Emerging Technologies

Yacht Racing Forum: sailors, designers and organisers explore the future of sail racing

Hans Buitelaar
Sunday, 26 May 2024

The Yacht Racing Forum, organised alongside METSTRADE show, will address marketing and the organising of sail race venues as well as technology and design of racing sailing yachts. Sustainability, diversity and artificial intelligence are topics defining regattas in the next decade

“Not only well-known racing sailors like Ben Ainslie, Ellen McArthur or Michel Desjoyeaux come to the Yacht Racing Forum. It is also about ‘normal’ sailors like you and me,” Bernard Schopfer explains. “It is very important to focus on mainstream club racing as the broad base of the sport, with ocean-crossing and record breaking sailors as the inspiring examples.

Facilitating social interaction: The Yacht Racing Forum as a global gathering of the sail racing community

The Yacht Racing Forum (YRF) is the global get-together of the sail racing community within the marine industry. In sail racing, a lot of trades come together: the sport with athletes that perform ever more impressive speeds and passages, but also the logistics and marketing of organising sail racing events and the technology of designing and constructing ever better performing racing yachts.

“It is a relatively small world,” Schopfer remarks. “Most of the people that come to YRF have already met at some racing venue. But there, they are always busy with the event. Sailors are competitors, designers keep their cards close to their chests to guard their advantage and organisers are very busy handling all the logistics.

At the Forum, they finally meet in another environment. Here, they shake hands, have a conversation, drink a beer, exchange ideas and often get to business as a result of this exchange of views on the sport. Yes, the social aspect of YRF is very important. We have social events every day throughout the day, to facilitate these informal meetings of the sailors, the organisers and the designers.”

Coordinated events: Yacht Racing Forum and METSTRADE convergence in Amsterdam

November 2024, YRF will be held (almost) alongside METSTRADE show in RAI Amsterdam exhibition centre. While METSTRADE runs from November 19th- 21st, YRF will be on November 20th to 22nd. Exhibitors and other attendees to the marine industry professional show can combine their visit with participation in YRF.

It is the first time that both professional events come together. YRF was first held in 2008 in Monaco and this year’s edition will be the 15th.

Forecasting the future: Artificial Intelligence at Yacht Racing Forum

The new subject of Artificial Intelligence is to be addressed in YRF. On the first day, in a plenary session, there will be a discussion to exchange ideas and consider ways in which the yacht racing world might benefit from artificial intelligence.

Of course, A.I. can be used as a great tool to reach potentially interested audiences through digital media. Maybe it can also be helpful in determining weather and conditions on the water during races. These predictions can be beneficial in calculating the estimated time that yachts with different handicaps would need to reach the finish line.

The yacht handicap organisation Offshore Racing Congress (ORC, who determine yachts’ performance potential and validate handicap certificates) is already experimenting with weather prediction models to calculate the results of sail races based on ‘Weather Routing Scoring’, meaning that the yacht’s ranking will be based on its performance related to the ‘Estimated Time Elapsed (ETE) that was calculated for that yacht as a result of the speed potential of sails, hull, weight and predicted winds.

Insights and Strategies: Event Organisation and Marketing Discussions

Meetings in YRF will roughly be divided in the marketing, business and event organising parts on one hand and the technology and design aspects on the other. Organisers of sail racing events share thoughts about how to make their event significant for the racing community and how to make it profitable.

Attracting sponsors is never an easy task and neither is activating sailors to travel to your event and compete in it. The ‘Brittany Model’ is presented and discussed: the example of the French region Brittany that hosts some major sailing events, has an active youth and talent training programme and sees sailors from this program performing very well in the international sailing community.

Like all event organising, questions are addressed such as what social media do you engage, what social networks are activated and how to create a buzz.

Fundamental insights: technology and design sessions

The technology and design sessions will see presentations about new developments in foil design, but also new equipment like autopilots, instruments and other gear aboard racing yachts.

“We limit the time for such presentations to 20 minutes,” Schopfer says. “Manufacturers and designers get the opportunity to share their ideas in the basic form; actual business will develop in one-on-one contacts following the sessions, most likely during the social events.

Inclusive development: the role of Yacht Racing Forum in advancing the sport

Previously, significant developments in sail racing have been announced at YRF. The new formula of The Ocean Race with two classes, the Imoca and the VO65, was first presented here. The new rule for America’s Cup yachts was revealed. There was the announcement that a professional organisation for Foiling was to be set up.

“It is not that such things happen because of YRF, but the Forum is instrumental in bringing the people together who are involved in creating events and organisations,” Schopfer explains. From a wider perspective, YRF also acts as an accelerator of new developments.

“When I first introduced the subject of sustainability in yacht racing at the Lisbon edition in 2010, a lot of people were sceptical. Nowadays, sustainability in design and events is an all-present topic. Recently, the topic of inclusiveness has been added to the focus points of the sail racing community. This used to be a very much white male dominated sport.

It is however important to have female role models and people of other cultural backgrounds. We want to welcome development in that direction in the sport. Also facilitating sail racing for disabled competitors is something we really want to enforce. Hopefully, local sailing clubs can learn from the insights shared by the larger professional organisations. This will benefit all of the sport.”

Leadership announcement: chairs for Yacht Racing Forum sessions

Two time Olympic gold medalist Shirley Robertson, now CEO of the Superyacht Racing Association, will be the chair at the business and marketing sessions. Founder of sailing video channel Planet Sail, Matthew Sheahan, will act as the chair during the technology and design sessions. More speakers are to be announced.