Parker, Innovation and the America’s Cup

The world’s foremost sailing event predates the British Open Championship, the Kentucky Derby and the modern Olympic Games: It’s the America’s Cup, named for the schooner America that won the very first race around the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom in 1851.


For nearly 170 years, the highest prize in sailing has attracted the world's top sailors, yacht designers and innovators, capturing the imagination of fans everywhere. The U.S. went on to defend the trophy 24 times from 1870 to 1980 until Australia II became the first successful challenger in 1983. While the storied history of the America’s Cup is interesting, what it has come to represent is where our story really begins.


As the Cup has evolved over the span of almost two centuries, the event has continued to push the boundaries of what’s possible—not only in terms of the sailors’ skill and athleticism but also driving innovation in boat design as well as system and component engineering. Each race represents a technological leap forward, almost as if the finish line itself keeps moving.


In March 2021, the Cup will be challenged once again. Thefirst qualifying matches of the 36th America’s Cup, known as AC-36, will begin in December 2020. Parker Hannifin, which supported the 2017 U.S. team and has been supplying components for decades, is the official control systems partner of American Magic, a New York Yacht Club-backed entry representing the United States. But once again, the game has changed, with the AC-36 boats barely recognizable as compared to their AC-35 predecessors.


Parker’s Vice President - Chief Technology and Innovation Officer Mark Czaja explains: “In AC-35, they were catamarans that came up out of the water. During the last campaign you always had 3 points in the water that you would balance on. Now, in AC-36, we’re using this monohull design where you’ve only got two points in the water at any given time. The boat is out of the water, essentially flying on hydrofoils and those hydrofoils are controlled by Parker technology.”


American Magic isn’t the only team sailing into the future on Parker parts. Every team racing in AC-36 has to comply with a one-design configuration that utilizes Parker F-11 hydraulic pumps. 


Because reliability and control are paramount, Parker Filtration is involved, supplying components that keep fluids cleaner for a competitive edge. The Control Systems Division uses Parker actuation to add stability and control of the foiling surface as well as steering and positioning on the rudder surface, helping to keep the boat balanced. Also, while much of the power for these boats is generated by the sailor’s arms, pressure and flow, Parker electrification is providing a boost to both the battery-powered system and the manual system. Finally, Parker valves on the sail and the boom offer a high level of control as sailors maneuver the boat. The entire project has also benefited from Parker’s additive manufacturing processes, rapid-prototyping capabilities and advanced materials expertise.


“While Parker Aerospace is taking the lead on the America’s Cup collaboration, this initiative is much bigger than a single division or even a single group,” adds Czaja. “It’s about the art of the possible—and the power of Parker.”


It’s also about a story about potential—what can happen when teams and nations work together for a common purpose. Much like sailing fans all over the world, we can’t wait to find out.