America’s Cup 34, hat’s off to Stan Honey


Last week in San Francisco, Russell Coutts probably did the America’s Cup racing program a great service when he not only capsized an AC 45, but personally took a dramatic header right through its wing sail, all before a fleet of press boats!  You want to see the video.  Heck, Charlie Doane admits to watching the crash “about fifty times” and looking forward to more. I like a shot of NASCAR in my sailboat racing, too, but I’ll bet that an equally important element in making this sport more popular will be the broadcast TV wizardry being spearheaded by the remarkable Stan Honey…

Stan Honey has had an astounding career as an offshore racing navigator, perhaps best laid out in this Sailing World interview with Herb McCormick. But note that he’s also the visionary engineer who gave sports fans “the now ubiquitous yellow first-down markers in football games and virtual strike zones in baseball telecasts, among other innovations.” Honey is also the guy who invented SailMail!  So who in the world could possibly be better to give coverage of the America’s Cup better graphic intelligence and zing?
   And apparently that’s exactly what’s happening, as brought to my attention by the New York Times yesterday. I also found this excellent video interview with Honey while he was working on the AC broadcast and tracking system — which evidently will also be used by the race judges — in New Zealand. And according to this NASailor blog entry, Honey’s system will track the AC catamarans (and the camera copters) with inches accuracy 10 times a second.  Are you psyched or do you still think “sailboat racing is like watching paint dry”?
   Now, who’s going to help Panbo readers see — or at least know a little about — the marine electronics innovations that will help those fast cat sailors best play the courses and conditions?


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.

8 Responses

  1. Sandy Daugherty says:

    PLEASE! somebody leak some of the goodies on the AC Cats! It may take 10 years to trickle down to something I might actually get to play with, but….

  2. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Right, and if you’re shy about posting a comment, please don’t hesitate to email me: ben.ellison (at) I’m very faithful about protecting anonymous sources (and/or honoring news embargoes).

  3. Hi Ben,
    Yes, sailing is certainly becoming more exciting! Here is some info on the technology that is used to precisely locate the racing boats so that you can do interactive video overlays.
    These fiber optic gyros are also used for things like the yellow line in televised football and the precise mapping for google’s street view.
    This cool technology gives you super accurate roll, pitch, yaw and position–which will have lots of applications in the future for general boating.

  4. One of the systems now on the AC45s (and other racing yachts) is the VSPARS system. The orange and green fluro stripes on the wings and sails of some of the boats are used for tracking the wing and sail shapes in 3D. We have miniature (1″x1″x1″) cameras mounted on the boat in waterproof housings that deliver up to 8MP images over USB. 2 cameras for the wing (one each tack) and 1 for the jibs. The jib camera has a wide angle lens which we pre-calibrate to remove all distortion. Software running on a small (!) waterproof PC box tracks the stripes, then does some clever maths to cope with perspective effects and work out not just the shape but the full 3D geometry of the wing and headsail. There are a few pics of the stripes on some of the boats here:
    The system is also running on several of the Volvo Open 70s which start off round the world in November. With a full fisheye lens we can capture even the biggest offwind sails. Also on the Quantum TP52 where they are using it as a real-time trimming tool to trim the sails to pre-determined rig shapes. Basically we receive UDP data into the box from the main navigation systems (WTP, Deckman, Cosworth PI, etc). This data stream is used partly to control the settings of the cameras, and also to database the results for easy filtering offline.
    So you plug the cameras in, go sailing and it streams the sail and rig 3D geometry roughly every 2secs to anyone listening! Loads more info at or feel free to ansk any more questions if you’re interested… I could go on all day.
    I also work at the University of Auckland’s Yacht Research Unit, where we’ve managed to combine this system with a pressure measurement system. So we measure the differential pressure across the sail at several points, then because we know the shape from VSPARS we can work out the force (the shape gives the surface normal, then apply that over an area….). In this way we can have a real-time readout of the aerodynamic drive force, heel moment, etc.
    Other work includes coupling a sonic anemometer with a cheap IMU to remove the boat motion from wind measurements.
    Also make sure you check out the excellent Open Skipper open source code for interpreting & displaying NMEA 0183, NMEA 2000 and AIS data – again developed by the YRU here in Auckland.
    Cheers from several Panbo lurkers!

  5. richard stephens says:

    These guys need to forget about the instrumentation and electronics, and spend some more time sailing small cats to learn what they can and can’t do.

  6. Just a little note: the main navigation system for AC45 is not in your list. It’s not: wtp, cosworth. But like for TP52 it’s Bravo System. Bravo3 is the best system for performance boat with high frequency (more 50hz) and High level of customization capabilities.
    In TP52, we wins in Marseille: Quantum (1st),Cantainer (2nd), Azzura (3th), and ALL4One.
    Matthieu Robert (Mad!ntec, Bravo Systems distributor)

  7. denny-o says:

    Were I in charge of the Americas Cup racing I would ban all electronics on the racing boats to be used BY THE CREW other than voice communication radios …
    I would also do the same for the judges, no tracking devices for the judges, let the judges follow along in a power boat (one fast enough to keep up) and make their calls in real time…
    The is a sailing cup challenge made in the pre-electronic era and should remain that way during the race – imperfect humans using their imperfect senses to trim and drive the boat against a competitor doing the same… No back pack computers showing a lay line through a heads up display for the helm, no strain gauge sensors, no GPS or Inertial navigation devices – just two crews and their boats against each other…
    Having said that I have no axe to grind against using technology in the development of the boats… The more tools we have the better…
    And I have no problem with the networks having electronics on the boats to do their magic TV “yellow line” graphics for the enjoyment of the audience… But that data should not be visible to the race crew…

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Here’s a good video of Stan Honey explaining AC “live lines”:
    I am so excited about going to San Diego this Wednesday to see the last four days of the AC45 series, which started yesterday:
    I don’t know if I’ll get to meet Honey but there’s a good chance I’ll get to see some of the technology behind the scenes, and lots of live racing.

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