Sunday, September 5, 2010

Follow up: "News from across the pond"

All too often a news story grabs your attention and then sometime later you begin to wonder: how'd that ever end? Here's the follow up to the German language, Daily Dose story of the Churchulla twins' windsurfing adventure with their 8 man board. The story below is my best effort at making the automated translators readable for an English only audience. However, if you want the original German or the German to English Google translation, follow the links.

August 31. The 8 man German team took only 73 minutes after leaving Fehmarn Island to reach Danish soil. The twins, Manfred and Jürgen Charchulla, led their team safely across the Fehmarn Belt on the 16 foot sailboard. Once in Denmark, the windsurfers rushed to the beach and hoisted the banner, "Surf Republic." Getting too close to one of their support vessels caused their only crash. Ranier, one of the team members, had a bad leg cramp on the way over and the man behind, Ralf, was able to help him. A substitution was considered for the return trip, but Heike Reimann said they decided to tough it out and return with the original team.

Once in Denmark, after being met by the German and Danish press, they spontaneously decided to immediately return to Germany, because things were going well. "The wind was getting stronger; conditions were perfect" said 4th man on the board, Tim Buchwald, who controlled the dagger board. Buchwald laughed at the way you have to work as a team and balance the sail while moving the dagger board up and down. However, on the way back, the wind begins to drop off forcing them to sail a higher course. Unfortunately, going hard to windward makes the board unstable and at the half way point in the crossing, Captain/lead man, 71 year old Manfred Charchulla, is knocked off the board.  Second to last, 7th man Ralf sees Manfred's helmet buried under his sail as the board moves past him. He grabs him and drags him out of the water, back on the board, all of this in the flash of a second. The recounting of this brings a chuckle to Manfred. Making better time on the return, the team landed at the exact point of departure 59 minutes later.

Postscript  Boards Magazine reports: ...“These guys (Charchulla twins) are incredible. When they hit the water, they really transform into some 30 year old. They really look funny with their ZZ Top style beards, but there is no way you can tell their age when you see them on the water"... For more of the photo rich story.

On September 1, Starboard posted on their website, a PWA September Update...The second new stop on the tour is the Cold Hawaii World Cup in Denmark (Sept. 13 - 19).The big news is: the Denmark event will be the first to have a full, live web broadcast, transmitting all the day's action around the world live, via the internet. Plans are also in place for similar live broadcasts throughout the Sylt and Cape Verde events... Sylt will also have the additional feature of a full GPS tracking system for the Slalom, allowing spectators at the event site, and watching on the internet, to see in real time, the position and speed of each competitor as they battle it out around the course. Work is progressing with a new PWA Women's website, which will be launched soon...Meanwhile the ladies are racing in France.  

The RS:X Worlds along with Sailstream, whose parent company is radio communications giant Zenitel, put forth a very ambition plan of GPS and video coverage. This was the first ever attempt for such a large windsurfing regatta. Rory Ramsden reports: "The technology behind the process is all-new. Typically in live broadcast situations, remote cameras beam images back to a base station ashore via a microwave link. For the RS:X Worlds they will set up a giant wireless network across the race courses. As part of the technology they have created some racing marks fitted with the necessary wireless networking equipment to make this possible. 'We have developed some marks and these actually spread the network around the course. We collect all the data on the starting boat and then we send that to shore with a point to point link,' explains Møhl. 'The WiFi access points talk to each other automatically, so if one buoy is out of range, it uses the closest to get into the starting boat in order to get the best coverage.' While the equipment has been tested in the laboratory and on the water, this week Møhl is in the process of setting it up and trialing it in Kerteminde."

How did it all work? The GPS actually turned out to be quite interesting. Just like in the most recent America's Cup, the digital graphic display of boat positions helped show who was in the lead. Seems simple to understand who would be in the lead, but when the boats split tacks and head to opposite sides of the course, it's pretty hard to follow without that distance to the next mark line on the display. Throw in a post race replay analysis feature, an inset leaderboard window with time and distance behind the leader and the race becomes fun to watch. With someone or some country to root for, spectators have a real sporting event.

Now, all the above just needs the video interface and voila, it's mini ESPN coverage. And this is where their ambition was greater than what they delivered. In fairness, kudos on the attempt and great effort but the video coverage sucked: too many technical problems, at least on my computer. There were moments when we had a decent video feed, but sadly, too few... Nonetheless, ISAF President Goran Petersson was fully behind the new SailStream technology being trialled for the first time ever at this regatta. “We have to move the races and the stories about the races closer to those people who want to look and listen. They cannot come out to us, we have to come to them and that has to be pictures and comments and it has to be live and in real time and they are achieving this here. I understand there is still some development still to be made, but this absolutely is the way to go.”

When you have a dog in the fight, the competition is a lot more fun to watch. Go USA !!! The screen shot below is from the 8th race of the Silver Fleet showing Bob Willis (USA 7) in 2nd and Ben Barger (USA 1) in 3rd. Ben eventually won the race and Bob finished 5th. Watch the replay. (Top right hand on the screen is the zoom feature; bottom left hand to speed up the replay; click and drag to position the screen for best view.)

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