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Melges IC37 2019 Leaderboard

Oakcliff Sailing Center Prove that Offshore Racing with Live Streaming is Possible

by Oakcliff Sailing 18 May 2019 14:01 PDT
Melges 24s Distance Racing © Oakcliff Sailing

When World Sailing proposed a new event for the 2024 Paris Olympics - a double-handed, mixed-gender distance race - the sailing community exploded with controversy. Many sailors rejoiced but others voiced opposition to the idea. While some argued that distance racing was too expensive for the Olympics, others claimed that the media coverage just wouldn't work within the stringent time constraints of broadcast television.

Oakcliff Sailing accepted the challenge. In January they designed a race to prove it could be done. They collaborated with North Sails, Vesper Marine, and Melges Performance Boat Works to modify their fleet of six Melges 24s for double-handed offshore sailing with live stream capabilities. Oakcliff Fleet Captain Greg Adams spearheaded the effort and ensured that the modifications did not take the boats out of one-design specifications. Oakcliff Race Program Director Patrick Burks designed the race course and wrote the Sailing Instructions so that the Principal Race Officer (PRO) could lengthen or shorten the course to have the racers finish as close to 5pm EST as possible, which was determined to be an optimal viewing time.

The race began at 3:14pm on Tuesday, May 14 and took competitors across Long Island Sound and along the Connecticut shoreline to round Falkner Island some 45 miles to the West. For over 24 hours, the racers battled through a mixed bag of conditions that included biting cold rain, fog, no wind, reefing conditions, and a picturesque North Shore sunset for the finish in Cold Spring Harbor. Meanwhile, the Oakcliff support team was following the racers around the course in a 32-foot lobster boat equipped with a KVH Tracphone that housed all of the media and race management systems. They towed a RIB and monitored commercial traffic to ensure the safety of the racers.

The first place team, which consisted of Oakcliff's Training Program Director Ethan Johnson and Cat Chimney, crossed the finish line 25 hours and 46 minutes after the start. Less than a minute later, two more teams finished after a classic match race duel right before the line that put Rebecca Emily Coles & Paddy Hutchings over the finish line just half a boat length before Ella Boxall & James Harayda. Both of these teams traveled from the UK for this race and hope to represent Great Britain in the 2024 Olympics in the inaugural offshore event.

Much to the delight of Burks who served as PRO for the race, the first boat crossed the line at 5:00pm exactly and the video footage garnered more than 22k unique views on Facebook alone. With the exception of one camera that went down from moisture damage in the torrential rain, all of the onboard cameras transmitted reasonably steady streams for nearly the entire race. Oakcliff Media Manager Francis George worked with Dig Down Media to test and develop a system that leveraged only affordable, consumer-grade equipment for the onboard live streams. Each boat was equipped with an Android cell phone, a HotSpot, and three apps: Speedify, TeamViewer Host, and Wowza GoCoder. The total cost of the hardware, software, and data was just $605 per boat.

Other innovations included: recycling inflatable fenders to use as movable water ballast; building a stern-mounted media roll bar fabricated with 3/4" electrical conduit and various hardware that cost less than $10 per boat; and building new reefable mains that were designed by Oakcliff Graduate Madeline Gill at North Sails and built in-house by Oakcliff Loft Manager Chris Holman. Melges provided six new Melges 20 spinnakers which made the boats easier to handle by short handed crews. OMEALS provided food packets that require no hot water to cook but instead use a water-activated heating element. This circumvented the need to handle hot water on the boats which would've been cumbersome and dangerous.

Oakcliff Executive Director Dawn Riley commented, "It was a fair amount of hard work to pull this event off but it was also a lot of fun. We might not be designing the next America's Cup boat but we experienced the same excitement."

Oakcliff has reported the results of their event to World Sailing which, by complete coincidence, was holding their mid year meeting in London while the race was going on. Oakcliff is looking forward to hearing their reactions to the event.

You can see the teams who competed on our website or view the race updates and live footage on our Facebook page. Also, see the coverage of the event by News12 Long Island and NBC4 New York.

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