All of us have felt the tension that arises during a typical start sequence: the frenetic mental energy coupled with our helming and trimming to be exactly on the line where we want to be and at speed when the gun fires. It looks easy and intuitive to those who have years of experience and know their boat, their crew and the race conditions well. Yet for others without this carefully acquired and cultivated skillset starting can be quite a daunting task. This is where RaceSense and its Atlas 2 display platform from Vakaros can help by bringing affordable America’s Cup and SailGP-level technology to within reach of all of us.
On big boats it’s quite typical to see a variety of clever tactical software tools used to provide critical information, such as time and distance to the line based on measured rates of progress. Yet when this information is layered among other considerations, such as your aggressive neighbours who also want the same place on the line, the need for clear and highly accurate information can be paramount: there is no room for uncertainty in the final seconds left to the start, for both the competitor and the race managers who are tasked with policing the start line.
Only with the Atlas 2 dual band L1 + L5 GNSS technology can the centimetre-scale spatial resolution to within tenths of a degree in accuracy be achieved to provide this critical information within the Race Sense software. Rather than an add on to an existing instrument system or an app on a phone, Atlas 2 was specifically designed and built for this purpose.
‘Phone apps are simply not designed for this purpose,’ says Todd Wilson, co-founder of Vakaros. ‘They chew up too much power, there are limitations on presenting information on their displays, and their network connections are not optimised to be reliable over the typical race areas out on the water.’
Being an active racer in numerous competitive classes, Wilson knows from experience these limitations, and says it is for this reason Vakaros has taken the big step to develop hardware dedicated for this purpose.
‘This has been a challenge for us knowing this use is tailored to a specific market of racing sailors and their regatta managers, but we could see no solution other than to have a system where we have our own network and hardware that can deliver the absolute highest levels of accuracy and effectiveness.’
For race managers, RaceSense puts the power of reliable information in a tablet format with a simple, easy to understand user interface focused on getting races started quickly, fairly and accurately. The high resolution of the system’s recognition of boats at the start means there is no longer the guess work of which bow or sail numbers were obscured by others, endless general recalls due to this uncertainty, and the stress of subsequent U and black flags deployed to control the fleet.
The RaceSense system is in fact fully automated, where OCS calls are not relying on X-flags and sound signals from the signal boat, but will light up the onboard display in bright red LED colours. An advanced feature in the software can not only identify a boat as OCS, but if the rules allow, assign a penalty as an alternative to having to go back to start or worse, to be disqualified. In this sense the system can be used to referee the race and impose penalties only as desired by the class. Rather than being knocked out of contention, this imposed penalty approach could let you play on, albeit with a little more work to do.
With its powerful dual-band GPS system and an interconnected network among the fleet’s onboard Atlas 2 displays, use of RaceSense also negates the need for each team to ping both ends of the start line nor enter the starting countdown timer individually because this is centrally controlled by the race managers. This ensures accuracy and synchronicity for competitors and race managers alike.
This system is also very energy efficient: because the Atlas 2 is optimised for its function with LED displays and its own network, the displays draw very little battery power…100 hours of use before needing recharging is typical.
All these features are why high-performance classes such as the M32s, 69Fs and the RS21 class have all embraced the use of RaceSense. There’s no reason this list cannot expand into use in handicap racing classes as well, and holds promise for being used for accurate race results as well, both in elapsed and corrected times.