If you would like to try Checkers, the first real simulator of a sailboat, come visit us at our booth at the Genoa Boat Show. Every day from Wednesday, Sept. 30 to Monday, Oct. 5, two appointments at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at our booth to try out the simulator in the pool, together with Fabrizio Formicola who invented it. That’s what it’s all about.
He has the look of genius, an obsessive attention to detail, and an infectious passion for what he creates. Fabrizio Formicola invented the world’s first real simulator of a sailboat in his laboratory in Milan. I met him at Circolo Vela Bellano (LC), which kindly hosted us, to try out his boat, Dama, on the water and to have him tell me his story. “I have always been passionate about modeling, I built my first sailboat when I was fourteen years old, with my own hands, and to date I have built more than thirty models. Just from land I was introduced to the principles of navigation, and when I first got on a ‘real’ boat for the first time when I was an adult, I already knew what I had to do. In the long run, however, modeling bored me because it doesn’t teach anything practical. Instead, my goal is to faithfully reproduce reality to scale.”
SIMULATE TO LEARN
Thus was born the Dama project, a real-life simulator that reproduces all the maneuvers of a real sailboat on a platform ashore. But that’s not all. A GoPro located on the boat’s stern pulpit sends live video of what is happening on the water to a screen ashore, as if you were actually helming from aboard. “What fascinates me most is reconstructing the real in a way that can be of practical teaching, to bring as many people as possible closer to the world. In fact, Dama has everything on board that you would then find on a sailboat: winches, furling, engine, bilge pump, raft, osteriggi, way lights, drails, backstay, electronic instrumentation. Every maneuver is transmitted via radio waves from the boat to the control platform ashore from which it can be steered: hauling and letting go the jib sheets, the mainsail, furling and unfurling the jib, unloading the bilge pump, turning on the electric motor, and of course steering up to a distance of 500 m with a full-size wheel and a sensitivity on the blade similar to that of a fourteen-meter boat (Dama is 1.4 m long and 34 cm wide).
GENIUS AND CREATIVITY
An innate gift that of “being able to make with one’s hands,” to imagine building something that does not yet exist: “for me, no object is exhausted in the function for which it was built but can have potentially infinite uses. I don’t throw anything away, because I think that an item that is outdated today, tomorrow I might need it to build something. So it occurred to me as I racked my brains in thinking of a system to operate all four winches separately with a system other than the self tailer, without giving up the winch bell. Rummaging through a closet in which I kept some old VHS, I was enlightened: Eureka! I can use the “roll” placed on the VHS tape to slide or lock the sheets!”
THE DAMA. IN WATER
Upon arriving in Bellano, Fabrizio unloaded the boat from the trunk of his car and began rigging it as if it had just come out of the yard: he rigged the shrouds to secure the mast to the deck, ran the genoa sheets and mainsail sheets, and finally hoisted the sails. We were ready to put her in the water, feet on the platform and rudder in hand. Dama took off a bit by motor sailing and then took off by taking advantage of the wind. Sensitivity on the rudder and sail adjustment feel as timely as if we were really on board, the hull responded surprisingly well to every maneuver and, instruments in hand, Checkers sailed at four knots in a true wind of ten, riding the lake’s ripples, which compared to its size had an almost oceanic grandeur. A group of curious people immediately formed around us, waiting to try it out and pestering Fabrizio with a thousand questions, while on the water Checkers was chased by children on Optimists struggling to catch up with her. “There you see,” Fabrizio tells me, “that’s exactly what I wanted. To create enthusiasm around my little creature. After all, I like to see my inventions work. Once I’ve achieved that, I’m happy if others enjoy it. That’s the difference between me and a modeler who would never give up his remote control to another person!” Now Fabrizio’s project is to make a simulator using the real cockpit of a boat from which to maneuver it from land and bring the next hull to sail in seawater as well (at the moment, in fact, Checkers can only sail in fresh water). “Instead, my dream is to self-build an 18-meter aluminum ketch inside which to make my home and workshop, a sort of floating construction site for my creations.” email@example.com