Unlike you, they handed their homework in on time. Unlike you, they concentrated in class. Unlike you, they didn’t hang around the dinghy park wearing flip-flops with blonde flowing locks and a suntan all year round. Rather than taking the easy route in life, like you, they studied. They worked hard. They passed exams. They didn’t chase girls or money and they didn’t find much fun in Foster’s lager or Marlboro cigarettes. But now they are about to win the America’s Cup. Unlike you.
Read the team websites and you will find curious new job titles have crept onto the rosters. They are the beating hearts of every team. They are the go-to people of this cycle for the designers and sailors. And without them, plain and simple, you will not win the America’s Cup. For they are the ‘mechatronics’ teams and are the unsung heroes or absolute villains, responsible or liable for the on-the-water success or failure of every team. Millions of dollars rests squarely on their shoulders despite what the sailors would have you think. They are ‘the’ story of this Cup and the future of grand prix yachting.
The pages of Seahorse, RORC’s monthly sailing bible, will be loaded with mechatronics articles for eternity now. You know, the pages towards the back, just before the classified adverts where some Professor or Doctorate of Engineering bangs on. Those pages that you just skip past promising yourself that you’ll read on the loo but never do as you search for that boat you’d buy with that lottery win. “That’s cheap at $450,000” – you kid yourself. “Race ready too and it’s got its own container.” I know you.
And let’s be fair, Seahorse will do a far better job than me at explaining the intricacies of AC70 technology but for the time pressed, concentration-poor, I will try. Basically the mechatronic teams are responsible for the magic that happens when Paul Goodison or Blair Tuke push buttons on panels that change sail shape or foil angles. When Dean Barker shouts: “we’ve gotta sort that out” in frustration as a foil drags in the water after ‘that’ tack whilst leading Team New Zealand, he’s not shouting at the crew. It’s a coded message to the mechatronic team that the system isn’t fast enough.
Mechatronics is about getting stuff done. Systems stuff hidden way down below where no-one dares go. Below decks on these things is more complex than a jet fighter. Mechatronics basically in layman’s terms is: this computer talks to that pipe and if there’s enough hydraulic pressure, it lifts, lowers, tweaks, stretches, pulls, pushes. You get the score. Right?
Still baffled? I looked up ‘mechatronics’ for you in the dictionary. And now, as they say, for the science part: “Mechatronics is an interdisciplinary branch of engineering that focus on engineering, electrical and mechanical engineering systems, and also includes a combination of robotics, electronics, computer, telecommunications, systems, control, and product engineering.”
Like you, I was lost at “interdisciplinary”…
But, as foretold, the geeks have inherited the earth. A Formula 1 car needs a team of 30 just to start the thing. Old Volvo Ocean Race Boats are so cheap second-hand now because you need about 20 to get them on the water. A castle in Scotland costs less than an apartment in London because you need £15m a year to repair the damn thing and keep the heating on. America’s Cup boats can now go precisely nowhere without a mechatronics team. After the Cup, these boats are good for one place only – the scrap yard.
Mechatronics team members are now more highly prized than an Olympic gold medallist. And they are about to be paid commensurately. Talk on the street in Auckland is all about Team New Zealand’s camber control – that’s not Glenn Ashby, that’s the mechatronic geeks in the backroom. And why is American Magic acing the Challenger pack – that’s the mechatronics guys and gals. And when Ineos hits the water on January 15th and we all go “they haven’t made many changes but boy this is a different boat,” that’ll be the mechatronic team with grins like Cheshire cats on the chase boat.
Mechatronic – for the record is not a 90’s rave band – and you’re about to hear a whole lot more about these quiet stars of this America’s Cup in the coming weeks.
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