Cyclops Marine is making big strides in helping sailors make accurate, data-driven adjustments to their sails while they race. The latest example is SmartLuff, an easy-to-use Bluetooth smart sensor that optimises your sail setup by monitoring sail load in real time. The result of an exclusive partnership between North Sails and Cyclops Marine, the SmartLuff sensor seamlessly connects to your smartphone and onboard display, providing live load data in a simple, intuitive format.
While UK-based Cyclops Marine already had a number of products in its ever-expanding range, SmartLuff has been developed co-engineered with North Sails, who wanted to provide their customers with a userfriendly, in-sail load sensor for Helix Structured Luff sails.
A former 470 Olympic campaigner and multiple Fireball World Champion, Cyclops CEO Ian ‘Chips’ Howarth had his team working hard over the past two years to develop a product that’s sufficiently robust and user-friendly to the point where he believes using SmartLuff will be a no-brainer for any sailor serious about improving performance. ‘This is the first time ever you can buy a sail for your boat, where Norths Sails’ design software can define the precise load for which the sail is designed and integrate a device that will advise, whilst racing, what trimming adjustments you need to make to hit the perfect setting.
‘We all used to obsess about rig tension on our 470s with bent metal rig gauges designed in the 1940s,’ recalls Howarth. ‘But those were static numbers measured with the sails down and the boat upright in the dinghy park. Lightweight, wireless, super-accurate load sensors enable us to measure real-time sail loads as we’re sailing, giving us the live data to make intelligent adjustments, ensuring the sail is working at its full potential.’
While this is certainly a technology breakthrough for 2022, Howarth believes it won’t be too long before in-sail load sensing becomes part of the fabric of the sailmaking universe. ‘One of North Sails’ most recent and significant breakthroughs in sail development is Helix Structured Luff, where the sail construction is designed to hold a specified load through the luff, which enables the sail to fly at the perfect shape. For most of us,’ notes Howarth, ‘hoisting a halyard, cleating it off and marking the rope with a black marker pen is as close as we get to calibrating the tension in our headsail luff. This fails to do justice to the science that goes into designing a highly engineered product such as a North Sails’ Structured Luff sail.
‘The North Design Suite software specifies exactly what the combined cloth and cable load should be for any given sail. For example, if you order a sail for your 40ft raceboat or your 44ft cruiser/racer, North Sails will tell you that the luff load needs to be, say, 800kg. At that point, it will be flying to the absolute perfect camber the sailmaker designed for that sail. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. Most of us look at a sail and just pull on the cunningham until the wrinkles disappear. It’s not exactly a scientific approach, is it! Now you can reproduce the exact load to create the designed flying shape. When have you ever bought a sailboat where you were told, this is what the load should be in the sails for these wind conditions? Probably never, because it’s never been possible. But it is now.’
While this technology will become an instant “must have” in a grand prix fleets, Howarth predicts load-sensing technology will reach much further through the fleet. ‘I think we’ll soon see it in any competitive fleet from Cowes Week to the Chesapeake, Sydney Harbour and beyond. The moment you’re investing money to buy a sail, the moment you enter any race, you’re aspiring to go faster. If you’re going to buy a new sail, why wouldn’t you want the “rev counter” to be able to set it to its perfect flying shape?’
The thing that pleases Howarth the most about the announcement of the partnership between North Sails and Cyclops Marine is that it’s helping to establish load-sensing as an essential, mainstream technology. ‘We’re both market leaders in our respective industries, and it’s an absolute pleasure to work with North Sails on bringing SmartLuff to the market. It’s another example of how sailing – like the rest of the world – is shifting from an analogue to an increasingly digital experience.’