Showing how maths is relevant in sailing

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  • Maths problem: two Endeavour students measure a sail

    Maths problem: two Endeavour students measure a sail

This week we are taking a look at M for maths is the Steam curriculum taught to the America’s Cup Endeavour students. Maths is a scary word for some of our students, as mathematics in school is word questions and can quite often be a subject that is not “real life” for them.

Our objective is to create a learning environment where maths is not intimidating and students do the subject willingly without realising they are doing it. It is a common theme that is used throughout any day in the classroom and on the water in our programme.

We have three modules in which maths is the catalyst for our students learning, sailing angles, orienteering as well as sail measurement. Maths is also a theme in our buoyancy and wind measurement.

Sail measurement is broken down into four parts; prior knowledge, parts of the sail, measurement and calculations. We first assess the students prior knowledge about triangles, can you make a list of five things you know about triangles?

1. _________________________________

2. _________________________________

3. _________________________________

4. _________________________________

5. _________________________________

Answers can include: have three sides, have three angles, angles add up to 180 degrees, can measure sides, can calculate perimeter, can calculate area, are different types (scalene, isosceles, right-angled, equilateral triangle, acute or obtuse triangle)

Can you label all the sides of a triangle? What if you knew that the parts of a triangle had a corresponding name for the part of a sail (in blue).

The next step is for the students to decide what the formula of the area of a sail (triangle) is in sailor’s terms= ½ (Luff * Foot) as well as the perimeter of the sail= Leech + Foot + Luff.

Each group will measure each sail and determine which sail has the biggest area. Since we have four types of boat our students create a hypothesis on which boat they think is the fastest due to the area of the sail.

Although it can be hard and tedious some times our students calculate the areas and perimeters with the help of their teacher chaperones and coaches without a calculator.

Can you calculate the area of an AC45 wing with the below information:

Luff= 70ft 6in



Many of our students hypothesise that the sail with the greatest area is the fastest boat, until we head out onto the water and test the speed. Although it is variable with wind conditions, the boat that has two sails — a main sail and jib — is actually faster than our sail with the biggest main sail area. The students then talk about how they would design the boats to potentially be faster (bringing it back to science here).

The other on-the-water maths component is calculating the angle to the wind. Sailboats cannot actually sail directly into the wind and must sail at a 45 degree angle or greater. Our students, whether they realise it or not, are constantly calculating the angle from the wind to be able to sail.

Can you label the below diagram with the angle from the wind for each point of sail?

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Published Dec 24, 2016 at 10:00 am (Updated Dec 24, 2016 at 10:33 am)

Showing how maths is relevant in sailing

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