When Apple unveiled its first-generation iPhone, people initially thought it was a cellphone. Soon, they realized that iPhones were actually pocket-size computers that also happened to make voice calls.
A similar evolution has unfurled with Garmin’s wearable technology. People are realizing that Garmin’s Quatix- and Marq- series smartwatches are in fact biometrics and data-streaming platforms.
The desire to take that kind of platform up yet another notch is how I knew I was in for a treat when the box arrived with a loaner Garmin Marq Captain: American Magic Edition smartwatch. Inside, I found a gray aluminum box with an engraving of an AC75-class foiling monohull that will be used to contest the 36th America’s Cup in 2021. On the other side of the box was the American Magic team logo. Magnets held the box’s top, which resembled an instrument display. Not even Apple touches this presentation, nor does it produce wearable technology that’s better geared for wresting the America’s Cup from its Kiwi-flagged defenders.
American Magic, the New York Yacht Club challenger for the 36th America’s Cup, partnered with Garmin to create the Marq Captain: American Magic Edition smartwatch ($1,750). It comes loaded with training and sailing-specific apps, including some that American Magic sailors helped develop. There’s also a customized America’s Cup digital watch face with local marine weather and a countdown timer to AC36.
Some backstory: Unlike during previous America’s Cup events, when sailors directly moved and controlled the sails by explosively grinding winches during maneuvers, the 2021 races will see some sailors constantly spinning two-person grinding handles to pressurize the yacht’s hydraulic accumulator. The trimmers and afterguard team use this pressure to adjust the yacht’s sails and ride height. The constant need for hydraulic pressure places tremendous physical demands on the grinders.
“Fitness is a really big deal for this America’s Cup,” says Jon Josephson, Garmin’s regional sales manager for marine.
While Cup sailors have always been fit, he says, AC36 will require next-level strength, power and endurance. Because of this, Garmin adapted existing fitness apps for sailing. The resulting Race Simulation, Fitness Test and Intervals, and Sail Grinding apps are exclusive to Marq Captain: American Magic Edition smartwatches, which also have the same sailing-specific features found on Garmin’s Quatix- and Marq-series smartwatches.
“I got to the gym the first day and was given a Garmin watch,” says Tim Hornsby, an American Magic grinder. “We’re using all of the features to maximize performance. … I don’t think of it as a watch; it’s a tool that lets me execute my job.”
Hornsby says the team uses the Garmin Connect app to analyze individual sailors’ performances and health metrics. The team then uses proprietary software to let coaches take fitness snapshots of the team.
“This lets our coaches have full access,” he says. “All of our workouts are broken down, and the coaches can see when you’re sleeping well and when you’re stressed.”
While the sailors log long days aboard their AC75-class monohull and their scaled-down 38-foot training yacht, they also spend significant time in the gym and on grinding machines. The latter is where the Race Simulation, Fitness Test and Intervals, and Sail Grinding apps shine.
“You don’t want to compare onshore training with yachtwork,” says Hornsby, who offered the comparison of riding a stationary bike and an actual road bike. “Coaches want to pull out the trends.”
While some sailors embrace biometrics, he says, others see sailing as an art form. Coaches are a different story. With the Garmin smartwatches, American Magic coaches can analyze data to recognize tendencies (say, better hydration) that can help sailors repeat their peak performances.
“Data is how you win,” Hornsby says.
The watches, the Garmin Connect app and the team’s proprietary software deliver this data to the coaches nearly in real time, along with graphing tools that let them sift through the metrics and isolate anomalies—such as a big night out. Because of this, some sailors jokingly refer to the watches as ankle bracelets.
“I’ll gladly take the tool for the benefits,” Hornsby says. “If I can see that it helps my performance, I’ll wear it.”
Letting coaches access this data when the sailors are in the gym is easy enough, but on-the-water practice sessions pose different data-gathering challenges. Because of this—and for myriad other analytical reasons—American Magic maintains six powerboats that team member Revelin Minihane manages. These boats are essentially floating information and telemetry platforms, and are festooned with Garmin instruments and computers that can access real-time data from the team’s AC75 and each Garmin smartwatch.
“There’s nowhere to hide,” Minihane says. “We can download [each sailor’s data] and see who’s putting in the power. We can monitor fatigue levels and change crew as needed.”
This ability to monitor each athlete is crucial aboard yachts that are as much airplanes as they are sailboats. “Recording data is key every day,” Minihane says. “If the telemetry goes down, we might as well not be out there.”
Another important benefit, Josephson says, is that Garmin’s sailing-specific smartwatches can stream real-time vessel data, giving sailors at-a-glance information without having to look at the screens aboard the team’s race boats.
In addition to serving as training tools, Marq Captain: American Magic Edition smartwatches are stylish enough to be worn to formal functions. “You see [skipper] Terry Hutchinson wearing it with his battle gear and also at fundraisers,” Hornsby says. “There’s nothing else that’s at all similar.”
While the benefits of real-time performance data are obvious for American Magic sailors, mere mortal boaters can also benefit from the Marq Captain: American Magic Edition smartwatch, from the gym to their helm to their corner office. Having field-tested an American Magic Edition smartwatch for several weeks, I can report that the watch is aesthetically pleasing, data-rich and great for attaining real-time health and training metrics, even if you’re not trying win the America’s Cup.