Saturday, June 30, 2018

Interactive ocean observing systems : Argo floats & more

Friday, June 29, 2018

Kotug shows how remotely operated tugs can work


Kotug demonstrates the sailing of the first remote controlled tugboat over a long distance today.

The RT Borkum was controlled from the International Tug, Salvage & OSV Convention and Exhibition (ITS) ITS in Marseille, while the RT Borkum was sailing in Rotterdam.
Unmanned shipping does not yet comply with current rules and regulations.
Therefore, rules need to be amended before tugs can actually start doing their tasks fully autonomous.
From Maritime Executive


The RT Borkum was controlled remotely during the International Tug, Salvage & OSV Convention and Exhibition (ITS) ITS in Marseille, while sailing in Rotterdam.

 The RT Borkum in her normal, manned configuration (file image courtesy Veth Propulsion)

A captain of Kotug took over the control of the tug via a remote secured internet line and camera images.
These cameras and controls of the tugboat were used on the demo consoles in Marseille.

At ITS (Kotug)

The joint-industry project’s stakeholders has received no external subsidy.

Stakeholders that contributed to this demo project :
  • Rotortug: Owner of the RT Borkum
  • Alphatron : Camera visualization and system integration in the consoles
  • Veth : Steering and engine control system to take over from local console to remote control and vice versa
  • OnBoard : conversion of the steering and engine control signal to internet protocol and vice versa
  • M2M Blue: Stable data connection with VPN tunnel (4G and LAN connection combined)
  • Kotug : Project management and supported MAROF student with Thesis “Remote controlled tug boat “

Aboard the RT Borkum (Kotug)

Kotug believes that unmanned remote controlled ships will be the first step to ultimately unmanned autonomous shipping.
Various simple operations in remote locations can already be done from remote controlled stations. Kotug uses its Rotterdam simulator for further testing of unmanned operation tasks.
The real time sensor technology makes it possible to give the remote control captain the situational awareness that is needed for safe operation.


Kotug presents a pioneering invention - using a drone to connect the towline to an assisted vessel.
This will drastically improve the safety margin of tug operations as this will avoid the need for manoeuvring in the so-called danger zone.

Combined with the drone technology to connect the towline, unmanned shipping is commercially and technically getting closer.

The Borkum was purpose-built for training and demonstrations, and is a miniaturized version of larger Kotug vessels.
Like all Rotortugs, she has three Z-drive thrusters, two forward and one aft, which provide added maneuverability and operational flexibility in harbor towing / escort towing roles.

In a statement, Kotug said that it expects unmanned remote controlled ships to be the first step to unmanned, autonomous shipping.
Simple operations in remote locations can already be done from remote-controlled stations, and Kotug is using its Rotterdam simulator for further testing of unmanned operation.
If a remote control system could be combined with drone technology to connect the towline, then unmanned towage is "commercially and technically getting closer," Kotug suggests.

However, the firm notes that regulations do not currently permit unmanned shipping.
Rules would need to be altered before tugs could operate without a human crew onboard, or (eventually) without a remote "captain" in constant control.
IMO is currently reviewing the regulatory requirements surrounding unmanned vessels, and has agreed on a definition of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) as an initial step.

Links :

Thursday, June 28, 2018

France & misc. (SHOM) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

292 nautical raster charts updated & 4 new charts added

Beyond charting : nautical information for the 21st century

Transit down the very congested lower Mississippi River on the M/V Ocean Wind

From ECO by John Nyberg, chief of NOAA's Marine Charting Division

NOAA Office of Coast Survey is the US national hydrographic office, meaning that it is the authoritative source for navigational charts, and related products, within US territorial waters.
Unlike most other national hydrographic offices, which charge for their products, Coast Survey provides the digital versions of these products for free.
This free supply of information has spawned a positive change in technology.

There are countless examples of how NOAA data is and could be used, ranging from ultra-precise data for captain- less vessels to re-imagined products designed for recreational boaters.
Coast Survey enables chart users to take advantage of its enhanced products without requiring large investments in advanced technology.
It is hoped that recent efforts to increase the detail of its digital data and modernizing standards will encourage innovation and data usage beyond traditional charting.

Coast Survey continues to innovate the services it is providing to constituents and stakeholders, including those outside of the maritime navigation community, such as oceanographers, resource managers, and coastal engineering designers and developers.
To put these innovations in the context of current and future users of Coast Survey’s navigation services, let’s review the value of charting and of the underlying data in supporting decision- making by these groups.

Rolls-Royce Intelligent Awareness System

The Robots Are Coming: Unmanned Vessels and the Need for Precise Navigation Data


Recently, there have been several industry announcements about unmanned vessels, including some testbed work to be done in Norway this summer.
The use of unmanned vessels has the potential to increase maritime shipping efficiency.
As the world looks to reduce the cost of shipping— both environmental risk and direct operational cost—there is recognized value in providing real-time navigation services in coastal regions enabled by higher-bandwidth connections to authoritative sources ashore.
The provisioning of these services, which may include weather, port services, regulatory framework, and other location-based information, is likely to be a growth area of maritime service providers.
They will need to have readily available authoritative navigation data to support these services, including weather models, currents, and other observations.


In time, and as these services result in machine augmentation of the navigator’s decision-making, there will be opportunities to develop risk assessment as part of the voyage planning automation toolkit.
Voyage planning is a fundamental task in ensuring safety of shipping and consists principally of optimization of route and speed to arrive at the next port at the expected time.
Understanding the environmental constraints, such as wind, current, and underkeel clearance for every leg of the voyage is critical to managing the risks of the journey.
Preparing for computer-enabled decision support of this aspect of navigation will include sensor integration, such as the present state of radar and sonar integration with Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), and also the incorporation of new information into the same operating visualization, such as weather and sea state models, observations from nearby stations, and historical trends in routing and environment.
For example, if ten ships of deeper draft and lower tide have been through a passage, the current ship likely has less underkeel clearance (UKC) risk.
However, if this is an estuarine port and the prior ships were inbound on a flood tide, it’s possible that their buoyancy was greater (given salt water), and so the latest ship may have a grounding risk that the prior ships did not.

The dream of self-driving ships is becoming a reality.
This includes the already available automated route planning in electronic charting systems for recreational mariners.
However, self- driving ships and automated routes are only as good as the data that is being used to run them.
A large part of Coast Survey’s recently released National Charting Plan prioritizes a quadrupling of large scale charting coverage.
This more detailed data will be instrumental in serving as the base map for voyage planning services of all types.

ENC Place Names and scale issue

Augmenting Human Decision- Making: Interoperable Navigation Data is the Key to Success

As the various sensors are integrated to the bridge control and visualization system of the future, there is significant potential for the display of the data to be too cluttered to quickly assess, orient, and act upon the information by humans alone.
The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) has been working on new standards (S-101 and others) that will drive how charts and the information they portray will change.
Coast Survey has transitioned from a chart-by-chart content curation model to a unified national-level database of navigational features in preparation for this future.
This database will serve as the underlying information for the spectrum of new S-100 product specifications which will make interoperable data for tides, surface currents, sailing directions and a variety of additional information critical for making decisions at sea.


Custom Charts

Another benefit of Coast Survey’s currently-available navigation database, is to create a custom chart with automated cartography for any area NOAA has compiled.
NOAA Custom Charts currently use the same chart symbolization as is used on an ECDIS.
For boats in an emergency, such a backup will be easier to transition to when the ECDIS is suddenly unavailable.
However, plans are underway for optional displays in the traditional style of NOAA charts and custom repeatable ordering systems that would have digital versions of paper charts delivered regularly to the customer.


Since NOAA Custom Chart uses the NOAA ENC® suite as its data source, re- scheming ENC data, as outlined in the National Charting Plan will have the added benefit of offering more detailed paper chart coverage wherever large scale ENCs have been built.

Crowd-Sourced Navigation Data: Ensuring Data is Accurate and Reliable

There is a lot of talk about crowdsourcing—using data collected from private sources.
Coast Survey has maintained a crowdsource conflation and presentation workflow for decades, that’s where “existence doubtful” and “position approximate” chart features came from.
The modern approach to taking advantage of all available data and presenting a recommended level of confidence begs many questions.

 Dr Larry Mayer, director of the CCOM, UNH and Andy Amstrong work on mapping the ocean floor.
Photo courtsey of John Farrell, US Arctic Research commission

Who owns the data?
Who is responsible for crowdsource data certification, a necessary step in changing ‘data’ to ‘information’ and releasing it as a service?
Should the traditional cartography that is becoming increasingly automated transition to curation of content that ensures that the right information is being used for the right reason at the right time?
If other countries and authoritative producers created freely or even readily-available digital information products, wouldn’t that create an opportunity for innovative analysis and tools to be created for improving the decision-making processes within all the communities?

Rather than focus on the direct navigation problem of supporting a human navigator in assessing the risk of maritime movement, perhaps the true value of the content of a national or regional nautical information system is in the analytical tools and ecosystem of available partners to bring new insights to the 70% of the world that is “blue.”

Links :

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Belgium Vlaamse layer update in the GeoGarage platform

5 nautical raster charts updated

Why the tongue of the Pine Island Glacier suddenly shrank

Retreat of Pine Island Glacier sind 1947 (Photo: Jan Erik Arndt) 

From AWI

Researchers map the seafloor near the Pine Island Glacier and use time-lapse video to unravel the mystery of its abrupt retreat

The Pine Island Glacier in Western Antarctica is not only one of the fastest-flowing ice streams in the Southern Hemisphere; over the past eleven years, four major icebergs have calved from its floating tongue.


In February 2017, researchers on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern successfully mapped an area of seafloor previously covered by shelf ice.
A comparison of these new maps with satellite images of the ice stream reveals why the glacier suddenly retreated toward the coast: at important points, it had lost contact with the ground, as the experts report in the online journal The Cryosphere, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

 Pine Island glacier with the GeoGarage platform (NGA chart)

With a flow speed of four kilometres per year, Western Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier is one of the fastest-flowing ice streams in the Southern Hemisphere.
Together with its neighbouring glaciers, every year the up to 50-kilometre-wide ice stream transports more than 300 gigatonnes of ice from the hinterland to the Amundsen Sea, and is responsible for between five and ten percent of the global sea-level rise.
Scientists have already identified the cause of this rapid loss of ice: since the 1940s, warm water masses, which branch off from the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, have found their way beneath the floating part of the glacier, melting what is referred to as its ice shelf from below.
As a result, the ice tongue, which is currently ca.
55 kilometres long, has been losing roughly 5.3 metres of thickness per year for the past quarter-century.


That being said, what remained unclear was why, despite this sustained melting, the Pine Island Glacier’s calving front had barely retreated since the beginning of observation in 1947.
Then in 2015, a calving event shifted the edge of the ice shelf 20 kilometres nearer the coast and reduced the floating ice tongue’s total area to roughly 470 square kilometres.
“The direction and speed of a given glacier’s flow chiefly depend on the topography of the ground below it.
But for most of the ice shelves in the Antarctic, we know very little about the features of the underlying seafloor.


As such, our Polarstern expedition in February 2017 was an unprecedented opportunity to map 370 square kilometres of an area that had previously largely been covered by the Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf,” explains first author Dr Jan Erik Arndt from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven.
With the aid of multibeam echosounders, Arndt and his colleagues were able to precisely map the seafloor.

Submarine mountains held back the ice

The new maps of the ocean floor in Pine Island Bay, which is predominantly 800 to 1,000 metres deep, reveal a previously unmapped submarine ridge and two mountains, the peaks of which reach up to a water depth of 370 metres.
The Pine Island Glacier’s more than 400-metre thick ice shelf must have been grounded on the ridge for several decades, as the satellite images of the glacier gathered by the researchers – dating back to 2002 – confirm.
In the older images, rises in the ice’s surface can be identified at precisely those points where the peaks of the ridge are directly under the ice shelf.
“But after 2006, these landmarks are nowhere to be seen.
By that time, the ice shelf must have melted so extensively from below that it was either too light to produce any impression on the surface of the ice, or the ice sheet must have already lost contact with the mountains beneath it,” says co-author Dr Karsten Gohl from the AWI.


When an ice shelf loses contact with such obstacles (known as “pinning points”), the ice stream reacts as if someone had suddenly released a giant brake.
With nothing left to stop them, the ice masses rapidly flow out to sea – at least that’s the theory.
Using the time series of satellite images for the Pine Island Glacier, the researchers were now able to test this thesis step by step.
Much to their surprise, in the process they determined that submarine highs not only stabilise ice shelves like giant brakes; in some cases, these mountains can also set off calving events – for instance, when the calving front advances, causing it to crash into a mountain with full force.

That must be what happened during a calving event in 2007.
As the satellite images show, back then the edge of the Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf collided with one of the newly discovered mountains, hitting it so hard that rifts formed in the surface of the ice.
When one of the rifts finally became too large, the entire face of the ice shelf broke off.


The story was similar, albeit less dramatic, with the iceberg that calved in 2015, breaking into several pieces just a few weeks later.
The largest piece became caught on the submarine ridge for nearly a year, turning clockwise over and over again until the combination of ocean currents, wind and melting broke it loose.
The researchers surmise that, just as in 2007, the ice shelf’s repeated contact with the ridge is what ultimately led to the calving event.


The ice shelf has now regained its footing
“The roughly 50-kilometre-long edge of the Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf currently runs between an island to the north and another glacier to the south, which once again give the ice a bit of support,” says Jan Erik Arndt.
If the melting on its underside continues, at some point the process may make the ice shelf so thin that it becomes instable; however, as the researchers report, with the ice thickness measuring approximately 400 metres at the calving front, we haven’t yet come to that point.

The bathymetric maps of the seafloor in Pine Island Bay and the results of the image analyses can now be fed into computer models of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, helping produce more accurate simulations.

In addition to the two researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, a member of the British Antarctic Survey and experts from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) took part in the new study.

Links :

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The fight to own Antarctica

Competition for natural resources, research and tourism is putting pressure on the cold war-era treaty that guarantees order on the continent

From FT by Leslie Hook and Benedict Mander

Antarctica is a continent with no government.
The closest thing it has is a drab, 10-person office, with a small sign on its wooden door in Buenos Aires that reads “Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty”.
This is the group whose job it is to keep things running smoothly among the 53 nations that together govern Antarctica.

If that sounds like a quixotic system for a continent twice the size of Australia that contains vast untapped natural resources, it is.
But the idealism underpinning it is very clear.

“One of the amazing things is that Antarctica is the only continent where people work together for peace and science,” says Jane Francis, head of the British Antarctic Survey, who last week attended the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting that brings all of the nations together.
“You wouldn’t believe that 53 nations after two weeks can agree . . . It can be done in this world.”




However, not everyone does agree.
And at last week’s meeting in the Argentine capital some of those divisions were on show.
There is a growing number of issues that the Antarctic Treaty System, which has kept order on the continent for almost six decades, is struggling to deal with.
From climate change to fishing, new geopolitical tests are facing Antarctica that are increasingly difficult for a consensus-based group to address.

“One of the things the treaty system needs is almost like a new kind of vision,” says Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitics at London’s Royal Holloway University, and an expert on Antarctic governance.
“One where parties are explicit about what they are trying to do.”




The Buenos Aires meeting was typical: it produced a series of agreements that represented relatively low-hanging fruit, such as new rules for drone use, and guidelines for heritage sites (like the hut built by Ernest Shackleton and his team more than 100 years ago).

But the thorniest issues — for example, what happens when countries violate the treaty rules — are almost never addressed.
Scientists and diplomats are growing concerned that the existing system will be unable to respond to the new pressures.
At stake is the last pristine continent, one that contains the world’s largest store of freshwater, huge potential reserves of oil and gas and the key to understanding how quickly climate change will impact the world through rising sea levels.

“What we are seeing at the moment . . . is almost like a lethargy among the treaty parties to take the necessary steps,” says Daniela Liggett, professor of geography at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury.
The last major binding protocol in the treaty system came into force 20 years ago, she adds.
Any new protocol must be approved by consensus, so even one dissenting country effectively has veto power.

A tourist enjoys the view in Pleneau Island, Antarctica © AFP

The greatest areas of tension are those that touch on the growing economic and strategic interests in Antarctica, such as tourism and fishing (mining is banned).
Signatories to the treaty, which dates back to 1959, agree to set aside their territorial claims, and use the continent only for peaceful purposes.

However, the growing number of signatories has made the system unwieldy: In 1980 there were just 13 countries that had “consultative” status to make the key decisions on treaty matters — that number has risen to 29, a diverse group ranging from Finland to Peru, India and Belgium.
Meanwhile the number of permanent scientific research stations on the island, a proxy for activity, has grown to more than 75.
China has been a particularly enthusiastic builder of new research stations since it joined the treaty in 1983, and the environmental approvals for its latest, a fifth base, have caused division among the treaty members.

“Resources have always been the big trigger,” says Prof Dodds.
“Once you get more explicit about resource exploitation, then you raise the troubling issue of who owns Antarctica. That’s the issue that haunts the Antarctic Treaty, and the Treaty System more generally.”

Those anxieties are growing in tandem with Antarctica’s importance.
The continent is covered in an ice sheet up to a mile thick and represents a window into how the planet is changing.
Temperatures in some parts of Antarctica are rising much faster than the global average, and the pace of glacial melting there will help determine how quickly global sea levels rise in future.

The Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, is becoming a significant fishing ground, as resources in other seas are depleted.
And it plays a crucial role in absorbing heat and carbon from the atmosphere, in ways that are not yet fully understood.

“Things have changed profoundly,” says Damon Stanwell-Smith, a marine biologist who first visited Antarctica more than 25 years ago.
“It is visible in a human lifetime — the change in coastal waters, ice, retreat of glaciers, and then the related wildlife movement. Nowhere else has it been so obvious.”


A critical factor is the addition of many more visitors. Mr Stanwell-Smith heads the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, the closest thing the region has to a tourist police.

Last month Iaato reported that the number of visitors to the region rose to more than 51,000 last season, an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year.
That number is expected to keep growing.
Some 20 new polar expedition vessels are under construction, adding to the 33 already registered with Iaato, to serve the growing interest, says Mr Stanwell-Smith.

The race to understand Antarctica

For most tourists — who pay between $10,000 and $100,000 for a trip — visiting Antarctica involves stepping off the boat at just a handful of highly regulated landing sites.
But there are loopholes in the system, such as private yachts that flout permitting rules, as well as a growing number of tours that involve activities such as kayaking or skiing.

“It’s becoming a bit of an adventure playground, and the trouble is the unregulated tourism,” says Prof Francis, at the British Antarctic Survey.
“It has become much easier for people just to sail their yachts to Antarctica, to fly their private aircraft to Antarctica.”

The fastest-growing source of new visitors last year was China, which was second only to the US in the ranking of total tourists.
At the same time Beijing is investing heavily in missions to Antarctica, part of its plan to become a “polar great power”— moves that have not always been welcome.
One idea that has been met with concern is China’s proposal for a special “code of conduct” that would apply for a large area around its Kunlun Station research base, which has been seen as an attempt by China to limit activities near its base.

The construction of China’s fifth research base has also been controversial because preliminary building activities were started before the environmental impact assessment was complete, in violation of protocol.
The lack of punishment for these — and similar infractions by other countries — is one of the weaknesses of the treaty system.

China spends more on its Antarctic research programme than any other country, according to Anne-Marie Brady, professor of political science at the University of Canterbury and editor of The Polar Journal.
China’s interest is not limited to the potential natural resources available, but also the continent’s strategic importance — having a ground station near the South Pole can increase the accuracy of global satellite navigation systems.

The Royal Navy’s patrol ship breaks through ice in Ross Sea, Antarctica © EPA

The US, Russia and China all have critical infrastructure in Antarctica to aid their global positioning systems.
“That makes Antarctica very, very interesting right now,” says Prof Brady.
She adds that the Antarctic Treaty System may be poorly equipped to respond to a growing “clash of values” in the region.
“There is a lot that is unresolved [in the treaty] and may not be fit for purpose for our current global strategic environment,” she says.
“If the Antarctic Treaty is going to be sustainable, there has to be more high-level attention paid by governments on how to adjust to the changing environment and how to protect Antarctica.”

The Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration declined a request for an interview.

Dr Matt Davey of Cambridge University digs for snow algae on Lagoon Island near the British Antarctic Survey base Rothera © Charlie Bibby

China and other countries are positioning themselves for a day when the current confines of the Antarctic Treaty System may no longer apply.
While it does not technically expire, the provisions that ban mining could change after 2048 — the year in which the environment protocol is expected to come up for review.

As the number of signatories has expanded it means there will be far more voices involved in any potential review.
“What role do these countries [not among the 12 original signatories of the 1959 treaty] intend on playing? For sure, they have one eye focused on the resources that might be available in the future,” says Máximo Gowland, Argentina’s director for Antarctic foreign policy.

Giant icebergs calve from a glacier and into the waters surrounding Antarctica © Charlie Bibby

He points out that both water and mineral resources could become an issue.
“You don’t know how quickly the situation might evolve,” he says, mentioning the severe water shortages in Cape Town , where the idea of towing an iceberg from Antarctica to South Africa, to ease the crisis, was discussed.

Already the treaty system is struggling to protect resources in the Southern Ocean, where fishing for krill is on the rise.
Opposition from China and Russia has repeatedly delayed the creation of new marine protected areas, a topic that will be discussed again at a meeting in October.

Another unresolved issue is bio-prospecting — taking biological samples from Antarctica to study in a lab.
Because the species that exist in Antarctica are adapted to extreme cold conditions, they could contain compounds with valuable commercial or pharmaceutical applications.
Yet the question of who owns the intellectual property from these samples is impossible to solve, because of the many and varied sovereign claims on the continent.

Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station

While there is no indication that anyone is about to take the step of quitting the Treaty System, there is equally little hope that it will be able to reform itself.
A risk is that it simply becomes less relevant as it fails to address the challenges facing the continent, says Prof Liggett.

Evan Bloom, the top polar diplomat in the US, which sends the largest number of scientists and tourists to Antarctica each year, says Washington supports the treaty system despite its limitations.
“It has worked quite well in terms of setting aside those political differences, and allowing science to occur,” he says.

How much longer that continues to be the case will rely on a fragile treaty that is about to face its greatest tests.

1912 map of Antarctica and islands of the Southern Ocean


‘Limited friction’ Tradition of co-operation endures on the continent 

The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959 at the height of the cold war, was focused on denuclearising the continent and avoiding military conflict, and the 12 original signatories all agreed to set aside any territorial claims there for the duration of the treaty. Subsequent agreements addressed issues like fishing rights and extraction of resources (which is banned), creating a group of deals called the Antarctic Treaty System.

“The Antarctic is a very positive symbol in a lot of ways,” says Claire Christian, head of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, adding that the treaties were “extremely forward looking” when they were written.

Eight years after the first treaty was signed, it was used as a loose model for the Outer Space Treaty, and is still seen as a template for how to govern areas that fall outside of traditional national boundaries. Today diplomats wonder if it could be a model for the Arctic region, where climate change has opened up new shipping routes and created new sources of tension.

Evan Bloom, the head of the US Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs, says that many of the geopolitical tensions in the rest of the world are filtered out in Antarctica. Everyone who endures the South Pole’s harsh climate has to rely on their neighbours to survive.

“Those frictions are relatively limited in part because the tradition of co-operation in Antarctica flows from the way that the science programmes relate to each other,” he says. “If you are running a science camp or a research station in a remote place, you have a real incentive to work with other nearby stations, regardless of their nationality.”

Mr Bloom says occasionally his colleagues at the US state department will ask him whether similar models could be applied in other parts of the world. “Middle East peace negotiators come and say, this Antarctic Treaty System has worked out really well, is there something we can apply,” he jokes. 


Links :

Iceland IC-HDG layer update in the GeoGarage platform

12 nautical raster charts updated

Blaeu Map of Iceland [ca. 1635]

Monday, June 25, 2018

Why the completed Volvo Ocean Race includes more than a nautical victory


From Forbes

After some 246 days since beginning, the sixth edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, held every three years, has a winner.
What is certain is that oceans are becoming clogged with plastics, which impact maritime health and seafood.

24 June, interview, Pascal Bidégorry/Charles Caudrelier, Dongfeng
Dongfeng race team navigator correctly predicted that "after more than 45,000 miles of racing, this is going to come down to the last 45 miles".

After some 246 days since beginning, the sixth edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, held every three years, has a winner.
The victor is the Chinese entrant Dongfeng Race Team, led by French Skipper Charles Caudrelier.
The finish was the closest ever in race history.

photo : Ainhoa Sanchez

“In the ocean you can sail fast and never stop.  There is maximum strong wind. It’s an amazing feeling. You can see nature, beauty. Everyone makes mistakes. We learn, we improve. And we win.”
These prophetic words came five months ago in Hong Kong from Chinese sailor Chen Jinhao, or ‘Horace,’ of the Dongfeng race crew.
Today, their race team was victorious in securing the winning trophy for the 2017—2018 race.

“The difficulty of this race is to last.
The ‘war of attrition’—that’s the Volvo Ocean Race," said Skipper Caudrelier when we last spoke.
His key to success?
Motivate the crew, trust them, allocate responsibility and make everyone feel important.

Obviously, that strategy paid off.

Watching Dongfeng pass the dutch isle of Ameland on a cloudy sundaymorning 

"We had so much frustration in the last nine months, we never won a leg. But we trusted our navigation and we had a clear idea before the start of where we wanted to pass."

With 24 hours before the finish, the race situation was unusually unique.
Three teams—Dongfeng Race Team (China), MAPFRE (Spain) and Team Brunel (Netherlands)—were virtually tied for points before the final sprint between Gothenburg in Sweden (home of Volvo) and The Hague in the Netherlands.
This winner takes all/capture the flag scenario ensured an aggressive media spotlight on the final leg of this around the world race, which has already become a media darling.

On Saturday night, June 23rd, boats chose separate lanes moving southward toward The Hague.
Some race teams—including Dongfeng, Turn the Tide on Plastic and Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag—chose to cling close to the eastern shoreline where winds were stronger but which required more vigilant navigation near sandbanks.
Others—MAPFRE, AkzoNobel, Brunel and Vestas 11th Hour Racing—stayed in more open water to the west, risking less velocity from lower winds but reducing potential navigation complexities.

With only hours until the finish, the western team, led by Brunel, turned east and aimed straight for The Hague while the eastern team, led by Dongfeng, headed directly south to that same location, but having almost one and a half times the distance to cover than the western team.
At about 1.30 p.m. on June 24th, Twitter feeds erupted saying that computers predicted Dongfeng catching up, and surpassing the others—while detractors on those same feeds called this nonsense.
At about 2.15 p.m. (three days since departing from Gothenburg) MAPFRE continued east at a speed of 8.2 knots (compared to Dongfeng’s 10.9 knots southward).
By 3.30 pm MAPFRE’s speed had increased to 9.2 knots, and Dongfeng’s had dropped to 10.1.
But whereas Dongfeng was on a clean trajectory forward, those who chose the western route chased a feebler wind.


With a minute to the end, Dongfeng was clearly in front, cruising at close to 14 knots.
In second place came Team AkzoNobel, followed by MAPFRE.

The seven entrants to this nautical scrimmage each raced identical 72.6 foot (22.1 meter) long Volvo Ocean Class 65 boats, created by a design/build consortium of separate companies based in the U.S., U.K., France, Italy and Switzerland.
These boats define the cutting edge of long distance maritime race technology.

This global circumnavigation race covered a total of some 45,000 nautical miles and included 11 legs between a dozen cities: Alicante, Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff, Gothenburg and The Hague.
The competition is so keen that roughly mid-way through the race at Hong Kong, after covering 22,500 nautical miles, there was only a seven and a half minute time difference between the first two boats.

Race positions and news have been available online via slick graphics, on-board reporting (including videos from race boat launched drones) and constantly updated statistics.
Such technology delivered this salt-smacked tale of competitive gumption into living rooms and online spaces of followers and families throughout the world.

Teams were accorded points, based not only on race times, but also on overall positions during each leg.

Begun in 1973 and originally known as the Whitbread Round The World Yacht Race, the event was transferred to Volvo in 2001.
Today the race attracts a huge, global audience.
A crowd of forty thousand assembled to watch the boats pull into Gothenburg before their final leg, while 1.3 million have checked out the progress of race teams on Facebook.
A million spectators, including 100,000 corporate guests, have visited this race—the longest edition since its inception.
The economic impact alone can be gargantuan.
When the race began in Alicante, Spain, in October of 2017, the 10 days of opening events are estimated to have generated an impact of a 100 million Euros ($117 million) for that city.


23 June, helicopter: off coast of Denmark

As technology improved over decades, the character of this race changed.
Images of capped, spry skippers with debonair confidence on elegant wooden boats were replaced by videos of race teams lined on carbon fiber craft.
As speeds increased, so did the proximity of competitors as they played out a match on undefined tracks across the planet.
Minutes and seconds sometimes separate prevailing teams on each leg.

This most recent edition of this protracted and punishing race has included fatalities, de-masting, and constant leapfrogging of leaders.
This is what sailors anticipate.
At the end of the day there is no hot shower, steak dinner or family banter, but spoonfuls of freeze dried goulash, huddling in a damp cramped space to check out weather reports and snoozing fitfully in salt sprayed clothes for perhaps 3.5 hours a night.

Physiologically, the race is brutal.

Chris Nicholson, Australian Watch Captain for Team AkzoNobel, said “We try to have 5,000 to 7,000 calories a day, but we often don’t because we’re too tired.
I lose 6 to 8 kilograms (13 to 18 pounds) each leg.”

Although sleeping bags are excellent and include three separate layers that can be zipped on or off, the four-hour on/four-hour off schedule gets tiring.
“They are the best sleeps of your life,” Nicholson said.
“They’re just not very long.”

He mentioned another aspect of the race that is chilling.
“This is my sixth race. My first was in 2001. I can absolutely guarantee you that the presence of marine life is going downhill.”


Specific reasons for any decline in ocean life can be debated.
What is certain is that oceans are becoming clogged with plastics, which impact maritime health and seafood.

One entrant to this race made sharing such truth a mission.

The city of Gothenburg, located in southern Sweden near an archipelago of verdant islands, was the penultimate destination for these race boats.
During their sojourn there, the race hosted a one hour long ‘in port’ race attended to by thousands of local residents (oblivious to rain) while air force jets screamed in formation above and a police helicopter buzzed the scene.

The ten-member team Turn The Tide on Plastic (partially sponsored by the United Nations) used this and other segments of the race as a platform to highlight the plight of oceans gummed up by plastics.
When the in-port race ended, British skipper Dee Caffari of that team communicated with me about their efforts.

This is my sixth time around the world.
The harsh reality for me is you’re seeing more rubbish.
My crew doing this for the first time kept commenting on plastics.
Bottles, balloons, bags, packaging.
We carry a science experiment aboard our boat and are sampling the water through filters, counting micro plastics for an hour every day all around the world.
We go to some pretty hostile environments.
For the first time ever we’ve got real live raw data.
Now we know that even at Point Nemo, which is the most remote part of the Southern Ocean, there are micro plastics.
They come from us throwing rubbish in the ocean that breaks down.
The reality is it is getting worse.
Micro plastics get eaten by animals, we’re eating the fish and it’s coming back into our food chain.

Time is everything.
I’ve seen it get worse.
We have two races: the sporting event and also the race to save ocean health.
The idea was to leave a legacy in the twelve host cities we visited, and we have.
People are signing up to that pledge.
We had mayors make bold statements—such as never having plastic shopping bags again.
They’re making promises to reduce plastics, and we’re holding them to it.
It feels as though we are making a difference in places we go to in the race.
When you get massive decision makers making a difference, it has a knock on effect.

One such influential visitor to their race boat that day was Niclas Mårtensson, CEO of the ferry company Stena Line, which operates 40 ships and has 6,000 employees.
His specific reason for visiting was to meet the Turn the Tide on Plastic race team.
The company he leads plans to be plastic free in their retail food and beverage lines this year.
“We’re now reducing all plastics, including knives and forks,” he said.
“In our retail shops we don’t have plastic bags anymore.
We use a bio-corn alternative that is the same weight as plastic but disappears in sixty days.”

Another member of the Turn the Tide crew is Martin Strömberg, one of Sweden’s best sailors, participating in his fourth Volvo race.
He echoed what Caffari said.
“You see a lot more plastics in the oceans. That’s what you see. But for me the problem is what you don’t see, below the surface. This boat is fantastic to join in and send that message.”

To help address such concerns, an Ocean Summit was held in Gothenburg, attended by HRH Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden.
There, Minister of the Environment Karolina Skog pledged 7.8 million Euros ($9.1 million) to ocean health, including plastics pollution.

The Volvo Ocean Race is now more accessible than ever via online media.
Its scope has also grown from that of racing to that of sponsoring improved custody of the world’s oceans.
Although the next edition of the race, beginning in 2021, will include new ownership, the event will carry on—likely faster and with more precise sailing than ever before.
Technologies that improve sailing and navigation may, in some form, eventually be associated with helping to clean up oceans over which these boats sail.

That would be a victory for the planet.

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Andrew Pekler charts imagined sounds on interactive atlas, Phantom Islands


Go on an audio cruise of 27 islands never proven to have existed.
Berlin-based sound artist Andrew Pekler has created an interactive online map called Phantom Islands, which combines the histories of islands that were once found on nautical maps with speculative sounds from each of the 27 locations.
“Phantom Islands are artifacts of the age of maritime discovery and colonial expansion,” Pekler writes.
“During centuries of ocean exploration these islands were sighted, charted, described and even explored – but their existence has never been ultimately verified. “Poised somewhere between cartographical fact and maritime fiction, they haunted seafarers’ maps for hundreds of years, inspiring legends, fantasies, and counterfactual histories.
“Phantom Islands – A Sonic Atlas interprets and presents these imaginations in the form of an interactive map which charts the sounds of a number of historical phantom islands.”
You can zoom in on individual islands to hear what Pekler describes as their “musical, biophonic and geophonic soundscapes” and click on their names to learn more about their story, or click ‘cruise mode’ to go on an audio tour.
Think of it as like an interactive ambient mixtape with an added history lesson. Phantom Islands – which was was commissioned by the Jeu de Paume gallery in Paris for its Fourth Worlds: Imaginary Ethnography in Music and Sound exhibition – follows Pekler’s 2016 album Tristes Tropiques, an album of “synthetic exotica, pseudo-ethnographic music and unreal field recordings”.

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