AC34, Garmin & the support fleet


Given that the Golden Gate Yacht Club — home club of Larry Ellison and his team BMW Oracle Racing — couldn’t confidently start on America’s Cup 34 until they won the much-litigated AC33 in February, 2010, it’s pretty amazing that they got the new World Series program up and on the water last August. Besides the raft of new behind-the-scenes technology discussed here recently, the organizers put together a large fleet of support vessels and a core shore infrastructure that could all travel around the world packed onto a cargo ship. And the AC34 folks do not seem keen to do anything halfway. For instance, click on the photo above and see how the ACRM (Race Management) containers were stacked and accessorized on the San Diego Navy Pier to make a two-story Base with decks and awnings (and even partial wheelchair access). Consider too the slippery camera-toting power catamaran Cambria

When you watch the AC34 video coverage you’ll see Cambria darting everywhere, with hardly a race-disturbing wake, so that the camera operator sitting behind the driver can make best use of that gyro-stabilized FLIR UltraMedia HD. And there’s another, even wilder-looking power cat, Royale Atlantic, that’s also set up with a big FLIR camera. The latter was apparently bought or chartered for AC34, but Cambria was built for the purpose by eXtreme Ribs in the Netherlands. They did start with a pair of modified Extreme 40 hulls (no relation), but I was told that the rest of the boat went together in less than a month. As you can see in the photo below, it does have a work boat finish. You can also see one piece of gear that’s on the whole AC fleet, jet skis excepted…a Garmin 7000 Series MFD


Garmin, you see, was chosen early in the AC fleet-building process as the preferred source of conventional marine electronics, and, as I understand it, that did not involve getting free equipment, though Garmin subsequently became an AC34 “Partner” which probably does require some sort of quid pro quo. While the expenses piling up for the host organization must be mind boggling — because they are trying so hard and fast to make the AC a major modern sports event — there’s an obvious push to share the load with partners, TV outlets, VIP race watchers, etc. I suspect, for instance, that the covers on those outboards below have to do with the manufacturer not being a Partner…


Most of these RIBs, incidentally are all-carbon-fiber models from eXtreme. Note the shock-absorbing seats and also the jet drives on the two medical boats, presumably chosen to avoid hurting crew in the water. Note, too, how the medical personnel are all suited up, ready to go overboard if needed. What I can’t explain is that orange race buoy, because part of AC34’s new style of racing is marks that can be easily adjusted since they aren’t anchored…


Right now the mark boat job is being done by the colorful, if stubby, power cats above; I don’t know the builder, but understand that these were in stock. On their masts you can see the NovAtel high precision GPS and high frequency data communications (here with Ubiquity Bullet and notch filter mounted in a narrow spreader box) discussed already, with a Gill ultrasonic wind sensor on top. Thus the race managers — plus the umpires and the broadcast teams — not only know exactly where the marks are but how the wind is blowing all over the course. There’s at least one Garmin 7000 on each of those boats, but let’s look at those in terms of the new mark boat that debuted in San Diego.
   The vessel below, delivered just last week, and just seven months after the contract was signed in China, is the first of six mark boats that will also serve as VIP observation platforms. It has dual Volvo Penta IPS drives along with VP’s newish dynamic positioning control so, theoretically at least, the captain will be able to put the boat on the mark, hit the DP button, and stand back. In this picture, America — all the support vessels are named after past AC racers — is testing its DP and joystick abilities right after the last race on Sunday. Note the penalty lights, remote-controlled camera, and NovAtel GPS on Aleph’s bumpkin and also “Club 45”, the main VIP hangout, up on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Midway


And below is the new America’s helm with its dual Garmin 7012’s. They are totally separate systems with the right one being for regular navigation while the left one displays all the precision support fleet and race boat info generated by ACRM’s telemetry system along with the mark positions and course boundaries pushed out by the committee boat…


I’ll explain the special features AC34 and Garmin cooked up in a future entry, but below is a look at how a regular Garmin 7215 saw the San Diego harbor on Sunday. You can see that most of the support fleet have standard (Garmin) AIS units, good for collision avoidance, of course, but maybe also good as backup to ACRM’s system. You can also see a new style of Garmin 3D AIS presentation which I rather liked. The boat labels are pop-ups dependent on a user-set range, and thus act a bit like alarms. Garmin is justifiably proud of its involvement in AC34, and I am grateful that the company helped me see it in person. Now, let’s close with a peek at how the support fleet looks out on the water…


Below is the first mark rounding just moments after the start of last Sunday’s fleet race. You can see the fly bridge committee boat Regardless back at the line along with mark boats, umpire jet skis, media RIBs, etc. Of course the real center of attention is the AC45s all doing over 20 knots as they jockey for best position. It was thrilling even from the pier where I was standing, but is much more so when seen AC-broadcast-style. Check out the complete YouTube coverage here (advance one hour if you want to skip the speed trials, though they did hit almost 28 knots in wind half that speed). Even some of my extended family of non boaters, gathered here for Thanksgiving in snow storm, find it exciting. And hopefully you’ll better understand what all those supportive power boats are about.


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

4 Responses

  1. Brad Friedrick says:

    Thanks for your excellent coverage of the tech behind the scenes. I watched all the racing over the weekend and I think they did an bangup job. It actually was more fun to watch than Nascar. If they can keep going in this direction AC racing may finally get some attention from the non-sailing crowd.

  2. Dave Alexander says:

    The orange race buoys appear on the video as demarcation buoys for the spectator fleet… wishin I was there!

  3. John says:

    Ben, the cats photographed in your story are manufactured by Leisure Cat, also know as Aussie Cats, an Australian boat builder in Perth Western Australia. Those look like the 7m or 8m models.

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Nice documentary footage on the speed building of the camera catamaran Cambria about 12 minutes into “America’s Cup Uncovered Episode 6”:

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