Being part of the strategy team
A solar boat race is not as simple as hitting the gas and sailing as fast as we can the entire race. We have to consider different elements of the route, such as depth and width of the canal, but also bridges, sharp turns, and crowded waterways. Furthermore, the weather is very important, because it determines if it is safe to fly, and how much solar energy we receive.
The strategy all comes down to energy. For every velocity, the boat uses a certain amount of energy and for every weather case, the boat receives a certain amount of energy. Determining the strategy is about keeping a balance between these two; we want to sail as fast as possible, so we want to use all the energy that we have, but we don’t want to have an empty battery at any point in the race. Efficiency is also important here. Sometimes, sailing a very high speed and stopping to charge might be a better plan than sailing at a low speed, because this low speed can be very inefficient. During the race, we keep a close eye on the state of charge of our battery and the power that we use, in order to see if we are using the right amount of energy.
To determine the energy intake of the boat, we have to keep track of the weather. We use different resources for this. First of all, we are provided with weather predications of Aeolis. They consist of a predicted solar irradiance for the coming hour, at different locations. Next to that, we have two weather stations that will be put along the route by the scout team. The scout team puts these stations on a predefined location and makes a measurement, then drives to another location to make the next measurement. Thus, during the race, we have new weather data coming in at all times so that we can finetune our strategy.
All the components of the strategy, but also of the rest of the race, come together in the Head Quarter. The Head Quarter consists of the communicator, chief boat, safety officer, chief scout, and the strategy team. The communicator is in direct contact with the pilot and tells him what velocity he has to sail and warns for potential dangers. These potential dangers, such as narrow waterways or boats crossing the route, are being monitored by the safety officer. The chief scout tells the scout cars where to go, and the chief boat is completely up-to-date about the maintenance of the boat, for example if anything is broken or if something is not behaving as it should. Together, we make all decisions in the race strategy, and try to sail the race as fast as possible.