The Yacht Research Unit, University of Auckland – Dale Morris

Dale, a budding Naval Architect who hails from Cape Town who  wrote about his post graduate studies in Gothenburg, Sweden in our previous Ha Yam. This year he continues his Masters in New Zealand. We look forward to him eventually joining the Council of the JML when he returns.

Auckland: the City of Sails, a fitting location to find one of the world’s leading units in yacht research. The YRU was established in 1987 due to a significant increase in interest in the field when the University of Auckland became involved in New Zealand’s first ever America’s Cup challenge that year. Since then they have been closely linked with many successful racing syndicates, not only in the AC but in the Volvo Ocean Race, Whitbread, Open 60 and many more. Most notably though was Team New Zealand’s challenge of the cup in ’95 and then their successful defence of it in 2000. This was largely thanks to the timely development of their Twisted Flow Wind Tunnel.

Any experienced skipper will know that the apparent wind angle, the angle of the wind that a moving yacht sees, varies along the height of the mast. The TFWT, the first of its kind, is able to replicate this on a stationary model using special vertical twisting vanes. This phenomenon is most noticeable while sailing downwind and at the time of NZ’s challenge sailing experts were only just beginning to understand exactly how downwind sails work. The TFWT was then Team NZ’s proverbial ‘ace up their sleeve’.

With all their prestige and commercial success, the YRU is still mainly dedicated to academic work, to understand the basic principles of what drives a yacht over the seas. They have many interesting research topics available for Master or PhD students, ranging from dynamic effects on sails to how the original wakas (Maori outrigger canoes thought to have been used to sail to New Zealand) functioned. Luckily for me they are always willing to accommodate international students who are interested in the world of sails. The level of expertise found at this unit is astounding and is an ideal place to study if you want a future in yacht, mast or sail design or if you are just curious about how these dream-inspiring vessels work.

I am currently working on my Master’s thesis Simultaneous Measurement of Pressure and Shape of Sails. Although pressure and shape have previously been successfully measured, they have not been combined before. Without going into too much detail this allows one to calculate the actual force generated by the sails in the direction of interest, i.e. forwards and also the force that heels the boat over. It is simply a case of multiplying the relevant area of the sail and the direction that it faces with the pressure difference between the two sides of the sail. Easier said than done. There is an obvious real world application here for top-flight racing syndicates. If they can see in real-time how the force is affected with each turn of the winch then they could be at a serious advantage. But where does one draw the line of introducing technology into sport? Well that is a whole other discussion.