Climbing the mast can become something of a sailors’ obsession, particularly solo racers heading to desolate, lonely areas. It is very physical, risky and complicated. From Mini 650 sailors to IMOCA skippers it is probably the task feared most of all. But it happens quite frequently, gennaker hooks get jammed, halyards are twisted or tangled, or when the anemometer no longer functions.
When they have the budget and the rules allow it, sailors are increasingly fitting a backup digital sensor as wind information plays such an important part in performance and safety. ‘The back up anemometer’ is very much the product positioning occupied by LCJ Capteurs, a leading company which specialises in ultrasonic wind vane-anemometers. On the strength of their success and popularity so far they are keen to make further inroads into the racing market. Ultrasonic wind measurement? “In reality it’s a technology which we patented twenty years ago,” explains Guy-Marie Bodin of the LCJ design office. “The wind modifies the speed of the air which carries the sound and slightly amplifies the speed of the passage of the sound. We can measure this difference in time on two orthogonal axes and we can obtain the direction and strength of the wind. Our sensors have a special chracateristic in that they first calculate the angle of the wind, which is very important when sailing.
Around 15,000 ultrasonic sensors produced by LCJ are currently in operational use, mainly in terrestrial applications (weather stations, agricultural applications, smart buildings and so on) the company’s origins are actually in the marine world. It was founded by the former MLR Electronics which was well know some time ago for their GPS. “Actually boating was our initial activity.” explains Christophe Michel, head of the company. “But the professional marine world gave way to wider terrestrial applications and they soon were the bigger element of our business. That in part was because there was an initial resistance in yachting, and the and the first ultrasonic sensors used in the America’s Cup were not really properly marinized.”
LCJ exports 70% of its production and are now looking to invest and expand in in the sailboat racing sector where their products, which have been extensively used by Jean Luc Van Den Heede during its round the world in reverse, on l’Hydroptère and with Damien Seguin on his Class40, are not very present. They are not looking to go head to head with the likes of NKE and B & G who are relied on at the top of most race boat masts. “But I think that we are the ideal back-up solution. That is where we see ourselves and are looking to prove our value” says Christophe Michel, “Our sensors are light, energy efficient, half as expensive as some and compatible with other manufacturers. Installing two sensors of different technologies and brands at the masthead seems to me to be more appropriate than duplicating the installation.”
But what about the precision and accuracy of the measurement, the most critical aspect for sailors who need to lock on to true wind under pilot? “In terms of performance, we are probably just a little less precise than the newest modern mecanical sensors” recognizes Christophe Michel, “However our products have the advantage of not deteriorating. Our measurements are as good as mechanical sensors which have been exposed to a salty environment. ” Reliability is a strong point for LCJ, who say they have had only something like 0.3% returns. Another strong point is the accurate calibration of the anemometers: “We have our own wind tunnel, where all our sensors are tested,” explains Guy-Marie Bodin, “A correction table is deduced and incorporated for each sensor.”
And so there is now a new LCJ sail racing catalogue. Latest product is an intelligent ultrasonic wind sensor coupled to a GPS which is a great application for race committees. Now it is child’s play to lay accurate courses on perfect axes.