by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
Rather than using drop marks to set race courses, MarkSetBot is a self-propelled robotic mark that uses GPS technology to zero in on a specific location and stay there until you tell it to move.
While these marks come with a steep cost, that investment may be offset by the expense of powerboats needed to manage a course using inflatable marks.
But another cost to race committee is manpower, and Dick Neville – longtime on-water director for Block Island Race Week – likes the opportunity this technology provides:
Race Committees are facing several threats this year. Members are aging out, budgets are tight, and the coronavirus makes us want smaller numbers of volunteers on signal and mark boats.
Last weekend I was part of a small committee running the Bay Harbor Cup (Little Traverse Bay, MI) for the 5-boat Great Lakes 52 class in where I discovered the benefits of robot marks (Bots).
We had four aboard the signal boat, including our Bot controller and three aboard our one mark boat. All went better than I could have hoped. We used no flags, just an automatic horn and we broadcast the countdown, as well as OCS’s, postponements, course changes, abandonments, etc.
The Bots are impressive. Move the pin at 5 minutes to the warning, no problem (as long as you broadcast you have moved it!). Move or square the gate any time, no problem. Change the weather mark and offset for the second beat or between races, no problem. Blowing 20-25 knots with good sized waves – no problem.
We can simplify and automate the race committee functions. The future is here.
I don’t disagree with Dick, I’m smarter than that, and I know I would be drooling over the Bot’s functionality. How cool would it be to move a mark on an iPad to its desired location, and then watch the mark move itself? But beyond being hypersensitive to adding cost to the sport, I do worry about de-emphasizing volunteerism.
When my kids were early in their education, parents were required to contribute time to support the school. While this was a win for the teachers, it was also a massive win for the parents, as many of my closest friends today were met during those volunteer hours. It also created a community of caring people that jumped in when needed, far beyond what was required.
This also should be the norm for yacht clubs, as volunteerism creates that layer of familiarity among members that forms necessary bonds to strengthen the club. New members need to become active members, and required volunteerism fulfills that mission.
But even before becoming a member, an applicant at my club needs a number of personal references to vouch for their integrity but also their boating experience. This can be a challenge for someone new to the area or the sport, but the club allows non-members to participate in race management, and soon enough aspiring applicants have the references they need for club membership
Maybe these Bots are the future, but I hope not at the expense of building a community of caring people to support the future of the club and sport.