leather upholstery does the auto drive work, does the proximity locator work in the way it should and all those great new things we asked for we have to confirm we have got them. We call sea trials, sea trials to confirm that what we have got is what we thought we were getting. Once we are through that process and that will take some weeks we will swing very quickly to racing USA 87 to get the best out of what we have got. To discover what weíve got and get the best out of it. Then the circle will continue and we have got one year to refine that boat and have the opportunity to make modification to that boat as we find out about it.

When do you start the construction of the next generation boat?

This is the next generation boat!

Everybody has the opportunity to have two new boats and we have used one of our cards and we have one card still to use, but the strategy as to when to bring in that second new boat is an interesting one for every team. Every team has a different circumstance that will lead to that decision. For our team, from the early commitments of BMW and Larry Ellison, weíve had a team thatís has been able to operate at a steady level and run for the last three years. The level that we are operating at today is actually the level that we want.

We have got a wonderful new base and the work is a lot easier now that we are in our new base. The level of activity in our team is not so different today than what it was two years ago. So for our team we are quite level on the use of time, use of budget. Some teams that did not get something in place early have to try and cram the same amount of work into a shorter period time. Some teams might need to bring a second boat online quite late, while a team thatís done the work evenly over the years, like ourselves, might be in a position to bring a second boat online a little earlier. Thatís the great thing about Americaís Cup Racing rules, you get to turn up next year and go racing to see if your strategy really was right. If we knew what the right answer was today we would all be doing it the same way. Clearly we are not!

Are sailing conditions in Valencia very different from Auckland?

New Zealand is a small island in a big ocean and is directly affected by many weather systems, so the racing in New Zealand was changeable day to day. Valencia is in the Mediterranean, in a big European land mass where the systems are steadier, they move slower. Having said that we experience a very wide range of weather systems in Valencia; last week we sailed in 25 Ė 30 knots of breeze, yesterday, I think they were 5 or 8 knots of breeze, three days ago we sailed and had 10 to 15 knots and to think that in one year and ten days from now we start racing. The conditions we are getting now are similar to what will be when we start racing next year.

The myth is that the weather here is the same every day, but the reality is quite different. As for these Americaís Cup boats, sailing the boats underpowered when we donít have enough wind to get them up to full speed, versus over powered when we have too much wind is a very big transition and that transition happens at about the average wind speed, off Valencia. So, the impact of weather on the boats here is as significant as in any Americaís Cup venue.


How often do you change your measurement configuration?

Under the new Americaís Cup Class rule the measurement tolerances are much finer than they used to be so previously the boats could have different weights, different sail areas different lengths. Today, the boats are actually all the same. The boats are all the same weights, within a few hundred kilos, the same lengths, within a few centimetres, and the same sail area, within a few square metres. The boats are the boats and they donít really change very much, under the new rules.

Photo. USA 87 - Marian Martin/BYM News

Do you think that the two boat rule helps to control the budget?

he two boat limit does help limit the budget, as do a lot of other measures. The cost of a new boat is very roughly $ 5 million and two is enough for the budget thank you. We donít need the extra cost of more than two boats, we worked hard and with Larry Ellisonís commitment and BMW we are in a position that, if anyone could stretch the budget for a third boat, we could. From our position, we do not need to do that as we do not need to stretch the budget. I am not sure there are other teams here that would be even stronger that way.

4 or 5 years development has gone into these boats, how much is your budget?

We have never said what our total budget is, but my understanding is that our budget is very similar to the other top teams that you might compare us to. The difference with our team, again because of that early commitment of Larry and BMW, is that weíve cash flowed, or spent, quite evenly over the four years. We decided very early on, because we had the ability, the backing early on, that we still needed to generate and bring in the sponsors, the partners early on. If we had a €100 to spend, we could spend the €100 better if we did it over four years, rather than giving the designers a €100 and saying do the best with it in six months.

Are you worried about showing too much of your new boatís potential, this year?

I am worried that we have the potential to show. Thatís my first worry and my second worry will be a small worry about how much we should or shouldnít show.

How important is crew work in the final result?

100 % important is the answer. If you have the best technology in the world and the crew does not do a very good job you donít win. If you have the best crew in the world and you donít have the boat, the hardware, capable you donít win either. So, the answer is you need both you are only as strong as the weakest link. So you have to aim to have the best research, the design and aim to have the best of everything and hope not to be weak in anything. In reality you donít have to be the best in every field, but you are only as good as the weakest part.

The reason our team is a top team is that we have made advances. If another team makes the advances they will be a top team as well. So, a year after racing we can look around and look at the teams that have done a good job and managed their time and generated the resources well. The time and opportunity is exactly the same for every team, so the differences as to what


Photo. Bernard Pacť helming - Giles Martin-Raget

makes a top team is perhaps that they did a good job in technology, or in another area. Thatís what makes a top team, itís no different to any other sport. Take motor racing, which many of you are very familiar with, you have the best car and the best driver and itís tough to beat. You have the best driver and you have an average car itís not going to win. You have the best car and an average driver and thatís not going to win either, you have got to have the whole package.

One of the great things about this era is that we live in this age of technology. An Americaís Cup boat of twenty years ago is so obsolete that it is horrible to think we did such a bad job, but it is the same with everything. Look at modern commuter aeroplanes, which are now built in carbon fibre, and think of what we did twenty years, or even five years ago. Go and pull out a laptop of five years ago and try to run the software you run on your new one and it just does not work. Go and look at the 2001 5 series BMW; nice car, but compared to the 2006 model - shouldnít say this - itís probably obsolete. It has to be obsolete, otherwise you wouldnít need the new one. Our Americaís Cup boats are the same, .itís a product of the age we live in. I am sure there is someone in here who knows, better than I do, how much computer power goes up each year, how much faster the chips get every year. Whatever the number is it is a big number.

I know about carbon fibre; we had carbon fibre masts twenty years ago, but todayís raw carbon is something like 30% stronger. The technology that exists in the world exists in these boats. they are the leading edge of technology. So, will there be a time to change the new class at some point in the future? I am sure there will be. It used to be J boats, in the good old days of a hundred years ago when the twelve metres had a fantastic era. The fact that our new boat is 87 means that there are 87 of this Americaís Cup Class boat.

What excites you most; the prospect of a blank sheet of paper or a cycle whereby you are trying to get a tiny advantage over very tight rules?

My thinking is actually a little wider than that. We have worked hard as Challenger of Record and one of Larry Ellisonís goals, as well as BMWís, is to have more racing, a regular circuit of racing and to be out there, doing all five events every single year, is what is important to us. The technology, the development goes on, on an annual basis regardless. We could say the next important race is ten years from now but the amount of work we do in ten years will be ten years worth of research work. If the next important race was next week well we just go out and race with whatever we have ready next week. So I guess we do have quite an open sheet of paper. There is a huge amount of work we can do improve every part of our boats, our team, our crew work, our tactics, our helming every part, but we are achieving and we are in quite a happy place as a sport.

Does having helmsmen of different nationalities on a team help?

Only one steering wheel is used on each boat, so there is a limit on the benefit of too many helmsmen. We, certainly, know there is a difference between the styles of different helmsmen, different trimmers, different people We have had very, very good experience of repeatability of standards and that goes for helmsmen as well. We are, certainly, happy with the people we have and how we are getting the job done and the job done very effectively.

Aldous Grenville-Crowther

The BYM Gallery has over 1100 Americaís Cup photos, in the Yacht Racing Album. Click HERE to view.