Brawny Italian brings high-tech brains to America's Cup yacht

Wed Jun 12, 2013 11:56am EDT
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By Noel Randewich

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Gilberto Nobili is an IT guy, but he doesn't sit in an office like other information technology workers. His workspace skims across San Francisco Bay at 50 miles per hour.

The Java developer and Oracle Team USA crew member is using personal electronics like smartphones and tablets to give his side a high-tech edge in the upcoming America's Cup regatta between the most advanced sailboats ever built.

The tech-savvy 6-foot 3 inch Italian is one of Oracle's muscular grinders. A grinder uses brute strength and athletic conditioning to crank handles furiously on winches that precisely control the tall "wing" sails and other adjustable parts of these complex 72-foot catamarans.

The boats are designed to lift out of the water at high speed and hydrofoil on the dagger boards, which are raised and lowered from each hull.

"We're still testing stuff, deciding which is the faster board and the faster sail. As sailors, we go by feeling but we also need numbers. The final call about what is fastest comes from the numbers," said Nobili, who put his engineering studies on hold 13 years ago for a chance to sail professionally.

After Swedish challenger Artemis Racing suffered a fatal accident in May when its catamaran broke apart and flipped, a top priority for Cup participants has been to strike the best balance between speed and stability. Onboard electronics play a key part.

Advances in technology, including computational fluid dynamics and the ability to process growing amounts of data, have given boat designers advantages they could have only dreamed of in past America's Cups.

Races are set to start in early July to choose which of three teams challenge previous winner Oracle, backed by software billionaire Larry Ellison. Final matches are in September.   Continued...