A few weeks ago I was invited to tour the headquarters and boathouse of Oracle Team USA, Larry Ellison’s sailing juggernaut and host of this year’s America’s Cup in San Francisco. For the record, I know very little about sailing and even less about sailboat racing, my only real experience with either coming from tooling around Chickamauga Lake in a Sunfish with my Boy Scout troop as a kid (oh, and there was that time I sunk a Hobie Cat, but that’s a different story…). Nevertheless, after watching the giant hydrofoiling AC72’s practicing on San Francisco Bay near Maven HQ for the past year I was intrigued enough to check it out.

To say these boats are massive is a understatement – the “72” refers to the length of the hulls (in feet, of course), about 1.5 times the size of a tractor trailer. The mast is 40 meters high, and when they get up on their foils in a good breeze they can literally fly above the water at over 40 knots. Sometime in the past 15 or 20 years, somebody figured out how to use hydrofoils to get the hulls completely out of the water so that a six-and-a-half ton boat can zip along supported only by a six-foot chunk of carbon fiber composite. More recently, sails were replaced with semi-rigid wings not that different from what you’d see on a jetliner, just vertical and attached to a boat. They’re big, fast, complicated, expensive and dangerous – and the crews of 11 athletes that “sail” them are trained to superhuman levels of strength and endurance.

Oracle actually has two of these monsters, and they take them out of the water every day (with a crane) and haul them into the boathouse where dozens of technicians tear them apart down to the studs and dry out and service every nut and bolt – not to mention the HUNDREDS of sensors used to measure everything from boat speed to the stresses on every surface. It’s like NASCAR for boats.

Of course, I knew none of this before the tour. I always figured that a sail was still a sail and while clearly technology would have evolved the sport beyond polished teak and brass wheel, I didn’t anticipate the extremes involved.

So what does all of this have to do with Maven? Well, put simply, I had a great tour guide and learned more in one hour than I could have in days of research and reading… which is the whole point of Maven! When you want to learn a lot in a short amount of time, nothing beats talking to an expert.