Since 1930, one of Swiftsure’s many challenges has to been to communicate up to date race information from the yachts on the water to the on shore public. In the early years, many frantic duels between boats and strategic shifts in the fleet went unreported until the race was officially over. Protests aside, actual events of the race were typically verified (or embellished) by race participants and crew.
In 1931, during the second Swiftsure yacht race the first known communication reports were successfully transmitted – from the Swiftsure lightship to the Gonzales Wireless Station.
For many years, dedicated Committee members dreamed of the day when on shore race enthusiasts and the general public would be able to enjoy up to date radio reports of the Swiftsure race
Swiftsure 1952 saw the first use of radio reports to apprise the public of yacht positions and race progress. It was the result of discussions between Andy Wright and Humphrey Golby. They collaborated with Dr. Ben Nickells, a local ham operator who suggested sending a radio signal from one of the lead yachts (L’Apache) and he would then monitor the band from his home set.
At the time, the L’Apache had the best possible communication equipment of the day. Because wave lengths weren’t available to yachts, Golby and Wright had to use the common band, popularly known as the “fisherman’s band”, which was extremely crowded. The noise and racket of fishermen and tugboats made it impossible to get a word in edgewise, let alone report race results.
In 1955, Swiftsure race coverage expanded when Harold Elworthy’s Island Tug and Barge Company generously provided tugboats during the race for the press. Humphrey Golby delivered regularly scheduled VHF radio reports to a local HAM radio operator who then directly relayed them to CKDA, a local radio station for live broadcast.
In that same year, the former Eaton’s department store display window (at the corner of Douglas and View Street) was set up as “Swiftsure Headquarters” where a large map of the racecourse was installed and the progress of the race was monitored by moving miniature boats along the race course.
1973 marked the year that Swiftsure entered the “age of computers”. Despite this new technology, results were slow to appear as information was delivered by hand to the University of Victoria and then laboriously key punched.
In 1993, Swiftsure ventured onto the “internet”, with race results electronically tabulated to the point of accurately predicting the winners even before all yachts have crossed the finish line.
Starting in 2004 the Swiftsure Information Centre was established at Ship Point. The Swiftsure Information Centre was comprised of a group of volunteers who made use of VHF listen-only radio, cell phone calls to skippers on the water, and computers for immediate input to report the race progress to the public, via www.swiftsure.org and Shaw Cable TV. This team of volunteers also interviewed skippers and crew members to write stories about their Swiftsure race experience.
To ensure safety for all participants and provide accurate information for spectators the 2010 Swiftsure Race Committee’s joined forces with Globalstar and West Marine to provide state-of-the-art SPOT 2 units that were carried aboard all long-course yachts to provide race tracking information. From these units, data was collected from the yachts, including position, speed, and course, and downloaded every 10 minutes to the Swiftsure web site: tracker.swiftsure.org/
Through advances in technology, combined with the dedication of the Swiftsure Race Committee, Swiftsure Race Tracking has come a long way in terms of communicating race results in a timely manner, engaging the public more effectively, responding to emergencies more efficiently and ensuring the safety of all race participants.
For Swiftsure 2012, there is a significantly improved version of the 2011 Race Tracker software in terms of functionality, immediate access and operational use. The improved Race Tracker system can now be used for other sports and non-racing events.
The Author would like to acknowledge literary and research contributions from Donna Randall and the authors of “Swiftsure: The First Fifty Years” – Humphrey Golby & Shirley Hewitt.