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„High-speed sailing is like solving a puzzle“

In discussion with star class skipper Robert Stanjek

Innovative designs, new technologies and modern production methods – in the field of high-performance sport, the demands placed on the equipment are also increasing in order to bring success that bit nearer. Star class skipper Robert Stanjek knows that to achieve a focused team effort, you need creativity, flexibility and efficiency.

Next year, you are entering a competition with an IMOCA class boat and design and technological development will be vital for success. What exactly are these factors of success?

We talk about a one-design class. There is a box rule which describes the boundaries within which the designers can show off their talents. Ultimately, the vessel must fit inside this defined box, i.e., it must have a certain length, width and draft and the mast must be of a certain height. Then you work with the team to develop a philosophy about how the yacht should perform in certain competitive situations. So you can build it fast for little or high wind, for a certain angle to the wind, for a wave pattern – all of this flows into the design.

What does this process look like in practice?

Ideally, if the finances permit, you put together a team of technical experts consisting of designers, sailors, technical managers, boat builders and so on. They develop an idea of the ship, draw and compute draft versions, build models, test them in water tanks and wind tunnels and perform flow calculations. This gradually reveals what the hull should look like, the foils, the sort of rig to be used and how the sails should be designed. All the parts of this puzzle are brought together and simulated during an intensive computational process – in various maritime areas and with differing meteorological data. Again and again and again. And when everything has been decided, you have the boat built in a shipyard.

And when things are less than ideal?

For example, we’ve bought a successful boat and are now modernizing it. We have attached a new keel with a different shape and weight, we are making a new mast and developing new sails. However, the most important thing will be to develop new foils. These are the small bearing surfaces that lift the boat out of the water – it’s important that we come up with a good foil design. These have a complex 3D geometry – length, bending, radius, camber – here, sailing as a sport is doing some really pioneering work. Another major consideration is the yacht’s on-board electronics, the many sensors and powerful processors that handle large quantities of information very quickly so that the autopilot can control the yacht reliably at high speeds. Optimizing these is an ongoing process.

As skipper, how do you put your team together?

We have all known one another for a long time and so we also discuss as a team who is going to take part. So we decide together on designers or other team members. This has to be done with both sports and human considerations in mind. When you sail around the world in a 20-meter yacht, you place all your trust in the hands of others. In a competition like that, nothing can be done by one person, only by the team.

Star boat world champion Robert Stanjek is the inspiration behind and Team Captain of the Offshore Team Germany. As skipper, he will have overall responsibility for the boat and the crew when the team takes to the sea as of October 2022 to compete in “The Ocean Race”, the world’s toughest multi-leg sailing event. At the moment, the team is fine-tuning the boat. Because such high-tech boats are not available off-the-shelf, their development demands creative, focused teamwork.


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