WARNING: This article gets a little “geeky.” But ergonomics will be critical to helping the crew, and the helmsman in particular, operate the complex control systems for the daggerboards, wing and rudders. When you see the iterations of Oracle’s steering wheel, you’ll appreciate that the solution is not obvious!
Last week I showed you this photo of Land Rover BAR’s “T3” test boat.
Did you notice that they are testing two different shape daggerboards?
If we take a closer look we can see they have a unique steering linkage, unlike the the other teams’ steering. It will be interesting to see if they have the same setup on their race boat – the rudders on the race boat will be mounted inside the hulls, not hung off the stern.
Zooming in a little more, we can see a series of yellow and blue buttons around the rim of the wheel. These may control the rake of the daggerboards. The helmsman adjusts the rake to control angle of attack of the underwater wing on the daggerboard. This varies the lift, to control ride height. If you look closely, you will also see a red and a green button on the hub of the wheel and a rotary switch right in the center of the wheel.
At the Detroit Motor Show, BMW Management Board member Ian Robertson presented a steering wheel, designed by the BMW Motorsport group, to Jimmy Spithill. This wheel has twist grip controls, like on a motorcycle (or, in Bermuda, on a scooter).
Oracle has tested a number of configurations of controls on their steering wheels.
Here is a variation with pushbuttons mounted in the rim, what looks like a toggle switch on one spoke, two buttons near the center of the wheel and a couple of black rotary switches. You can also see two controls at six o’clock and eight o’clock – could they be pressure sensitive? This wheel looks like they tried out a lot of ideas at once!
Here’s another Oracle wheel, with what looks like an early version of the twist grip that’s on the BMW wheel.
And this version has a twist grip mounted separate from the rim of the wheel, plus plenty of buttons on the hub of the wheel.
As I said earlier – finding the right ergonomics for controlling an AC Class yacht is not obvious.
Softbank Team Japan has also experimented with some original ideas. Here they tested a paddle-type control just forward of the wheel. You can also see that the wing trimmer has an impressive control panel to master.