Sailing in High Definition. A Sport made for TV 4


Knut Frostad, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race gave an inspiring presentation to the World Yacht Racing Forum in Monaco in December. Part of the wow factor of his speech was the footage, in particular the high definition sequences of spray coming over the bow of the boat with every single drop captured in crystal detail.

The full Volvo Ocean Race experience is being delivered by some ground-breaking endeavours by the boffins at Inmarsat, the global satellite communications company and a key partner of the race. This article comes from the Volvo Ocean Race Site.

Until the 1980s when satellite equipment was first hoisted into the stratosphere, the polling of race boats was a haphazard affair and navigators spent weeks or months submerged under piles of paper charts and pilotage books, making the odd ship to shore call over VHF if in range.

Messages to supporters and loved ones were handed over mid ocean to passing cargo ships until the development of radiotelephone and radiotelegraphy services via maritime radio station Portishead Radio opened up new opportunities.

Almost overnight, these created an audience for the early yacht races which, courtesy of some remarkable technological wizardry over the past three decades, has been expanded, educated and kept thoroughly entertained.

Boats are now polled every 15 minutes which has led to a similar tenfold increase in safety levels and navigators can download massive 8mb weather files in the blink of an eye, all of which allows race watchers the opportunity to stay in touch with the fleet and its movements round the clock.

The media crew between them will send back 90gb of footage during this race, using custom built high definition cameras. They can do live interviews, send as many images, podcasts, emails and blogs as they like all using the powerful Inmarsat systems with material used across the world, on television and radio stations, in newspapers and magazines and on websites.

Crews can call home for updates on their football teams – not that they do – and skippers can get their shore managers out of bed at all times of day and night for consultations over equipment failures or to organise stopover repair programmes.

The quick and easy exchange of images has also improved medical support since pictures of wounds or breakages can be wired back to doctors for diagnosis and treatment. In leg one from Alicante to Cape Town for instance, Tony Mutter was lifted off Ericsson 4 after doctors became concerned by the pictures of his infected knee. It could easily be a life-saver.

All these communications are sent via Thrane & Thrane satellite antenna to Inmarsat’s network of 10 satellites in geostationary orbit 35,786km above the Earth, all of them controlled from company HQ in London via ground stations located around the globe. The third link in the chain is Stratos, which provides the mobile satellite services via FleetBroadband, Fleet 33 and Inmarsat-C for video, audio, and text-based reports.

As to what comes next is anyone’s guess but as we have seen in this race, such sophisticated technology lends itself to a wide variety of projects including some vital environmental research which in 2008-09 is being conducted on behalf of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics into the transport of micro organisms from one ocean to another.

In February, Inmarsat will be moving some of their satellites around to enhance their global network coverage is 100 per cent.

These activities will impact on users of broadband and satellite phone users in a narrow geographical band in Asia Pacific, including the Volvo Ocean Race fleet who will be given back up options for connectivity for a ten day period while the Inmarsat 4 satellite is repositioned. But that’s a story for another day.

  • Dave Blizzard

    It’s great to hear that the race is being recorded in HD, now all we need is some coverage on TV. In Canada, the only coverage is on game TV which has been rebroadcasting the same episode for weeks, in low definition, with an ad banner superimposed on the screen image the whole time.
    Will the HD coverage ever be available?

  • Ivan

    Don't you think dear readers, that circumnabigation apears to be not so challenging today as it was say when Suahili did it's trip?

  • Watching Sam Davies in the Vendee Globe certainly gives a sense that it all seems to easy. Having said that, I saw an amazing film before Christmas of Eric Tabarly doing his thing in short shorts and no top. Certainly if the current crop of round the world sailors were to ignore the speed records and coast around at the speeds Suahili did, then there might not be a challenge, but there are new challenges – trying to walk the line between a boat that will be fast and one that will finish at all. Challenges of hitting things in the water at 25+ knots. Challenges of being scutinised by anyone with a computer screen 24 hours a day. Certainly challenging.

  • Watching Sam Davies in the Vendee Globe certainly gives a sense that it all seems to easy. Having said that, I saw an amazing film before Christmas of Eric Tabarly doing his thing in short shorts and no top. Certainly if the current crop of round the world sailors were to ignore the speed records and coast around at the speeds Suahili did, then there might not be a challenge, but there are new challenges – trying to walk the line between a boat that will be fast and one that will finish at all. Challenges of hitting things in the water at 25+ knots. Challenges of being scutinised by anyone with a computer screen 24 hours a day. Certainly challenging.