Mel on: Spreadsheets & The Art of Atlantic Rowing...
Annie tells me that I have to talk to you about spreadsheets today... What?! That makes me sound like a right geek, which I can honestly say I'm not! However I do have to confess that I have a spreadsheet on this laptop to help me keep tabs on our competion and help me plan our route.
Taking a boat across an ocean is very much an art, the art of knowing how your boat behaves in every weather condition, and the art of completely understanding the environment you are in, the sight of a perfecttly balanced boat at sea is one of the most beautiful ever. However there is a more mathematical, statistical side of racing across an ocean which I did not want to ignore, hence the spreadsheet. I'm no excel wizard by any stretch of the imagination so we enlisted the help of our friend Jason, whose knowledge of these things is far greater than mine could ever be. He asked what I wanted the spreadsheet to tell me, looked loads of things up on google, performed some kind of miracle and produced an amazing spreadsheet - thank you Jason!
Working through the strategy on dry land
He emails me the positions of all the boats I'm tracking every day, I key them into the spreadsheet and it tells me where they are in relation to us, how far away, what mileage they did in the last 24 hours and their distance to finish. All this is valuable information to us, not only in motivational terms if we are taking miles off crews in front, but also in terms of who might be experiencing more favourable weather. Annie and I had the chance to receive weather routing information (it's allowed within the rules of the race) but we chose not to opt for it - a) because we couldn't afford it and b) because I wanted to do it myself and arrive in Antigua with the knowledge that we had done everything ourselves. We receive basic information from Woodvale and that, coupled with the spreadsheet, gives me a fairly good picture of what is going on. However the most effective weather information is to look and feel what is going on around us all the time, the boat is always under the effect of wind, swell and current (in fact it probably accounts for half our speed on average) so harnessing that to our best advantage at all times is the most effective method of going as fast as possible, so we are constantly on the look out for changes in the swell or wind direction so we can make any changes to our heading as soon as possible.
Having said all this I have to say that ocean rowing boats are very stubborn creatures and only want to travel in certain directions relative to the conditions. So we basically have to go where Explore wants to go, but try and make her use the conditions to her best advantage! And when she decides she wants to go in a ridiculous direction (such as North as she has wanted to in recent Southerly winds) Annie and I have a huge fight on our hands persuading her that we want to go in a vaguely Westerly direction!
Clear as mud? Yes I thought so! But all this gives me loads to concentrate on out here, gives my brain something to do, and that might just keep insanity at bay!!!
PS The Ocean Planet guys came round again last night, at 5am this time, they haven't quite got the sociable hours visiting thing sussed yet!!