First off we’d like to apologize for the amount of time since the last post! The academic year finished with the stress of exams, and when we got back from San Francisco our family and work commitments left little time to give this blog the attention it deserves. I hope this (extra long!) post covering everything that happened at Sailbot 2014 will make up for it!
On the first day of the competition we entered the fleet race, a test designed to be completed under Radio Control to showcase the boats. We decided to use our larger, low wind sail configuration in order to try and get a speed boost. Unfortunately we learned the hard way that, when sailing, more power does not necessarily mean more speed! Our boat suffered from huge amounts of weather helm (this is when the wind causes the boat to turn into the wind, diminishing rudder control) and we found that we could not tack, making it very difficult to complete the first upwind leg of the race. After battling the wind and strengthening currents for quite some time, we decided that it would be best to bring the boat back in before something got damaged, make some changes such as tightening up the mainsheet, and try again the next day.
On day two the conditions were looking pretty calm so we decided to have another go with our low wind sails. Having tightened up most of the lines on the rig and added battens to the sail itself to stiffen it up a little, we hopped onto a chase boat being driven by the Memorial team to make another attempt at the fleet race. The boat went into the water and shortly afterwards the wind decided to pick up. Despite our attempted fixes we experienced similar issues to the previous day, except this time, instead of bobbing towards the open channel, the boat was drifting perilously close to a very nasty, rocky patch of shore! This was made worse by the fact that Memorial’s boat was also having issues and they were struggling to bring it on board at the time. Thankfully for us they realised how much trouble we were about to be in, dropped their boat and powered towards Kitty. With some brilliant driving, a bit of muscle, and some very wet clothes we managed to get both boats on board and back to the workshops without any damage.
On shore we discovered that Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics, had brought some of his team along to film the boats with a bunch of multirotors. This is the footage they captured:
We also entered the Station Keeping challenge, the aim of which is to keep the boat in a square area marked by buoys for as close to five minutes as possible. We did this under RC and achieved a good time of five minutes and fourteen seconds.
The day finished with a presentation by Richard Jenkins, the CEO and founder of Saildrone LLC who talked about the story of, and technology behind, Saildrone and Greenbird, which currently holds the land speed record for wind powered vehicles. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to listen and talk to such an accomplished engineer and be able to take away some new ideas to improve our own boats.
On day three all the teams headed over to Downtown San Francisco where we joined the 33rd International Conference on Ocean, Offshore and Arctic Engineering (OMAE 2014) to present our boats to judges, one of whom was Erik Berzins, who later made his own presentation about the development of the Emirates Team New Zealand boat for the Americas Cup. For our presentation we scored a respectable 7/10. The judges were particularly impressed with the software architecture we developed for Kitty. In the lunch break Louis had a really interesting conversation with Dave Peacock, lead software developer for Saildrone. It turns out that we have managed to develop a very similar solution to the system they are using in their boat! I think it’s safe to say that Erik Berzin’s talk on the development of Team New Zealand’s AC72 yacht had us all lusting after the idea of building a boat with hydrofoils, although this may be a little ambitious! Perhaps it’s a dream to pass on to a later year’s team when our engineering skills have improved.
Day four saw the last scheduled event, the long distance race. Last year we did very well placing 2nd on a 6km course. This year’s race was a bit more daunting as it involved 9.6km of currents, container ships, and the odd high-speed ferry. Nevertheless we were confident that we could complete it, so we set out onto the water with a chase boat to ourselves. Our attempt did not get off to a good start as our compass appeared to malfunction, giving very erratic, and very incorrect heading readings. Given that we were already a couple of hours into the six hour window we had to compete in, we decided that our best bet was to forgo autonomous control and use RC to complete the course. We made some reasonable progress until calamity struck and our sailwinch jammed. This is something that had happened to our previous boat, Dewi, at last year’s WRSC and the reasons for it were still a bit of a mystery to us (we have now solved this problem and will publish details soon). It meant that we could no longer sail, so we brought the boat back in. It was a little disappointing that this happened but in all honesty we were mostly glad that it had happened at this point in the competition rather than at the very beginning.
On our very last day at Cal Maritime we were given a tour of their simulator facilities. These included two Bridge simulators and a steam power plant simulator. They are used to train crews on how to handle various situations, which would be too expensive or dangerous to practice in real life, on a variety of boats. The bridge simulators were incredibly convincing and most of us found ourselves swaying side to side to try and stay upright despite the fact that both were completely stationary. The steam plant simulator was particularly impressive as the majority of the machinery and equipment had been taken from a decommissioned ship, with heaters and (very) loud speakers added so that the whole environment was as close to the real thing as possible.
preliminary final results for the competition are as follows: We will update this when we get a hold of the full results, although it’s pretty representative of everyone’s final scores.
While we may not have scored as well as we might have hoped, the whole experience has certainly been worthwhile. We discovered a lot about marine engineering and met some fantastic people. We are really looking forward to making use of the lessons we’ve learned and taking our new intake of team members, and an upgraded boat to next year’s competition in the city of St John’s, home of Memorial University Newfoundland.
We’d like to thank all our sponsors, without whom this whole experience would not have been possible.