During the weekend of May 26th hundreds of boats and their sailors will disappear over the horizon as they compete in the 2012 Swiftsure International Yacht Race. In the past, those wishing to watch the boats as they traversed the open ocean and it’s hazards could only do so with their imagination. In recent years this is no longer the case as fans of the Swfitsure have successfully accessed the Race Tracker to watch the races online and the progress of each boat in real time. With 2012, there is a much-improved version of the Race Tracker software and Swiftsure International Yacht Race has become practically a spectator sport.
The ability of Race Tracker to present live Swiftsure races has allowed the popularity of the race to expand from what might have been an audience restricted to the Pacific Northwest of Canada and the United States. The Race Tracker is very popular; users from countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Mexico and even as far as Turkey and China logged on to watch the races. Where once one could only follow the races by listening to a local Victoria radio station for updates, now people from across the world can live out Swiftsure’s races live through Race Tracker.
Nothing But a Team Thing
As an ongoing development project, the Race Tracker could not have been built without the continued focus and dedication of a small team led by Alec Matthews. Alongside Alec, Ken Kowalsky, Dennis McMillan, Chris Charlson, Kevin Sales and Robert Johnson worked together at opposite ends of the country to bring this important project to successful launches in the past two years.
Combining their expertise in programming, web design, database management and project management Alec and his team bridged the gap in time and space by utilizing Skype, email and the occasional phone call to keep each other on task and on time. This often meant late night hours for Alec from his home in St. Johns, Newfoundland as he communicated with his team back on the west coast.
Over the Past Two Years
Their hard work has meant that over the past few years the Race Tracker has undergone a complete re-write of the system, re-designing and building a core system which moves data stored on transponders located on every boat to a database, and then on to Swiftsure’s website for immediate access by the public.
Rebuilding the latest version of the Race Tracker required an approach which asked important questions. What does it need it do? What functionality is required? What systems requirements are necessary and what should it look like for the public to access and use with confidence? To each of these questions answers were vetted with racers and operations staff and with the support of the Swiftsure management team. Once these questions were answered, the development work proceeded.
Functionality that Gives Users Immediate Access
With its beginnings as a simple grid-data system, the new and interactive Swiftsure Race Tracker system is remarkably evolved. In its present form, the Race Tracker is comprised of multiple technologies working together to allow users from all over the world to track the Swfitsure races and participating boats from the comfort of their own homes.
The system begins with a SPOT GPS transponder located on each boat, which communicates its position every 10 minutes to the Globalstar satellite network used by Swiftsure. From here the information is sent to a database server and then onto Swiftsure’s Race Tracker software. The Race Tracker software then displays the location of the boats in a Google maps-based layout that allows the public to track Swiftsure live. Now, not only can Swfitsure fans watch any and every race but also the Race Tracker allows them to track individual and multiple boats as well as to select favorites that they can track at any time during the race.
The Race Tracker provides three major benefits: safety, public access, and race management. Transponders on every boat linked to the Race Tracker software provide an important safety net for sailors out on the water. In cooperation with the Coast Guard and other authorities, Swiftsure is able to relay information via the Race Tracker when safety issues arise. Even when a boat retires from a race for non-emergency reasons and is removed from public view on the Swiftsure website, the Race Tracker is still able to track the course of the boat and relay that information to the race authorities.
As a resource to the public the Race Tracker provides, via the Internet, ongoing access to the various Swiftsure races. Followers worldwide can see the location of every boat, follow their tactical maneuvers as well as receive updated status of the various races. Online viewers can cheer on their favorite crews as comfortably as from their armchairs in their favourite room at home.
The Race Tracker is also a race management tool. It provides the Swiftsure Race Officer with information when the boats are approaching various rounding marks and as they near the finish line (an imaginary line across the race course) ensures that the finishing crew can establish preliminary results which are then posted immediately to the Swiftsure website.
Other regattas employed the Race Tracker in 2011 including Southern Straits, Patos Island, Van Isle 360, and Northern Century. It will be used again in 2012 for races in the Pacific Northwest. So far Patos Island, Southern Straits, Northern Century, and Round the County races have signed on. And more are interested in using this system. Given the cost of operating this system it is only financially feasible if used for a large number of races.
Beyond these races there are other yacht clubs in the Canadian and American west coast which have expressed interest. It is also possible for unique non-racing events to use the system. A family on a trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands could allow other family and friends to track and monitor their trip. Outdoors sports such as snowmobile races and geo-caching are already utilizing a similar process. But the Race Tracker system goes one step further than a basic GPS system by allowing an audience to follow the event live. Ultimately, the Race Tracker has the potential for many uses beyond sailing, whether for commercial or for recreational sport. In the meantime, the focus is on providing audiences across the globe with access to Swiftsure 2012 via the Race Tracker System.
When all the boats are lined up at their starting positions on Saturday, May 26th the Race Tracker will also be in position. For online viewers worldwide the website www.swiftsure.org will provide ongoing and immediate feedback on the status of each boat as well as all of the various races. Once the race has started, log on, go to the Race Tracker, and follow your favorite crew!