Volvo Ocean Race: Tools of the trade

Published on November 24th, 2014

Eighties and early nineties pop stalwarts Crowded House once sang, “Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you,” and for Will Oxley, Navigator aboard Team Alvimedica, it couldn’t be any truer. Will spoke to Cobham SATCOM reporter Louay Habib about the tools in his kit for the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15…

One of the most experienced yachtsmen in the fleet, Will knows the Volvo Ocean Race. After being on the weather team for Puma Ocean Racing in the 2007-08 edition, he was the navigator for Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2011-12 edition.

By the time Team Alvimedica sails into Gothernburg next July, he will have sailed some 280,000 nautical miles throughout his illustrious career as a pro-yachtsmen. And for each and every one of those miles, the weather has been his constant friend and of course, nemesis.

With the introduction of SAILOR FleetBroadband to the race in the 2007-08 edition though, Will’s relationship with the weather has become much more agreeable. Updated weather data is made available online to the teams in the form of Gridded Binary Data (GRIB) files. Once downloaded via SAILOR FleetBroadband, it’s the job of the navigator and skipper to plan their next moves based on the data they have.

“During the VOR we download weather models at least every six hours and this information informs ALL of our key strategic decisions. The data sets are large and we need the speed of the SAILOR 500 FleetBroadband and SAILOR 250 FleetBroadband to get the data in a timely manner. The systems have proven incredibly reliable over many years of tough ocean racing,” explains Will.

Will is highly-tuned to almost quantum levels of detail when dissecting GRIB data. Even the tiniest speck of information can make all the difference between catching the breeze or playing catch-up with the other teams. So it’s vital that he can rely on Team Alvimedica’s ability to get its weather reports quickly and reliably.

“The SAILOR equipment is the gold standard in communications equipment and is now an essential piece of kit for an offshore racing yacht. And the SAILOR 250 FleetBroadband really is essential for downloading the weather,” says will.

As an integral part of the team and an ambassador for offshore racing, Will is keen to stress that in addition to being a reliable tool for delivering weather data, SAILOR FleetBroadband plays a vital role in bringing the action to the public: “We could not tell the story and the public could not follow the race as closely as they do without all the SAILOR equipment whirring away in the background doing its job and supporting, and allowing the communications,” he says.

And although he is under no illusions that the campaign he is currently competing in is serious business, having a link to home using SAILOR FleetBroadband is still much appreciated: “The Volvo Ocean Race is just that, a race. We have few crew on board and little time for family communications, which are anyway quite restricted by the race committee. Nonetheless, a quick message from time to time, especially for significant events like birthdays or anniversaries can make all the difference to our very important family members at home.”

Additional reports by Louay Habib are found HERE

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