<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Leviathans of the Wind: The New Technology Revealed in Races of Super Catamarans
Leviathans Of the Wind: The New Technology Revealed in Races of Super Catamarans
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International sailing race incorporates cutting-edge technology for submerged object detection on board the catamarans

Released: 08/16/05
Kris Bishop

Cavalier Daily Staff Writer

Recently four of the world's eight multi-hulled super-catamarans slid out of the port city of Doha in the Middle Eastern Gulf State of Qatar and began one of the most extreme sports events in history: a grueling 40,000 kilometer sailing race called "Oryx Quest 2005."

The route took the huge vessels down the Indian Ocean into the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, cutting past Cape Horn and through the Cape of Good Hope and then northeast back into Doha. April 10, 63 days after the race began and three hours short of nine weeks at sea, Qatar's entry Doha 2006 slid across the finish line to the sound of thunderous cheers from Qatari fans, beating its competitors and the most dangerous environment in the world to win the largest prize in yachting history: a cool one million U.S. dollars and a silver, diamond and lapis lazuli trophy standing 62 centimeters tall.

Aside from the best international yachtsmen working their decks, these giant double-hulled catamarans and triple-hulled trimarans, each over 100 feet long and capable of speeds faster than 40 knots (74 km/h) powered only by the wind, boast some of the most cutting-edge technology on the planet, according to www.sciencedaily.com. Each vessel is equipped with multiple satellite-fed computers, including the latest version of the European Space Agency's EnviSat and the Canadian Space Agency's RadarSat, two advanced iceberg-detection programs. The satellites use Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) to study 400 km swaths of ocean at a time looking for the differentiated returns from the surfaces of icebergs. Images of the race routes ahead are sent to each vessel every day to prepare them for ice fields, helping their crews to maintain speed safely. Oryx Quest 2005, the first around-the-world race to begin and end in the Middle East, marked the first time these programs were used in the Southern Hemisphere.

Throughout the race, a media person was on each catamaran sending video, images and e-mail to the world media to assist in achieving the Crown Prince HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani's goal of establishing Qatar as a leading venue in international sports events.

Larry Rosenfeld, the American navigator of the high-tech 110-foot catamaran Team Adventure and executive director of the Team Adventure Organization, was slated to race with his crew in Oryx Quest 2005 as a fifth competitor but unfortunately had to pull out at the last minute.

"We were trying to break the transatlantic record from New York to England and we hit a submerged object at 30 knots and broke 35 feet of the port bow off," said Rosenfeld, who worked as a sailing stunt double for Pierce Brosnan in "The Thomas Crowne Affair."

The submerged object was rumored to have been a whale.

The rush was on to fix Team Adventure in time. Scott Silva, a representative for the Team Adventure Design Committee, said in a separate interview that despite the technology available to his team, it just couldn't be done.

"We have electronic weather charts, satellite surface wind and current vectors from any place on the globe, and I had a Raytheon radar installed," Silva said. "We also have wireless intercom headsets for crew communication and six small, purpose-built Ocean PC's. Where he can, Larry has at least two of everything because boats and electronics don't mix. We were ready to go. But the sea has its own plans sometimes."

Team Adventure had this technology prior to the race because the organization is a corporately-funded venture partnered with the International Child Art Foundation focused on bringing audio, video, e-mail and online science and travel reports to student audiences around the world. The Team Adventure crew's on-site geography, oceanography, math, history and global politics lessons mix with adrenaline-pumping adventure (check out the "Surfing a 60-Foot Wave in Antarctica" streaming video on the Web site) to create entertaining and informative digital archives accessible via the Web. Thousands of parents, teachers and home-schoolers around the world now make the Team Adventure Project part of their curriculum.

In reference to the Antarctic surfing clip on the Web site, Rosenfeld said it was "quite a thrill ride."

"I was strapped onto the back of the boat standing as high as possible with the video camera over my head trying to get some good shots when all of a sudden this gigantic wave lifts us up and we start this huge rollercoaster ride," he said. "In the video you can see one of the crew pretending he is a bird until he gets scared and starts to hold onto the wall."

Shortly before its hull was damaged, Team Adventure completed "Route of Discovery," a program retracing the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus. The catamaran carried schoolteachers Janet Bradley (U.K.) and Susan Rieck (U.S.), who were in charge of devising a curriculum so students in both the U.S. and Europe could follow the vessel's day-to-day progress via e-mail, images and video.

"The timing [of the hull damage] was frustrating, but it's important for us to remember that attempting to compete in Oryx Quest was just a part of Team Adventure's larger message of education and adventure," Silva said. "We'll get the hull fixed, and we'll get them next year."

Team Adventure plans to compete against its sister ship Doha 2006 in "Qatar 2006," a far more massive trans-global race than Oryx Quest 2005 that begins December 20, 2006, and includes multiple stopovers.

Dodging Icebergs, Catamarans Chase $1 Million Prize

By Michael Schirber

The prize: $1 million. The risk: slamming into an iceberg.

A nonstop catamaran race around the world recently began in Doha, capital of the Gulf State of Qatar. Three of the world's seven multi-hull super catamarans are competing for the million-dollar prize. All of the catamarans are greater than 100 feet (30 meters) long and can reach speeds of 40 knots (46mph).

Not the sort of pace you want to pack into an iceberg. To avoid such a calamity, the trans-global Oryx Quest 2005 is getting help from some ice-sensitive radar satellites.

The crews are expected to complete the 25,000-mile (40,000-kilometer) journey in 50 days. They are currently rounding the infamous Cape Horn, heading east, on their way back to Doha.

The course takes the catamarans through the stormy Southern Ocean, which is home to many icebergs - some extending several hundred yards beneath the surface of the sea.

Large icebergs can be detected by a catamaran's onboard radar, but smaller icebergs, called "growlers" or "bergy bits," are not so easily seen. That is where the satellites come in.

"Icebergs typically have a stronger radar signal return than the open ocean," said Desmond Power of C-CORE, a Canadian company providing the iceberg detection service as part of a consortium called The Northern View.

Radar data from the European Space Agency's Envisat and the Canadian Space Agency's Radarsat satellites is used to identify areas of icebergs. The safest option for the catamarans is to give these areas a wide berth.

"Icebergs are one of those things you really never want to see," said meteorologist Chris Bedford of Sailing Weather Services. "So if the racers never spot one that will count as success."

LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 08 March 2005
12:57 pm ET

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