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WindBot - the choice of top coaches and principal race officers

by Kylie Robinson/ 5 Jun 2018 21:17 PDT 6 June 2018
The NZL 49er team tracks the trends in the breeze while waiting for the breeze to settle in on Day 3 of the 2018 Oceanbridge Sail Auckland Regatta © Richard Gladwell

Just back from a trip to Enoshima, the 2020 Olympic Sailing venue, John Parrish will be packing WindBot into his suitcase again in August.

His next trip is to Aarhus in Denmark for the Sailing World Championships returning via Longcheer in China for the Topper Worlds, and back to Jakarta for the Asian Games. WindBot is an essential part of his travelling kit.

The WindBot kit consists of three parts - the wind sensor, a shortened mounting pole and a Samsung Android tablet.

He uses the same kit as the coaches, and for regattas in Auckland, he runs the same package on his custom-fitted race management keelboat, "Toyshop" albeit with a taller mounting pole. John also runs a similar package aboard the specialist race management vessel, "Olympus" - a legacy from the former Auckland Olympic Yacht Club.

A significant advantage of the WindBot package is its portability - enabling a race officer to turn up at an event with a standard set of kit, that works independently of other systems on the race committee vessel. Race officers and coaches to have the full wind information at their fingertips from the moment they step aboard for the first day of racing.

"I started running Windt at the first test event at Rio de Janeiro," he explained. "We were working on Guanabara Bay, on the Bridge course (named for the harbour bridge which bisects the bay), with the SW wind coming out of the Port for half of the time and then it would switch and come out of the harbour."

"WindBot gives us True Wind Speed and True Wind direction. It is giving calculated values - it's not perfect because we are not seeing the same wind as the sailors, but it does give us the trends of what is happening. So we can see the highs and lows and the direction of the trend, and we can then make decisions about course location and mark-laying."

"It's all very helpful to a race manager," he adds.

WindBot replaces the hand-held anemometer which the race officers and coaches have deployed in the past - and make mental or written notes of the timing and data - not an easy task working in a sea state close to water level with distortions in wind direction and strength from boat movement.

Many race officers still use an even cruder, but a long-trusted system, of a piece of wool attached to a board and eyeball that in conjunction with a compass readout.

The significant advantage of WindBot app is that after the racing there is some hard data which can be used in debriefing and analysis and to placate sailors upset about the influence of extreme wind shifts on the race area.

At Rio, Guanabara Bay was notorious for its extreme wind shifts, testing the sailors, coaches and race officials in particular - who had to make critical calls on course setting and race fairness. They were acutely aware that one wrong decision could determine a medal outcome and the premature end of a four-year program for one of the top sailors.

"After that regatta at Rio, I decided that I wasn't going to another event without WindBot," Parrish remarked.

Typically WindBot is used by coaches and race officers to detect changes in true wind strength and direction the system comprises a small, smart wind sensor mounted on its own pole and interfaced to a tablet-based application giving the race officer and coaches trends in true wind direction and strength.

One significant advantage is that WindBot can record and calibrate data from a moving boat - as a race officer or coach is crossing the course on the way to the start area, WindBot will record the True Wind Speed and Direction - adjusted for the boat's speed and heading.

A highly experienced International Race Officer, John works with World Sailing and will be at Aarhus as a "Course Representative" - a role he has previously performed at two Olympic Regattas, and umpteen world championships.

Aarhus in Denmark will be the venue for the World Sailing Championships, which have all ten Olympic classes and approximately 1,200 sailors competing in the primary round of 2020 Olympic Qualification.

As a regatta, it is second only to the Olympic regatta in status and attracts a fleet three times the size of the Olympic fleet.

John is one of several course representatives, charged with overseeing a course to ensure its run by World Sailing's policies and to make sure there is no international bias. When in Japan and Indonesia, John will be teaching clinics in race management, and in China, he will be the Principal Race Officer (PRO) for the Topper Worlds.

WindBot is a portable wind analytics system that can be installed on any boat and will calculate the true wind readings even if the committee boat is motoring out to the course area. It monitors shifts in true wind direction and strength as they happen – giving sailors a competitive advantage, and race officials the information they need to make the best decisions.

John says this is data rich but what is great about the WindBot is that it refines that data into information that helps when making race course decisions.

The WindBot Display not only shows the current wind conditions but also allows historical wind trends to be analysed with minimum and maximum wind condition limit alarms. Further, he can set and review the accuracy of his course layout using mark tracking, and even monitor wind conditions at the top mark. All this information is retained and can be referenced when reviewing the days sailing or if race course wind data is needed at a protest session.

John is a huge fan of "still feeling the wind on your cheeks" when you are setting the course, but having the WindBot onboard also means that if he is waiting for the wind to build, he can see that without needing to leave the boat cabin.

Because the WindBot can also be connected to the internet, it means that the event organisers ashore can also be observing wind conditions on the course.

John says nowadays with the technology available we should be well past a "piece of wool".

"As a Race Officer, our key job is to ensure we do the best for the sailors, having the right information at our fingertips is the key," he explains. "New tools like the WindBot are an enormous assistance to being able to do that."

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