venerdì 7 luglio 2017

Navigation and communications on board the Clipper fleet

From the equipment on board to navigational challenges: The Clipper Race is an international yacht race that sees twelve teams of amateur crews take on the some of the greatest oceans. The eleven-month circumnavigation stops in 13 top global destinations and will see crews navigate in vast variety of waters, from the North Pacific to the South China Sea.  Daniel Smith, Deputy Race Director, for the Clipper Race talks to us about navigation and communication on board the twelve-strong fleet of Tony Castro designed Clipper 70s in preparation for the start of the 2017-18 edition from Liverpool, 20 August.

Leading the Derry~Londonderry~Doire team to second place in the Clipper 2015-16 Race, Dan has experienced first-hand the equipment and navigational decisions on board during the race. “The Clipper Race is tough, requiring the highest standards from our skippers and crew. They have to take full advantage of all the equipment on board to get the most of their yachts. 

“Navigational challenges differ depending on where in the world our yachts are sailing. In UK waters skippers rely heavily on the tidal and weather information they can obtain through the navigational and communications equipment. Collision avoidance with large fishing fleets is always in the front of the skippers and crew’s minds, I remember on one occasion seeing 300 AIS targets all within a 5-mile range, when in the South China Sea. Radar and AIS are invaluable here”

The Clipper 70s have a wide variety of top of the range navigation and communications equipment on board.
  • Navigational equipment includes:
  • Garmin AIS and Radar screen
  • Rugged PC (A second media PC of identical specification can be swapped in case of failure).
  • 7 Garmin navigation displays,
  • Garmin radar
  • Garmin AIS
  • Echomax Active XS radar reflector
Communications is dealt with using:
  • Garmin VHF radio
  • Fleet broadband satellite system
  • Inmarsat C satellite system
  • Iridium satellite system
On the importance of having both electronic and traditional methods of navigation on board Dan said: “All yachtsmen know that technology has huge benefits and can make life a lot easier but it needs to be used alongside traditional methods of navigation. The two systems back each other up and work together. Technology can fail, electricity can become limited but a boat must always know where it is and where it’s going.

“The fleet carry a full paper chart folio of the route including a full library of admiralty publications to be used alongside electronic methods. Sextants are carried on board so in the event of power failure or lightning strike damaging instruments the skippers can keep racing.”

When it comes to the communications on board “The answer is to have a plan A, B and C.” Says Dan, adding: “The fleet have multiples systems on board, built to be tough like the boats that they are on. There is also plenty of redundancy built into the systems to ensure that boats can always communicate with the Race office and the coastguard when necessary.

 “Skippers and crew have access to email and voice communications via the Fleet broadband satellite system. We have a backup for voice and data using the Iridium system and finally Inmarsat C is used as a very reliable system allowing us to track boats, send and receive email messages, send distress and receive safety messages. These three satellite systems give us a really robust long-range communication system.

“Shorter range communications between boats is dealt with via VHF. This is used between the fleet and also for Clipper Race yachts to communicate with passing marine traffic where necessary.”
When asked in his opinion what are the most important navigation and communication tools on board, he said: “For me the all singing, all dancing equipment is great but the basics are the most important. Having reliable log, depth and wind instruments together with being able to send an email from the middle of the ocean is invaluable.”
Looking forward to the twelfth edition of this global race, we asked whether there had been any changes to the systems on board: “A few tweaks and upgrades have been made to keep the navigation and communications systems running well,” said Dan. “All deck navigation displays will be replaced for this race, the Garmin AIS and radar screen has been upgraded and replaced.
Navigations PCs have been upgraded and behind the scenes some of the communications hardware has been upgraded.  Allowing crew to link into the satellite comms system via WIFI from a mobile device. This will be a huge benefit to crew meaning that if they want to phone or email home they don’t have to wait for time on the phone or for access to a computer.”

A race of this size takes a serious amount of route planning. With the circumnavigation broken down into eight legs made up of a total of 13 races stopping in 13 destinations across 6 continents, navigating is no small feat. The Clipper Race is also unique in offering this opportunity to embrace the thrill of ocean racing to anyone, regardless of previous sailing experience. 

With over 700 crew members, who choose to take on the whole circumnavigation or compete in one or more of the individual legs, facilitating the race to ensure the safety of crew and allowing them flexibility over their involvement are important factors. Dan said: “The current route we are using is tried and tested, similar to that used in previous editions of the race with a few tweaks and new stops to keep things interesting. Lots of planning goes into making sure that the boats are in the right parts of the world at the right times of year to avoid dangerous weather systems, straying too close to ice fields and to avoid unnecessary delays due to lack of wind. 

“Our Clipper 70s have now completed two circumnavigations so we have lots of data as to what speeds they are capable of in different oceans at certain times of year. This information allows us to work out arrival windows of when boats are expected to arrive and plan our entire race.”

The Clipper Race starts in Liverpool on 20 August before racing to, Punte Del Este, Cape Town, Fremantle, Sydney, Hobart, Eastern Australia, Sanya, Qingdao, Seattle, Panama, New York and Derry-Londonderry before returning to Albert Dock, Liverpool on 28 July 2018 for Race Finish.

To find out more about the race visit

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