About the Microtransat
The Microtransat Challenge is a transatlantic race of fully autonomous sailing boats. The race aims to stimulate the development of autonomous sailing boats through friendly competition.
The 2013 transatlantic race is open to competitors for the duration of the year. In a change from previous year's two routes are available, an East to West route starting near the UK, Ireland or France and ending in the Caribbean. The other starts off the coast of the North Eastern USA and South Eastern Canada and finishes to the West of Ireland.
So far this year the only teams to attempt the race are Ecole Navale from Brest, France and Team Joker from Ascot, United Kingdom. École Navale, they began their aattempt on July 3rd, but lost of their boat on July 7th. Team Joker began their attempt on October 11th but ran aground after only 15 hours, fortunately they have been able to recover their boat. You can see maps of both attempts on the live tracking page.
History of the Microtransat
Warm up events before the first transatlantic attempts
The Microtransat Challenge was originally concieved in 2005 by Dr. Mark Neal of Aberystwyth University and Dr. Yves Briere of the Institut Supérieure de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace (ISAE, formerly known as ENSICA) in Tolouse, France.
The first Microtransat competition took place on a lake near Toulouse, France in June 2006. Three teams (Aberystwyth University, ENSICA/IUT de Nantes and INNOC) took part.
The second competition took place on the Irish Sea off the coast of Aberystwyth, Wales, UK in September 2007. This was intended to give competitors a sample of what sailing at sea was like. Four teams (Aberystwyth University, ENSICA/IUT de Nantes, INNOC and Queens University) took part.
A spin off competition, the World Robotic Sailing Championships (WRSC) was organised by INNOC (The Austrian Association for Innovative Computer Science) and took place in Austria in 2008, it has taken place annually every year since. This follows on with a similar format to the 2006 and 2007 warm up events, with a series of short distance races and sailing challenges. Many teams who take part in the Microtransat (or who plan to) also attend the WRSC. Also attached to this event is the International Robotic Sailing Conference (IRSC), which allows researchers in the area a chance to meet up and discuss the scientific issues related to robotic sailing.
The sailbot competition is another competition for robotic sailing boats, which has taken place in North America since 2006. This is targeted at student teams and focuses on high performance short distance racing.
Microtransat teams are encouraged to attend a WRSC or Sailbot events to test out their boats and compare them with other teams.
The first transatlantic race started from Valentia, County Kerry, Ireland in September 2010. Only the team from Aberystwyth University were able to launch during this time. Their boat has had problems and was last reported off the north west coast of Ireland but stopped sending position messages. The course taken by their robot can be seen at http://www.microtransat.org/tracking-2010.php
The second transatlantic race started in September 2011 with a start line stretching North/South from a point approximately 160 km west of Brest, France to a point approximately 200km west of Bideford, England. Only the team from ENSTA-Bretagne in Brest, France were able to launch. Their boat sailed for 8 days in total. Unfortunately it stopped making progress towards the start line after 2 days and gradually moved away from the start line, without having crossed it. The boat was spotted by a customs aircraft 2 days later, the aircraft was able to take a picture of the boat showing that one of the sails had sustained damage. The team then decided to rescue the boat and were able to recover it 4 days later. The course taken by the boat can be seen at http://www.microtransat.org/tracking-2011.php
The third transatlantic race was open for the whole of 2012. The start and finish lines where the same as the 2011 competition. Two teams attempted, but failed to complete the Microtransat in 2012. The team from ENSTA-Bretagne began their attempt in June using an improved version of their boat from 2011. Unlike their 2011 entry this successfully crossed the start line, but position messages from their SPOT messenger were very intermittent. After 113 hours of sailing the messages stopped arriving all together. At the end of August the boat was found washed up on the southern coast of Ireland some 300 miles from its last reported position. In November Team Joker launched their boat Snoopy Sloop from Barton-on-Sea in Southern England, they intended to sail 30 miles south into the English channel and then head West towards the start line. Unfortunately after just 6 hours the boat hit a rocky an inaccessible beach at the Needles point on the Isle of Wight and has yet to be found. The course taken by both robots can be seen at the http://www.microtransat.org/tracking-2012.php