The amazing image above, which looks like colorful yarn wrapped artfully around the islands of the Eastern Caribbean in a giant Christo installation, is in fact the tracking history of the 61 boats that are sailing this week in the Caribbean 600 offshore race. The boats all are carrying Yellow Brick transponders that transmit positions, course and speed for all the boats all the time via a satellite miles in the sky above. For race organizers, tracking systems like this are a key safety feature. For those of us not sailing, it allows us to watch an offshore race as the action unfolds.
This is of particular interest to me since my older son Si is racing aboard the Class 40 Sirius. I’ve been watching them as they gained and lost positions through the first two days, all the while hoping that nothing breaks and no one gets hurt. Then, Wednesday morning, Sirius’s track veered off the course and then showed the boat heading back into the lee of the island of Guadeloupe where it stopped for about an hour. What the…? Judging from the track, it looked like a headstay or fore sail problem, but not a man overboard search or a quick diversion to nearest land for a medical emergency.
An hour later, Sirius was underway again and back in the event. Phew. Then I got a text from Si’s lovely wife Alex. “Just in case you are tracking them, Sirius tore her Solent jib and needed shelter to get it down.” Just in case I was watching…funny.
It was a relief to know the boys were okay. And it made me feel for my now gone parents who long ago in the age before high seas radios, GPS, or tracking devices had to wait for four months to hear from me as I sailed from Panama to Tahiti in a small boat. My Mum always said that during those four months her hair turned from brown to white. We are lucky today to have the modern tools for instant location and communication. But they do take some of the mystery and romance of the unknown out of the offshore sailing game.