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Inside the Blue Book

CSES 330b: The Physics of Sailing and Sculling
Faculty: Britton Chance, Lecturer in Yale College

Britton Chance designs boats—boats that have won the America’s Cup three times, as well as Olympic gold. Three years ago, moved by what he calls “a preconscious wish to teach” (his father was a department chair at Penn), Chance approached Yale about teaching “The Physics of Sailing and Sculling,” and the course recently was funded for the third time through the college seminar program.

The course introduces fluid dynamics and naval architecture, as applied to shells and sailboats. Chance is convinced that physics can be meaningful—and fun. “You have to make an effort to relate it to the real world,” he says. As an undergraduate at the University of Rochester, physics was not often directed to his interests, so he left to work with America’s Cup designer, C. Raymond Hunt.


Chance is convinced that physics can be meaningful—and fun.

Now, his students receive what he rarely got in the classroom—hands-on experience. They make computer models of an ice boat and a 65-foot catamaran in order to make velocity predictions. They also take a field trip to Milford’s North Sails—the largest sail maker in the world—with Olympic team member Stephen Benjamin '78 as their tour guide.

“This isn’t a ‘learn to sail or row’ course,” says Chance. “It’s about how the underlying physics drives rowing and sailing.” For the most part, he teaches experienced rowers and sailors who also have an interest in science. “Above all, I want to show that you can do useful things easily if you’re careful with the fundamentals of physics and fluids.”

The round of applause he received on the last day of class hints at his success. “I was thrilled that they were engaged to the point of saying, ‘Hey, this is interesting.’”  the end


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