Computerwold spoke with Adrienne Cahalan, the navigator on the former multiple winner of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race, Wild Oats, about how she uses IT in one of the most famous races in the world.
How central is IT to you in a race like the Sydney to Hobart? Adrienne Cahalan: Basically my job is navigator/IT! My world is based on computer analysis of boat data as it relates to performance and weather systems. We have a wireless network and on it is the wireless communications both satellite and Next G [Telstra's mobile network] together with wireless screens.
Please provide a brief outline of your onboard IT set up and the support crew's. We do not have a support crew; I am it. Every crew on the boat looks after their own areas but I do use contractors such as Olectrics to help install and set up various IT equipment. Our IT onboard is a laptop with monitor (Panasonic toughbook), a 10-inch wireless screen for use on deck, satellite communications and the instrument data is fed into the laptop for use with the performance programs.
How has this changed over the past five years? Not a lot really except in the quality of the equipment (eg Toughbook) and faster running and geographical coverage of communications (eg Next G and Fleet 33 Broadband).
What happens if the IT system fails? Do you go by the stars? We always have a back up system which is basically a paper chart and a GPS with a satellite telephone or single side band radio and VHF to call in or obtain weather reports and yes if we have to by the stars or with a hand bearing compass using headlands! We won't take a sextant though we would deadreckon over Bass Strait if need be.
In what ways do you use technology before getting to the starting line on the big day? Technology assists us make strategic decisions by providing us with a source of information from weather downloaded from the internet to performance programs which help us process the instrument data as it relates to the forecast weather to work out what our strategy is.
During the race do you depend on IT and if so please provide an example of a situation where you would struggle without it. We depend on IT for access to the internet for weather and the position of other boats - this is where we would struggle without it
Are there any other comments you would like to make in regards to the use of IT in your efforts to win the Sydney to Hobart? IT at sea has developed over the years similarly to the way it has on land with a series of gradual improvements over the years. When I did the first round the world race in 1993 we had one PC, using DOS (there was not windows then) a GPS and satcom C and of course no email or internet! Hard to imagine life without it now in a race!