One of the keys to success in modern sailboat racing involves ensuring that a vessel’s electronics package is properly networked and calibrated.
While this sounds fairly straightforward, anyone who has installed or serviced onboard electronics understands the headaches that can ensue if a gremlin wends its way into wires or circuit boards. System and vessel depending, chasing these gremlins can be a serious time sink, and one that no skipper wishes to contend with en route to the starting-line area.
Now imagine that instead of being responsible for one vessel that your duties included helping to provide technical and product support for a fleet of twelve identical racing boats that get raced hard and put away wet. Now layer on top of this challenge the fact that aside from a professional skipper, the rest of the crew is comprised of amateur (and often greenhorn) sailors who are paying to learn the ropes of ocean racing and who are not yet accomplished navigators. Buttons sometimes get pressed, settings are sometimes accidentally changed, and-after a few thousand miles of sailing-the twelve identical nav systems can present twelve different sets of challenges.
Such is the case with the Clipper Round the World Race, which is currently racing from New York City to Derry-Londonderry in Northern Ireland. Sail-World.com was fortunate enough to be invited to the New York City stopover, where I had the chance to catch up with Jon Josephson, Garmin’s marine regional sales manager, who looks after the Garmin electronics that are aboard all twelve of the Tony Castro-designed 70-footers, to learn more about the challenges that he faces when he meets the fleet in various ports.
How many editions of the Clipper Round The World Races has Garmin supported with product?
It’s a five-year program, so this will be the second time the boats have actually gone around the world.
And am I correct that the Clipper’s latest boats were Garmin-equiped, ground up?
Correct. We [also] refitted [some of] the old boats so [the Clipper Race] could use them for training.
What Garmin equipment do the Clipper Round The World Race boats carry aboard?
All boats are equipped with a Garmin chartplotter, a Garmin AIS, a Garmin VHF radio, Garmin wind, depth and speed sensors, and then Garmin radar and Garmin instruments on both the mast and at each of the helm stations.
That probably sounds like a lot of logistical support at each stop.
The Clipper teams have containers that follow the boats around at each of the stops and those containers end up going back to [the United Kingdom] every once in awhile. Our UK office has been adding [and] replacing products that get damaged [from] their stock and then [the] Clipper containers end up at stops where they can exchange products that get damaged or have issues. We are at most of the [country stops] where we have offices. We have provided local support for Clipper because they really only have two guys for the electronics side of their program.
It’s been a great thing to be able to get products off the boat and then integrate our people into [the] Clipper [race] for the week that they’re in those stops.
When you come to a stopover, is there a big discrepancy from boat to boat as to what needs help?
Before the boats get to the stopover, Clipper tries to get a list from the skipper as to you known issues with the boat, be it mechanical, electrical, and or sails and things like that so that there are some [work] lists that [are] generated…[listing] what needs to be fixed first.
An example is when the boats got into Seattle, they had a lot of structural issues with broken bowsprits and one of the steering-wheel guards, and so one of the things they needed to [do was to] schedule yard time since they [needed to] get the boats that are [the most] broken into the yard right away. The schedule has to be set before the boat actually shows up because you can’t just make it all happen at the last minute.
For [Garmin], we interface with the Clipper teams as to where they need our help for getting things fixed on [each] boat. In Seattle we ended up making some splashguards for the mast displays…because the back of the displays were open and they would get damaged from crew climbing up on the mast. We ended up [diagnosing and going] to some local Garmin dealers to see if they could help us to build those brackets. Everybody pitched in, [and helped] put the deal together, and then we ended up spending a bunch of protecting all of those displays and they’ve been fine [ever] since. It was a good team effort, between both the Clipper [Race], boat skippers and local industries to make these aluminum brackets and get the parts.
Have you seen situations where one boat gets an electronic gremlin that the other boats don’t have, or do all boats have the same issues, electronic wise?
Well, the crews may not be as experienced as a lot of other kinds of racing boats so different things do happen. It’s a little bit like a rental-car fleet… One boat might have a particular problem that continues to happen, and one of the interesting [aspects] is that all of the boats have the same electronics.
What’s interesting is how each of the boats has a different set of information presented on each of their displays. Some boats will [display] speed and course over ground on their displays all of the time, and the other [boats might] have boatspeed and wind angles [displayed. [This] can create other problems based on how their presentation is [set-up]. The other boats may have the same issue but not know it.
We’ve recently run into the problem where [the teams] kept adding pieces to the NMEA N2000 network and they didn’t add any more power supply so we’re having some problems [where] the mast displays would shut off. So we had to go back and reevaluate what was actually causing those problems, and it was sort of randomness between multiple boats. Was it a problem with the displays or cabling?
We found out that it was a power-supply problem because [the teams] had added some new equipment…[each] boat can buy their own special stuff-little fans, things like that. They’ll add that [kit] to the power supplies and who knows how they add them, so we’ve seen some interesting wired connections. We’ve had to go back sometimes and have a chat with the skippers about ‘hey you need to deal with this in a different way’.
What’s the hardest challenge of supporting this race, from Garmin’s perspective?
Most of it is making sure that we get the gear that needs to be replaced or dealt with [at] the location [where] the boats [are] going to be, because they have a very short window of time. We can ship a whole box of stuff, but then we’d end up having to deal with multiple parts and pieces if we had a big [equipment] failure.
We didn’t have 12 masthead units in Australia, [and] this was basically two days before the start, so now it was a matter of going up, figuring out what the problem is and how to fix it so [they] can go sailing.
You could just take [replacements for] everything but it’s not really cost-effective. It takes up space in the container, adds weight, and things like radar antennas take up a lot of [container] space. So it’s just a process of having to figure out what’s needed [most], what [still] works [and] what doesn’t…
Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about that you’d like to add, for the record?
[The Clipper Race has] been a really good R&D platform for Garmin. We’ve had to learn certain things about how [and] when products are used in the extreme environment, and we’ve learned a few things about our products to make them better long term.
by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA