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Sailing races used to be for participants. As a spectator sport for the uninitiated, they were a disaster.
Too far away from live spectators and shore-based cameras.
Low viewpoint didn’t show what was happening tactically.
Delayed starts were quite a frequent occurrence.
Races lasted an unpredictable time.
Professional sailing and big sponsors provided the motive to expand the audience and the funds to innovate.
Airborne cameras provided an overall view, as in ball games.
Special classes such as I-Shares Cup multihulls guaranteed thrills, spills and short races close to shore-based spectators, to excite even those who didn’t understand the sport.
Very high performance offshore boats and satellite video transmission from onboard cameras in Volvo and Vendée Globe attracted viewer fidelity over many months, giving excellent sponsor value (if their boat survived the whole course, in the case of the non-stop Vendée Globe).
The current economic doldrums have led to the Volvo changing to a slightly smaller, one-design format for the next race. They believe this will encourage more entries, and they also hope it will make it easier for less-experienced crews to enter, helping to encourage new talent.
Meanwhile, the America’s Cup is helping to push the envelope for the technology used in showing the sport to viewers. This NY Times interview with Stan Honey, the man behind the superimposed Live Line diagrams in video coverage, tells you more about it. I’m a little surprised at the precision required – I think he may be exaggerating slightly. Just wait till we get the augmented reality smartphone app he mentions…
French navy ship Thétis shot some video and talked to the skippers as they passed through the big flat patch yesterday.
This morning, Jann Eliés is still in the lead, and Morgan Lagravière has slipped in between him and Fabian Delahaye. After being overtaken by Sam Goodchild in yesterday’s chaos, Nick Cherry has closed the gap. Nick is on the western side of the pack, in 22nd position and doing 9.5 knots, but Sam is way out to the west, presumably intending to put the falling breeze more on the beam as he approaches Gijòn and sail faster than the pack. Surprisingly, he’s going faster than Nick right now, in spite of having the wind further aft. There must be local breezes that don’t show up on the tracker.
It must be very difficult to stay awake when it’s near flat calm. Maybe you don’t need to – any change in the strength and direction of the feeble breeze will probably wake you.
I took a look at the tracker on lasolitaire.com a few minutes ago, and the main bunch was scattering like chickens when a fox enters the run, most of them heading into the Bay. Checked the wind map and realised what had caused the flap – they’re sailing into a zone of very light, variable winds.
I noticed another thing – the chart shows most boats in the pack doing 2 knots or less, but the leaderboard still shows their speeds at 4 knots or more. Obviously, the leaderboard updates lag the map by quite a lot.
I tend to think of the Figaro as a heavy weather race, excellent training for the survival conditions of the southern ocean leg of the Vendée Globe, but the opening leg of the 2012 race is turning out to be a test of how well skippers can interpret grib files and local weather forecasts – and how good they are at concentrating when seriously sleep-deprived. If race sponsor Eric Bompard Cachemire had given each of them a zipped turtleneck pullover they could probably spend a few minutes photographing themselves wearing it at the moment.
A gloomy start, with only 12 knots of wind, led to a difficult night dominated by the old hands. Gildas Morvan led until the fleet split three ways to battle with the strong tidal stream. In the end, coast-hugging paid off, putting Jann Eliés in the lead, occasionally swapping paces with Erwan Tabarly. In an interview before the race, Eliés said his goal was to enjoy himself battling with his friends, not to run aground as he did in 2010, and to arrive first in Gijon. If he does as he says and keeps an ear on his alarms, he looks set to achieve his goal.
On the British front, Nick Cherry of Artemis Offshore Academy is giving an excellent account of himself, sitting around 7th or 8th in a pack of very experienced opponents.
They’re off again. All the young bloods with an eye on professional singlehanded racing careers are already getting their boats scrutinised and checking all their gear. There will be old hands like Jann Eliés, who has already survived having his legs smashed in the southern ocean during the last Vendée Globe, and a few rookies hoping to establish their reputations and justify the sponsorship they have attracted so far.
These are hard times, so it’s not surprising that the fleet is down to 37 entries this year, compared to 49 in 2011. It looks as if the rookies have had a particularly difficult time, because there are only 6 this year, against 11 last year, but there’s a Norwegian for the first time and 2 of them are Brits, thanks to Artemis Offshore Academy, which has sponsored all 3 British boats. Of these Nick Cherry is the one who has also found time to run an entertaining and informative blog . I particularly enjoyed his series of pics showing possible places for taking the shot semi-alert naps that are the only form of sleep allowed to serious Figaro contestants.