The advent of the lightweight onboard camera has produced some remarkable footage from many of this year's Finn events, providing a unique angle on the race from the sailor's viewpoint.
Ever wondered what it looks like or feels like to be at the heart of a Finn race, straining every limb and muscle to coax every bit of speed out of your boat? Well now you can thanks to the innovative on-board cameras that the International Finn Association and Gus MILLER (USA) have developed over the past year.
Building on work carried out in the 1970s and 1980s, MILLER has developed a lightweight carbon fibre mount holding a 'bullet' lens and a waterproof cockpit box containing a video camera to record the action at many of the premier Finn events during 2007. In particular the cameras were used during the Clearwater Coaches Regatta in the USA, the US Midwinters in Lauderdale, the European Championships on Lake Balaton in Hungary, the Medal Race at the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships and at a junior training clinic at the Junior World Championships in Moscow.
The Finn class has always prided itself on being at the forefront of innovation and development, even from its earliest days, and that has not changed much to this day. The development of the onboard camera mount has been a pivotal project during 2007, with many of the top sailors trying them out and providing feedback on their use. Although several classes have been looking at this technology, the Finn is the arguably the only class to have solved many of the technical problems.
To go back to the beginning, Gus MILLER tells some the history of the project, "In the 1970s we used cockpit mounted cameras to record and study Finn sail shape. In the mid 1980s we used stern mounted cameras on two Finns anchored on an exposed beach to record, contrast and study the coupling between mast bend and leach movement. The results of this study contributed to the design of a number of Olympic medal winning sails. In 1993-4 we used a heavy camera on a wooden stern mount to record and study boat handling and steering biometrics of a Finn."
"Then in the fall of 2003 we built a multi-position stern rack to again study the coupling between mast bend and leach movement, boat handling and steering. This rack was modified for the filming at the Clearwater regatta this Spring and then next generation designs were made for the 2007 Midwinters at Lauderdale and the 2007 Finn European Championships on Lake Balaton."
The biggest leap forward over the past two decades has been the technological improvements in the camera and lens that have now become very lightweight and more reliable in the extreme marine environment as well as being significantly reduced in cost. Coupled this with the construction of lightweight frames, sailors can now carry the mounts and cameras on board during important races without any noticeable effect on performance.
Following on from lessons learned during the Europeans in June, and after advice from the Jury and measurement officials, the camera mount design was modified and the whole assembly made to fit inside the extension of the rudder. "This, together with the way the assembly is constructed should limit contact with other boats if they come too close to the rudder, although the Jury has declared that the frames do actually constitute part of the boat."
For the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, ten sets of identical frames were built by MILLER. "They have been designed for strength and to be light. A Nomex base is clamped to the deck with clips round the gunwale and elastic bungee cord into the cockpit. The two supporting arms were constructed using a complex lay-up of carbon that is virtually indestructible. The tubes came from a machine which interestingly also makes carbon helicopter blades. The whole camera mount weighs less than 500 grams, so it will have a negligible impact on performance."
MILLER added, "They are so light that most of the good guys are quite prepared to sail with them in races anyway."
MILLER continued, "We originally developed this technology to help with training and clinics. Watching the sailor in action and the way the rig works provides a very useful analytical insight into problems areas."
Several of the sailors have already bought frames and cameras to use in their own training programmes.
The lightweight video camera has not only proven to be a highly useful training tool, but has also provided excellent video material for an interactive clinic website that the IFA is developing.
This multi-lingual 'Soup to Nuts' website will cater for all levels of Finn sailing, and is due to go live sometime around the end of 2007. A prototype site was published towards the end of 2006 and was the starting point for this wide-ranging and complex project. To add to the bank of clips, various competitors throughout the year have been recorded during racing and training to produce a large number of clips.
The site will cater for beginner, intermediate and advanced level Finn sailing so the users of the website can differentiate between various techniques. Once complete, it is expected to become an important tool for Finn sailors through natural growth of content and a clever database system that will allow new languages and content to be added without undue hassle.
Gus MILLER commented, "So far I have footage of Rafa TRUJILLO (ESP), Pieter-Jan POSTMA (NED), Peng ZHANG (CHN), Daniel BIRGMARK (SWE), Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN (DEN), Chris COOK (CAN), Dan SLATER (NZL), Nachhatar JOHAL (IND), Nitin MONGIA (IND), Ismael BRUNO (FRA), Geoff EWENSON (USA) and Henry SPRAGUE (USA). We have excellent footage of sailors from those just starting out right up to world champion level, so you can see how different people work in their boats. What is already apparent is that you can really see the differences between the different techniques and the different levels, whether it is tacking, gybing or steering."
The usefulness of the camera as a training tool was emphasized recently at the Finn Junior World Championship in Moscow. As part of the IFAfs FIDeS programme (Finn International Development Support), MILLER ran a seven day clinic to prepare the junior sailors for the regatta. The stern-mounted cameras were an integral part of the process, with different boats being filmed during the practice race and the first three races. The footage was viewed and critiqued in the evening de-briefs. MILLER stated, "Each day's stern camera video were compared to clips from four previous training and championship regattas. This gave the young Finn sailors a most intimate view of what makes the top Finn sailors so good in athleticism, concentration, boat handling and tactics."
An important goal for the Finn class in 2007 was to provide stern camera material for broadcast at the ISAF World Championships in Cascais, during July.
The ten mounts were taken to Portugal and during the Medal Race there were cameras on board the boats of the eventual winner TRUJILLO, the defending World Champion, HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN and POSTMA, who ended up with the silver medal.
In full colour and with sound, these clips make a fascinating record of probably the highest pressure race of the year.
MILLER explained, "Three of the Finns in the medal race carried on-board cameras to record the action close up. The other seven Finns carried identical frames and camera dummies of the same weight and size, so there was no disadvantage to any boat."
"After the sailors come ashore this material is retrieved and edited ready for broadcast. The biggest problem we have though is editing the hours of footage down to the short clips that are suitable to post online and for those we need to illustrate each manoeuvre on the training website."
The footage taken in Cascais was used that evening on Danish and Dutch TV coverage of the medal race. The stern camera system has since been used by BIRGMARK and shown on Swedish National TV.
It takes from one to one and a half hours to download the raw data from the tape onto a computer and that creates a huge 12.6 to 18 Gb file. Using a standard laptop and software to make a high resolution broadcast tape takes quite some hours to edit and record. This time factor, because of budget constraints, is due to the hardware and software not being designed for regular broadcast turnaround times. Therefore, editing and reducing the large file to small 1 Mb to 3 Mb web-sized QuickTime clips is a time consuming, multi-step process.
"We are using cutting edge equipment, but as with any electronic equipment today, within one year there will be something better for less money. But we had to act in a timely way. Wireless is a consideration for
future broadcast usage but there are costs involved in that, as well as fidelity, logistic and range factors."
"We are also looking at making these systems available to sailors to purchase."
Several sailors in fact have already purchased sets of equipment to use in the own training programmes as well as for their own marketing purposes. "This equipment - stern mounts, cameras, waterproof boxes and recording gear - should be quite useful to a Finn sailor or coach and last for the next ten years."
Many of the clips from this year including some awesome 25 knot action with Dan SLATER at the Lauderdale Midwinters, all three cameras from the ISAF Sailing World Championships Medal Race and many more are available to view on the IFA's website at www.finnclass.org/clips/clips.htm
MILLER concludes, "Perhaps most importantly the cameras also allow us to showcase the Finn as the most athletic and visually appealing of all the Olympic sailing classes. Gary JOBSON of ESPN saw the stern camera footage at the Usa Finn Olympic Trials in Newport Beach and said excitedly that it was the biggest advance in showing sailing intimately in years."