WRSC 09 - The Whole Story

After two weeks in Portugal and the 24 hours drive with two cars and two trailers, the team is now back home in Zurich. Work immediately started to disassamble the boat to make a few adjustments, especially to the transmission gear between sail and sail motor.

The first week in Matosinhos (near Porto) was used to get ourselves ready for the World Championship - well, mostly getting a nice sun tan on the beach ;-) Unfortunately the portuguese authorities did not allow us to test before the actual event.

On Monday and Tuesday of the second week, we could set up our base in the official tent at the marina, put the boat into the water, and were able to do some testing. This week we had some serious wind with peaks up to 30 knots (7 Beaufort). During static sailing (no heading changes) and especially in beating upwind, the control system coped very well with the heavy conditions. The problems arose with large heading changes (the control system showed a large overshoot) and jibes. During jibes, the loads on the rig were extremely high and the sail motor even produced overcurrent errors. That led to conditions in which the sail could not be moved for some time, which resulted in the boat spinning around uncontrollably.

These software problems proved very hard to fix, because it took quite a while to even identify the exact problems. In fact, this was too late for the races on Wednesday and Thursday. In first two races, we tried to let the boat run fully autonomously without remote control interaction. We always had a great start and at the first windward mark, Avalon was way ahead of our closest competitors "ASV Roboat" from Austria. But while rounding mark one, the above mentioned problems emerged. In both races, these resulted in small mechanical failures, which forced us to abandon the race and head to the marina for quick repairs. In the two races on Thursday, we decided to save Avalon from more mechanical stress and used the remote control to guide the boat around the marks. Only 1 to 2 seconds of manual control was needed to stop Avalon from spinning around and set it to a stable course. Between the marks, the boat navigated and sailed completely on its own. Because of this manual "help" (exactly 4 times per race), we were able to complete both races way ahead of the other boats. Of course, in the official ranking only the first leg to mark one counted, because the boat was not operating fully autonomously.

In the end, we owe great respect to our competitors, especially the well deserved world champions from Austria, whose software just worked a lot better than ours. And even the portuguese boat "Fast", that - because of its smaller size - appeared slow compared to Avalon and "ASV Roboat", was able to complete two races without human interaction. Great job, guys!

A great thanks goes to Jose C. Alves and Nuno A. Cruz for organizing this great event! We had a lot of fun, and learned a lot, both from testing in these conditions and from the other teams.

Pictures of the event are on www.gallery.ethz.ch/ssa