Sailing is lucky to be a sport with cool science. There’s only so much you can innovate the game of rugby, but motorsport and yacht racing push limits of understanding of subjects which have huge application in the wider world. This is especially true of an event like the Volvo Ocean Race, which takes place on a vast global playing field.
Teams competing in the next edition of the Volvo Ocean Race will benefit from tactical oceanographic data for the first time. Australian oceanographic data specialist Tidetech will supply its global ocean current models and sea surface temperature (SST) data to all teams.
Tidetech director Penny Haire, who is described as an intermediary between the science world and the sailing world said:
“The Volvo Ocean Race has always been influenced by currents, but the tactical focus has traditionally been on weather in the absence of accurate oceanographic information.
The combination of SST, current and weather inputs into tactical software will allow navigators to make more informed decisions that could result in a clear performance advantage.”
Partnerships like this are a great example of how the sport of sailing has more to offer innovative, technology driven companies than media value. If a technology can be proven to give an advantage to a competitive race boat travelling at 35 knots, then the same technology should be able to provide value to commercial shipping, offshore wind farms and a whole host of other marine applications.
Companies like Tidetech are also a great case study for showing how research can be productised and brought to market as well as attracting new talent to the space.
The company was formed in 2008 by Dr Roger Proctor and Penny Haire with an objective to create a commercial product based on a combination of their complementary expertise in scientific coastal oceanography and electronic navigation systems. The science team is comprised of pre-eminent Government research scientists, who have between them published over 200 peer-approved papers and journals and are held in high regard by the ocean science community.
Writing peer-approved papers might be a great motivator for some scientists, but for a younger generation who are impressed by reality tv talent shows, creating the science that allows a bunch of guys on a 70 foot ocean racing yacht to sail faster makes oceanographic data cool.
For the Volvo Ocean Race teams, Tidetech’s scientific team evaluates data from multiple sources including satellites, government agencies and observation (among many others) to establish the exact location of constantly moving currents.
Sea surface temperature is often the critical factor as ocean ‘fronts’ where water changes from cold to warm is where the highest differences of current are likely to be found.
SST can also have an effect on localised winds. Increased temperature can create what amounts to a mini pressure differential above the ocean surface that can alter the wind strength and direction.
Savvy navigators will use the data to position their boats in favourable current of potentially several knots (or avoid heavy current against them).
Volvo Ocean Race marine weather consultant Gonzalo Infante said Tidetech’s data was another tactical element designed to increase the competitiveness of the race.
“Tidetech’s data is about as near to real-time as it is possible to achieve in ocean current predictions. Clever tactics will be the deciding factor and if a boat gains even a few minutes it could mean a significant difference in the overall standings.”