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Racing Rules - Predictive tactical racing software

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Poll Question: Reading the information below please vote as follows
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16 [76.19%]
2 [9.52%]
3 [14.29%]
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Keith Feltham View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Keith Feltham Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Racing Rules - Predictive tactical racing software
    Posted: 28 Apr 2010 at 7:57pm
I believe that Eldred's comments make a very good point - was it the skill of a good tactician and crew or was it a robotic computer that won the race? If people are allowed to use the most sophisticated racing software, that may not be available to the general racer's purse, there will always be the likelihood of suspicion that it was the computer software and not the skill of the partcipants that won the race. If we can we should remove that suspicion and outlaw the software. It is not only what the software can do, the possible reduction of judgement and skill, but the feelings of unfairness that can arise between the haves and the have nots, a basic concept that underpins our racing rules and one design status.
Keith Feltham
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Keith Feltham View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Keith Feltham Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 2010 at 8:00pm
I believe that Eldred's comments make a very good point - was it the skill of a good tactician and crew or was it a robotic computer that won the race? If people are allowed to use the most sophisticated racing software, that may not be available to the general racer's purse, there will always be the likelihood of suspicion that it was the computer software and not the skill of the partcipants that won the race. If we can we should remove that suspicion and outlaw the software. It is not only what the software can do, the possible reduction of judgement and skill, but the feelings of unfairness that can arise between the haves and the have nots, a basic concept that underpins our racing rules and one design status.
Keith Feltham

Edited by Keith Feltham - 28 Apr 2010 at 8:03pm
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eldredh View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote eldredh Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Apr 2010 at 3:31pm
I still have not found the time to put together a full reply but just quickly in response to Keith, I could agree if that philosophy were applied generally. We have never stopped a boat buying even 2 new suits of sails per season and Blanco was allowed to fit the latest in lightweight and aerodynamic headfoils and a super-sized wind instrument so that they could more accurately get the true wind trend. Why are we suddenly deciding that what is basically a cheap chart plotter running on a PC is illegal.
Eldred (Drumbeat)
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Giles Vigar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Apr 2010 at 6:29pm
I have supported Ray's wording for the preventative rule for predictive software.  I use enough computers during my work, whilst sailing I want to have as little to do with them as possible.  From a racing point of view I do most of my racing in and around Poole, and am only occaionaly able to come out to play in the Solent.  I do not want to spend a lot of money for navigational software (and therefore also hardware) for somthing that adds little to my crew's safety and increces the complexity of my boat.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote eldredh Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Apr 2010 at 7:51pm

I have decided to abstain on this matter since I certainly do not agree with Ray’s wording but I also do not agree with any decision of this nature.  If we do try to institute this kind of rule it will need to be much more clearly defined than Ray has done in this attempt.  To choose a phrase like ‘tactical yacht racing software’ and expect it to be well understood and last the test of time is a joke. We definitely need to try to keep the basic boat as close to one design as we can but we have never tried to put a limit on instruments many of which now carry significant computing power. The old rule that forbad a computer connected to ‘standard’ instruments became obsolete as soon as instruments started to calculate such things as ‘true wind’, VMG etc. There was no choice but to eliminate it.  I believe the Class should think very carefully before introducing a rule similar to that suggested by Ray and any decision should certainly not be based on the wildly fallacious information Ray has provided.

Firstly, tactical yacht racing software is not a specific product. There are packages available which have functionality ranging from the simple calculation of factors such as tide under the boat to packages which are essentially chart plotters to those which will provide you with optimal weather routing for a transatlantic crossing. Since Ray seems happy to allow chart plotters, instrument systems and other software running on IPods etc.  he will have to define much more clearly what he wishes to ban.

Secondly,’ these’ packages are not necessarily of ‘high expense’. I recently found a PC package which claimed to do all that I would want available for £28 ( I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it but it’s there). I also found a package from a better known source available for about £180. You can of course pay a lot more.

Thirdly, Ray states that he does not want to limit the use of information available from GPS systems, IPhones and other electronic devices that are relatively inexpensive and in common use. Well the computer I use on Drumbeat is my normal Netbook which costs less than an IPhone and most GPSs and is just as much in common use.

Fourthly, it is ludicrous to suggest that boats with the best straight-line speed and  racing software would win races. There is so much more that goes into winning races and Ray well knows it.

Fifthly, Ray says’ it would not be much fun’.  I believe that for many people the ‘fun’ side of fiddling with instruments is a definite positive.

What is it that Ray is trying to stop and what is he so afraid of?

 Apparently he has no problem with chartplotters. About 80% of the benefit of Drumbeat’s package is that it provides a chartplotter at a cheaper price than most specific chartplotters that are on the market. As with any chartplotter you get your position, your track, the tide and all the normal chart features. Very useful for going up the mainland shore or negotiating the Gurnard Channel. The fact that it runs on a Netbook is irrelevant.

I also find it useful to have the true wind recorded since I can never remember it and I am too lazy to write it down. This does of course help you to recognize lifts and headers but  many standard instrument systems now display how far up or down you are relative to the average for that tack. Not exactly rocket science!

You can also get a calculated tide under the boat which can be useful for estimating whether the tide is running late or early but our old, now obsolete, nav instruments gave us that long ago.

The display of optimal apparent wind angle should be useful, particularly downwind, although we have never used it. Now, navigator Mark has got hold of some polars and made us a nice waterproof display of this data. They will probably be much easier to use.

The package also displays laylines which is nice although the extra work involved to calculate them is not much for a good navigator. An ‘egghead’ could do it on the rail given a set of tide charts. Although the computer effort is deemed to be more accurate because it can use more segments, it often will not be because it can only use one wind direction and the ‘egghead’ can adjust for known changes in wind speed or shifts as one crosses the Solent. This is of course not true if one has loaded a ‘grib’ file of wind over an area, for a Channel or Atlantic crossing, but in the Solent??

So what else is Ray talking about?

He seems to suggest that one sits there and waits until the screen flashes ‘TACK’ or perhaps Nav says ‘COMPUTER SAYS NO’. Ray seems to have got carried away by the word ‘tactical’. The way things stand at present NO software package can act as a tactician. Obviously when your referring to boat to boat tactics this is obvious, but even for routing the software can only compile information and present it in a form useful to the tactician. If you are trying to decide whether to go up the Island shore or the mainland shore when the first mark is Salt Mead, don’t look to the computer to help you.

So come on Ray, tell us what you object to. Vague terms like ‘tactical software that runs on a PC’ is not enough.  What is being done on the dreaded PC that you object to?

What are we going to do about instrument systems, many of which carry far more ‘computer power’ than my netbook and can produce all sorts of information way past ‘True Wind’ or ‘COG’? Are we going to try to limit these? I suspect we missed that chance long ago.

As to the cost, are we going to try to limit how much one can spend on the boat? I suspect this has been discussed many times but since we have no sail limitation or instrument limitation or anything like that I presume it has been rejected as impractical. Why is Ray even bringing up the question of cost? It seems that he is quite happy for Blanco to carry the latest in lightweight and aerodynamic headfoils, at a price, and to also have a wind instrument, at a price, (which is half the height of the mast) designed to get a better reading of true wind.

I have realised recently that Ray’s main problem is that over the last two or three years Blanco has occasionally been beaten by Drumbeat due to Drumbeat going a different way and he has put that down to a computer. I understand he has told other owners this. I can assure you all that I can think of no time when I would put our success down to the computer. I like to have it when it works simply because it provides a useful display of the chart with our position, the course, tides etc. and also a display of the wind trend. Just another instrument really and certainly no panacea.

We have already made a decision re instruments and we are in line with RORC etc.. We should stick to it.

Eldred (Drumbeat)
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Ray Rouse View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Ray Rouse Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 May 2010 at 10:10am

I am very sorry that Eldred should think that I begrudge any of Drumbeat’s successes.  On the contrary, although we constantly do our level best to win, I am always very pleased to see other boats win races.  It is not good for any fleet to have just one or two boats dominate and I was delighted that Drumbeat so deservedly won Cowes Week in 2007, and that Cosantes, Blue Shark, and Corafin, won weekend races last year.  We also have Equator, Catherine, and Firefly; all capable of winning races and I am hoping that they will go on to win some this year as well.  Wild Thyme was another potential winner, so it is particularly disappointing that she has now chosen to withdraw from racing for the time being.  With competitive boats such as Merak, English Rose, and Gigi dropping out of the fleet, we do need all the quick boats we can get to maintain the quality of our racing.

Eldred argues fiercely as to why he thinks that it should be permissible to use racing software and questions why anybody should object.  But the fact remains that the overwhelming majority in our racing fleet do not want to bring computers into our racing because they would lower racing skills, add to the difficulty and complexity of keeping a boat in racing order, and raise the expense of competitive Contessa racing.  Our rules had successfully stopped any racing by computer until the Committee gave Drumbeat permission to trial one, and we do want the ban reinstated.

We could pointlessly argue about the semantics forever and a day but if we word the rule as proposed, both the purpose and spirit of the regulation will be clear; nobody will race with a computer laptop or tablet; and people can continue to use their chart-plotter, GPS, IPhone, etc.

Ray Rouse
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mshimsworth View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote mshimsworth Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 May 2010 at 6:07pm
Whilst there are two options in this poll for agreeing with Ray’s sentiment and one for abstaining, there isn’t a way of disagreeing with him. I haven’t voted: I don’t own a boat. But I’m afraid that without a ‘Ray’s wrong’ option, I wouldn’t have engaged in the process in any event, whatever my opinion. If the poll is to have any meaningful value, surely it should afford owners the chance of asserting that the fundament of Ray’s argument is flawed, not only his proffered ‘solution’?

A brief introduction: I am (usually) the navigator on Drumbeat. Sometimes I even take us round all the right marks in the right order. I have trialled the Seatrack software, both round the cans in the Solent and offshore in RORC races and in a two-handed Fastnet. I haven’t used Deckman, which is the software Ray quotes blurb from the website of.

There can I hope be no question in any of our minds that we all sail honestly – any other conclusion would surely have both the cheater and the cheated staying at home doing the gardening. It would be I think ill-judged and contrary to the trust we necessarily have in each other to doubt the veracity of what one skipper says his experience of a particular technology is. Messages on internet forums are in my experience very often misinterpreted or somewhat loosely expressed though, and I’m quite sure that nothing so ignominious has happened, or would, here. In any event, given that the same tidal data is being relied upon whether you're egghead or silicon chip, and simply in the abstract, how could a laptop sensibly suggest a flyer which no-one else would come up with? From experience, I can tell you it simply doesn’t. Those watching Drumbeat’s better performances and attributing them to technology aren’t party to what happens on board, and nor do they seem to recall our more, um, ‘leftfield’ course- and sail- choices.

I haven’t been on a trawl through thousands of class associations’ rule books, but all one really learns is that each does things differently, and the one-designs at, for instance, Cowes, all seem to permit of this technological innovation. Eg Sigma 33s and 38s have the following: “15.4 There is no restriction on radio or electronic aids…” J109s: “4.3 The following are permitted while racing: 4.3.1 tactical / navigation / communication instrumentation”. 40.7s race under IRC and have no proscription. Minitransats (because they’ve been mentioned earlier in the thread) do indeed seem to ban routing software etc (they do so by giving a ‘permitted list’ of electronics – see E-15 here http://www.classemini.com/?mode=reglement-classe-mini ), though they also embargo eg any calculation of true wind speed or direction and specifically chartplotters, which I can’t see going down well on any of Jeremy’s progeny. If you were competing in Black Group at Cowes Week, you’d be doing so against a prospect of, as far as I can ascertain, every other boat on the water being allowed to run what they wanted on their laptops. Assuming I’m right, does the Contessa fleet want to attract new racing members by looking backwards rather than forwards?

Where Keith’s argument falls down is in the vast number of respects in which one can if one wishes attribute success to perceived, but unknown, advantage. Why does that boat’s coachhouse roof spring so much when I walk across it? Was stiffening put into that yacht’s hull in her last refit? Why don’t we have all the boats weighed? Is it because half the Olympic squad’s on that vessel that she’s going even better this weekend than she normally does? Is that sail trim down to a sailmaker on board? Corinthian one-design racing is necessarily imperfect, and is the more enjoyable for it. Harmonisation should in my opinion provide parameters within which we should sail which are workable and sensible. Ray’s proposal is, again in my opinion, neither.

I have read Eldred’s March 2010 article and agree with its content. I cannot think of a single situation in which the software correctly called a layline. The plethora of different forces on the boat’s hull make that just as much a guess for a computer as it is for a human, particularly in the Solent. Deckman’s blurb team deserve a prize, but from my own experience of other software I’d beg to differ with its claims. Help of a sort has come when I could watch from deck rather than down below how close to a shelving shore we were, though all of the data of course comes from the same charts that we all have (or could have) in our chart plotters. In that discrete instance, Ray’s proscription would mean that precisely the same functionality could be benefited from on a ‘computerless’ boat, but that one crew member would have to be down by the chart table rather than out in the open air feeling the breeze in her face and the sun on her skin. Shame.

The wording of the ban? What is ‘tactical yacht racing software’? Does it differ from ‘yacht racing software’, or for that matter from ‘tactical yacht racing firmware’? Which functions can I not use on my chartplotter? What about a chartplotter that displays a dGPS position (if you’re lucky enough to benefit from dGPS – Drumbeat isn’t), and at the same time displays a tidal stream atlas and gives me a course to steer? What about laptop-based chart software? What if I’ve a laptop that only runs Excel and a spreadsheet which calculates a course to steer between a given number of points in the western Solent at various tide heights. Is that tactical? What if instead of that I’ve got a list of numbers to tap into my mechanical calculator to perform the same calculation? What happens when someone invents a tactical sailing app for the iPhone? (or have they already? See here: http://sailmaster.structure6.com/ )

Does anyone reading this sit on protest committees? Or failing that engage in tedious pedantry, or, worse, practice law? Are we really to invoke a rule which is so easily assailable and subject to misinterpretation and abuse? Even if the CO32 fleet understood what Ray’s prohibition 'really' meant, there’s every chance the final arbiters wouldn’t.

As a slight aside, when I’m racing offshore I race under an IRC certificate. To qualify to do so I need to comply with Contessa 32 rules. A number of people think it does the Contessa profile a lot of good to still be competing to eg 1st 2-handed in class (if you can get through a conversation with someone who knows sailing and who discovers you're a CO32 bod without the ’79 Fastnet being mentioned, they’ve not read our Wikipedia entry). The effect of a ban of Ray’s description would be to bar me from using equipment that 299 fellow Fastnet-ers have access to and, for the large part, use. I rather doubt that Ray intends that effect, but he, and anyone else considering voting on this issue here or at an AGM, should know about it. If the effect is intended then it says something rather peculiar about the association’s attitude to self-promotion: “Willy Ker did so desperately well for the class that we’ve decided we should only let Contessas go out equipped as they did in ‘79”.

Why use a computer at all? Because it’s fun. Because it’s like another voice saying ‘I think we should tack now’, in chorus with half of the rest of the crew but at odds with all the others. Because it relies on precisely the same tidal data available to anyone with a copy of Winning Tides and a watch. Because it hasn’t the faintest idea when the sea breeze will kick in, how long the gale has been blowing in the north Atlantic pushing tide heights up and making times later, whether the wind will go funny in Osborne Bay this afternoon, or why it is that Blanco can sail half way back to Yarmouth from Beaulieu but still creep along the island shore into a head-to-head with Blue Shark who took the rhum line to the RYS flagstaff. Because it’s something I like doing. Bit like sailing, really.

Don’t let tedious Westminster politics distract you from the real vote this week. Vote excitement, vote innovation, vote change!

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Post Options Post Options   Quote eldredh Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 May 2010 at 9:16pm

In response to Ray's latest post I point out again that:

1) We all have computers on our boats, in fact several of them. Ever since instrument systems started calculating 'True Wind' we had computers, if not before. This is exactly why the rule had to be changed. And I agree, keeping all these systems in working order can be difficult and complex. Do we plan to get rid of them all?
 
2) Ray's wording does certainly not ban laptops and tablets, as he suggests in his latest post. It refers to software. Drumbeat uses a PC as a chart plotter and, given the proposed rule, would continue to do so. I do not feel that this would in any way be 'cheating' since other boats are allowed to carry sophisticated instruments, chart plotters, GPSs, Iphones etc and all their associated software. I believe others even carry laptops for similar purposes.
 
3) How many times do we have to say there is no such thing as 'racing by computer'. We all use computers to help us on the way. If we wanted to race dinghies with nothing but wind indicators we would do so.
 
4) If we want to ban certain software or firmware functions we shall have to define what they are. Without that we shall have to go with the decision of the last AGM.
 
 
 
 
Eldred (Drumbeat)
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Post Options Post Options   Quote moongirl Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 May 2010 at 10:46pm
As a non-Owner I cannot Vote without a Proxy Nomination but as someone with almost 30 years experience of CO32 racing I do have  views. My views and thoughts are as follows:
1. Racing round the cans one doesnt usually have the luxury of having someone down below looking at a 'computer'. Indeed on Polar Star I was lucky if Seb gave me time to write down the course, enter the Marks into the GPS and mark-up the 'plastic' chart before he was shouting at me to get on the rail! Polar Star did not or does not need a 'computer' to do well - she is well sailed and handled by very good yachters and her results speak for themselves.
2. As for (1) Moongirl and Trader Joe which I raced on for some years were extremely succesful without using sophisticated kit.
3. On Firefly I use nothing more than 'Winning Tides', a handheld Chartplotter and the normal GPS and I believe that we were first round the  first weather mark in 2 of the races during the Nationals!
4. Going back a while Cantelina sailed by Simon Collyer used to be the Blanco of the time and she had zero instrumentation - I venture to suggest that if Simon was still sailing her she would still 'cream' most of the fleet.
5. Merak comes out to play less frequently these days (more is the pity) but she still, because she is well sailed, manages to humiliate the majority of the fleet without the use of any form of 'computer'. Ditto Cosantes and Andaxi both of which I have had the pleasure of sailing on recently.
 
My suggestion to John and Ray was that we simply stated that boats could use whatever was available from the 'standard' instruments which would be used by anyone who cruised - important because CO32 Owners do cruise in addition to racing round the cans. In addition I suggested that 'software' that provided tacking points using tidal data should be precluded.
 
At the end of the day I agree with many of the other 'posters' that anyone who uses 'computers' is highly unlikely to gain much of an advantage over those who concentrate on trim etc - always assuming the Helm points the boat in the right direction anyway.
 
Oh something else! I was doing Nav etc on Catherine in the Round the Island a couple of years ago. Rob and I had agreed where we wanted to be (determined from readily available Tidal info etc) on the leg from the Needles to St Cats but were unable to get to our ideal course due to the attention of those b..... Sunsails. Other fleets do have an impact.
 
I am disappointed that even with a shrinking Fleet that the whole 'Computer' thing has become quite personal. As many of you will have seen, despite being 'Crew', I am a very regular 'poster' on the Discussion Forum and am totally committed to the beaut boat that the CO32 is. Lets forget our differences and continue to celebrate a fabulous boat with superb Crews and great Socials whether you Race or Cruise.
 
 
COLIN
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Simon Clark Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 Jun 2010 at 12:02pm
This is an interesting debate and one in which I can see both sides of the coin.  I have a fair amount of experience in the yacht instrumentation market, particularly race boats, and including tactical race software.  In the right hands and on the right boat tactical software can definately be an advantage.  Would I use it on my Contessa around the cans in The Solent? Probably not.  Offshore? Yes I would.
 
The question is in the definition of tactical I guess.  My dedicated chart plotter has a COG line which I use all the time, it certainly gives me an advantage over someone without one!  If I had PC based charting software would this be any different and should it be banned. Not in my opinion.
 
Seatrack/Tactician, Raytech, Maxsea, SeaPro and the like all have more advanced "tactical" versions/options and these versions would be banned by the new ruling.  How do you know which version people are using?  If I was determined to cheat the new ruling you would never know.
 
At the end of the day, if you have new sails and the boat is fully tweaked with a top crew then spending money on this kind of kit, and knowing how to use it, can be an advantage. For Contessa racing in The Solent however,my preference would be to spend your money on a lift & scrub before each race, or dry sailing, as you will probably get more of an advantage from a clean hull than a computer running tactical software!
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