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VR: Aspiration, inspiration, and education

by Mark Jardine 21 Feb 2022 20:00 GMT
VR WASZP sailing © MarineVerse

Having talked about the MarineVerse back in December, and following on from a couple of chats with Marc Ablett at KA Sails and Greg Dziemidowicz, the developer of the virtual reality sailing game, last week I had my chance to try it first-hand.

The Oculus Quest 2 does give you a truly immersive experience, and it's pretty incredible how much it feels like you're on the boat. The physics of sailing feel right, and I enjoyed my first race against Marc. It's incredible that we could be chatting away, sailing dinghies next door to each other while physically being on opposite sides of the planet!

You really do feel like you're 'in the game', and this was no more obvious than when gybing and I instinctively ducked when the boom came across!

I started off in a Laser / ILCA, and then had a go the WASZP and keelboat. Having sailed all these in the real world, I liked how the different boats reacted in different ways. Getting foiling in the WASZP required a bear away, a little pump, then up on to the side and heeling the boat to windward for maximum speed. It felt exhilarating!

Sadly, my virtual attempt at a foiling gybe met with a very similar outcome as when I tried to do the same thing on the wet stuff...

There is of course room for improvement, such as gusts and wind direction could be easier to read and holding the tiller is a little glitchy, but overall, the experience is hugely impressive and far further developed than I ever expected.

Chatting with Marc, I see exactly why he's so excited about the MarineVerse. The opportunities for it are nearly endless. For sailors watching the SailGP, imagine being able to don a headset and find yourself at the wheel of an F50, tearing around the race course.

Then think of all those days when sailing isn't possible, particularly when you're getting kids or youth sailors out on the water. A 'lost day' can be turned into a virtual training day down at the club, working on technique or understanding what to do in different situations. A club could invest in a few headsets, link them up to cast to a TV, and you've got a fun shoreside training setup, which can provide entertainment for those watching as well.

Until now, virtual sailing has been mostly limited to Virtual Regatta, which is itself an impressive platform with some great gameplay, and most definitely provided us with a bit of fun during lockdown, but the MarineVerse takes things to a whole new level.

Most of the 'big players' in technology are working on virtual reality, and I have no idea which of Facebook / Meta, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Sony will end up with the dominant product, but the MarineVerse theoretically isn't tied to any of them as it's developed on Unity, the cross-platform game engine which is used by many of the top gaming companies.

This really is an exciting development which could dramatically enhance people's experience of sailing, and could further break down barriers, leading to increased participation.

We move now from virtual sailing, to landyachts, with the news that Emirates Team New Zealand are making an attempt at the world wind-powered land speed record, which currently stands at 109.5 knots. This is a project that Glenn Ashby, the Australian who has had the need for speed on the water and on motorbikes since he was ten years old, has taken a massive interest in.

"I have never spent so much time on the computer as I have this past year," explained Ashby. "Basically, from the point that Dalts said 'let's look at it' after the finish of AC36, we have been all go. First job was a two-week in-depth feasibility study to ensure enough of a global understanding that this was something that could be done in a positive way for ETNZ and would not impact the team and its America's Cup objectives financially or resource-wise."

109 knots is very nearly what was recorded close to where I live on Friday. The Needles on the Isle of Wight has laid claim to the highest wind speed ever recorded in England with 106 knots. Having taken a walk to the clifftop just across the water, I can attest that it was properly blowing dogs off chains and not a day to be anywhere near the water.

The thirteenth edition of the RORC Caribbean 600 is underway, where some of the top multihull and monohull teams in the world take on a course around eleven Caribbean islands, racing in typical north easterly trade winds of 12 to 17 knots.

In the monohulls we'll again be seeing the all-conquering VPLP-Verdier 100 Comanche and the mighty Club Swan 125 Skorpios go head-to-head.

While Comanche is a seasoned campaigner, the Scorpios are still learning fast about the boat, and have made some modifications to the keel and rudders. "We are improving, learning about the boat and are starting to understand the modifications to make the boat perform," said Scorpios skipper Fernando Echavarri.

Another 100 footer which can't be discounted is Leopard, which took line honours in 2009 and 2013. As navigator Hugh Agnew says, "It looks like a pretty conventional medium to light trades of 12-17 knots - so not hooning. That could be good for Leopard - we want more displacement conditions."

As with all events, we'll be bringing you the latest from the race, and we always welcome news from your club, class or event, however large or small.

I'm looking forward to seeing many sailing friends this coming weekend at the RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show, taking place at the new venue of Farnborough International. In the meantime, wishing everyone sailing fair winds, hopefully a little less than that seen at the western tip of the Isle of Wight on Friday. If you are stuck ashore due to adverse conditions then give the MarineVerse a go; it's worth it.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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