Archive for » October 5th, 2014«

Challenging conditions for 21st annual Whitebread race

The Greenport High School math teacher who was arrested on a grand larceny charge Saturday afternoon after stealing cash from the wallet of another patron at a restaurant in Southold was released on his own recognizance following his arraignment Sunday morning.  Gordon Haas, 54, of East Marion appeared wearing blue jeans, tennis shoes and a hooded purple […]

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A scientist and a sailor

He was always ahead of his times. Or to rephrase it, Philippe Palu de la Barriere was always in time, while the others were behind. This ‘adventurous’ Frenchman took to sailing when his coaches found he was ‘too short’ to play football, went on to design sails and hydro-aerodynamic sailboats, and is now one of the world’s leading naval architects whose designs are futuristic.

Realising that his football dreams were never going to bloom Philippe joined Mazieres, a small sailing club close to his home in La Rochelle, a port city in Western France. “A month into it and I knew that this was my new sport. Soon, I was one of the five probable sailors for the National team for the Montreal Olympic Games (1976). Though I failed to make it to the Olympics I began to enjoy the sport,” says Philippe.

Even as Philippe moved from the Olympic class dinghies to the bigger offshore boats he began to understand the sport, the boats, and its design limitations which set him thinking. With training and a Doctorate in Mathematics from the University Paris 7, Philippe set about to create design software for sails and engines. “I realised that the designs were all empirical. There was no scientific or mathematical basis for the making of the sails. This set me working. Sail performance begins with design and I worked to create software tools for analysis and virtual testing of sail designs. It was basically putting together my science background and sailing skills.”

‘Fabric,’ the software that Philippe created way back in the early 1980s is now used by a huge majority of sail makers and the others have based their own on this. “Sailing and making sail boats may not be a high-level scientific activity but it certainly opened me to diverse activities, helped me meet people and collaborate with companies.”

In 1984, Philippe started Crain, a French Research Development office that specialises in nautical applications. “The primary function of Crain was to investigate and carry out successful performance and behaviour prediction of sailing boats: design, computation, hydrodynamic and aerodynamic testing of hull etc. In short, it was a RD centre for the nautical industry.”

In between all this Philippe pursued his passion for sailing. He moved around France, Britain and Scandinavian countries in offshore boats; in 1979, he participated in the world championship of sail boats under 12 metres, in 1982 won the championship sailing from La Rochelle to New Orleans, he participated in the world championship of offshore boats and in 2005 his team won the Tour de France sailing. Philippe also sailed a 26-metre catamaran from Quebec to Britain.

From 1987, Philippe was part of the six French challenges at America’s Cup, the historic and most revered competitive event in sailing. “Though we never won the cup we did well. In 1992, the French boat Ville de Paris was the semi-finalist. For the money spent we did a good job. In 2007, I was with the China team. That was the last time I took part in this event.”

At a time when solar powered boats were just surfacing Phillippe designed and built a vessel, competed in a European solar boat challenge and won it. “The event highlighted the potential to run a vessel for an extended period on solar energy alone. That’s how the company Alternative Energies (Alt.En) was created in 1996. We decided to develop a solar-driven version of a ferry for La Rochelle. The city funded it. This 35-passenger ferry was our first project. Since then, Alt.En has created 15 boats for various cities in France. And now I’m here in Kochi for the new project.”

This is Philippe’s third visit to Kochi but this is the first time he is on work. “There’s so much of potential for inland water sailing here, which remains untapped. Kochi is beautiful and I have always loved the city.” Perhaps, with the launch of the Kerala State Water Transport Department’s solar ferry from Vaikom to Thavanakadavu, for which Alt.En has provided the technical know-how and the design by Navgathi, a marine design and construction company, the State may explore the possibilities of expanding its waterways.

Philippe is now working on technology for wind-assisted propulsion for commercial ships. Not many technologies have been successful in this field and Philippe hopes his work will be in the right direction. “Fuel consumption is a big issue today. The need is to harness wind power. Putting up high sails have not been successful. We are working on a prototype that will be ready next year.”

And Philippe has moved from sailing to a new passion – gliding. “It is not because I’m adventurous but because I’m very curious.”

He is certainly ahead of this time.

Keywords: Philippe Palu de la Barriere

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America's Cup sailing back to SD?

Sometime soon, San Diego will learn whether it’s been selected over Bermuda as the venue for the next America’s Cup, competitive sailing’s top prize and the oldest trophy in international sport.

The contest was last held here in 1995. The city has changed a lot since then. So has the cup.

At the most recent championship, last summer in San Francisco, the races were moved for the first time in the 162-year history of the event away from the open ocean and closer to shore. That made it more watchable than ever, both in person and on TV, and what people saw was seven-ton, 72-foot-long, 130-foot-tall catamarans flying across the water on hydrofoils at close to 50 mph.

This wasn’t gents in sportcoats holding a pipe in one hand and a gin and tonic in the other. It was athletes in Lycra suits and crash helmets who looked like they’d be slamming Red Bulls if they weren’t so busy keeping their carbon-fiber, fixed-wing contraptions from flipping over.

Purists scoffed at the “stadium sailing,” but others welcomed the makeover of a stodgy sport often seen by non-fans as just a play thing for the super wealthy.

It didn’t hurt that the finals wound up being a comeback for the ages, with Oracle Team USA falling behind 8-1 to Emirates Team New Zealand — one loss away from elimination — and then winning eight races in a row to retain the trophy it first captured in 2010.

Hoping to keep the newfound buzz going, the 35th America’s Cup will be held inshore, too, and is scheduled for the summer of 2017. It is expected to last about three months, with a group of challengers — New Zealand, France, Italy, Britain and Sweden — first vying for the right to take on Oracle USA, and then the finals.

San Diego and Bermuda emerged as two finalists to host the cup after months of bidding and closed-door negotiations that eliminated San Francisco, Chicago and other hopefuls.

“We will be in good hands with either venue,” said Russell Coutts, CEO of Oracle USA, which as the defending champion gets to pick when and where the next cup will be held, and in what kind of boats.

Local government and tourism officials see the cup as a way to boost the economy by attracting visitors (and their spending money), bringing in temporary jobs, and increasing sales- and hotel-tax revenue. They’re excited about the potential for international media attention.

But San Francisco’s experience is a cautionary one: The economic boost was far less than expected, and the government agencies that provided various services — permits, police, portable restrooms, free pier space — wound up $11.5 million in the red.

A decision on the venue is expected before the end of the year. There’s speculation in the sailing community that it could come this month.

Charting courses

Only seven places in the world have ever hosted an America’s Cup, and San Diego has done it three times: 1988, 1992 and 1995.

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