Technological innovation on board racing boats | Pirelli

Technological innovation on board racing boats


solo regatta is a competition of man with nature, water, wind, in other words, with all kinds of weather conditions. But the surrounding environment does not necessarily have to be an opponent, at least not in the truest sense of the term: it is a set of forces that can become a value, and even help you. You can use them to push your boat to the maximum, to go faster than other boats. This is why sailing is one of the sports most linked to traditions, where technology is an accessory at the service of man: it is always the navigator who takes the boat off the waves.

Ambrogio Beccaria knows this too, that due to bad weather during the Route du Rhum 2022 he was almost forced to navigate without technology, or rather, he was forced to sail without a part of the instrumentation on board his 'Alla Grande Pirelli': the sensors that should measure wind intensity and direction were irreparably damaged, so Ambrogio was forced to rely more than expected on his intuition, his skills, and his knowledge. The Milanese sailor says, 'There were two of them, just to avoid running out of them, and that explains how much importance I gave to this instrument. ‘So the autopilot and onboard computers were not analysing and deciding the route and sails: I tried to figure out how to use the other instruments onboard in a different, more in-depth way, compensating for the lack of the sensors. At the end of the regatta, as I confronted the other sailors, I noticed that I was the only one to use a particular sail, precisely because, having fewer tools, I thought more before acting. Anyway, somehow, this damage has freed me from certain mechanisms.'

If it is true that in the middle of the sea it is more important to be a sailor than an engineer, then it is also true that no one would dare to face a race without instrumentation and technology already from the start. Not surprisingly, modern boats are full of sensors, devices for calculating, measuring, programming. And not only that, when we talk about onboard technology, we think of GPS and radars, but the innovation of recent years starts from the base: from hulls made with increasingly lighter and stronger materials, which improve speed and friction, they are faster and faster; in the same way, the sails are made of innovative materials that allow you to make the most of the wind at sea.

All boats that are destined for solo navigation such as the largest ones – for example Pirelli's Luna Rossa itself – are equipped with increasingly sophisticated tools, which make navigation easier, provided you know their operation, possible uses, and their potential.

Obviously, a GPS, a radar system and an autopilot are always present, being essential especially for solo outings. But also a depth sounder, a depth gauge, an anemometer and other tools that provide important information on the depth and conformation of the seabed, water temperature, and wind speed help sailors to navigate in the open sea.

Even on board 'Alla Grande Pirelli', the first all-Italian modern ocean sailing project, technology has a leading role, as much as it is a Vitruvian boat, that is, a custom-built boat for the sailor who navigates it. Designed by Gianluca Guelfi in collaboration with Fabio D'Angeli, the 'Alla Grande Prielli' hull was built at the Sangiorgio Marine shipyard in Genoa by a highly qualified Italian team directed by Edoardo Bianchi. The technique used for its realization is infusion with the help of glass fabrics as reinforcements, epoxy resin as a matrix and a structural foam core. In this way, an extremely light-weight and strong composite sandwich can be obtained.

The most innovative formulas, perhaps, are those that have the energy profile of this completely made in Italy Class40. As far as possible, sailing on 'Alla Grande Pirelli' has a low environmental impact: the energy that enables the autopilot, the satellite connection, navigation and performance analysis software, as well as the safety equipment, such as the radio, is produced by solar and hydroelectric energy sources. The solar panels, developed in collaboration with Solbian, were mounted on the deck and connected to the onboard electrical system through “Maximum Power Point Tracker” (Mppt) charge controllers that can optimize the charge to the best of their ability. The hydrogenerator then transforms the kinetic energy of the water into electrical energy through a small propeller immersed in water at the stern of the boat. The emitted energy is obviously designed to be dependent on the speed: the faster the boat, the more renewable energy will be produced.