Volvo Ocean Race to use tactical oceanographic data

In a Volvo Ocean Race first, tactical oceanographic data will be supplied to all teams for the 2011-12 event.

Australian oceanographic data specialist Tidetech is to supply its global ocean current models and sea surface temperature (SST) data.

Tidetech director Penny Haire said the data would add a dynamic element to racing tactics.

“The Volvo Ocean Race has always been influenced by currents, but the tactical focus has traditionally been on weather in the absence of accurate oceanographic information,” Ms Haire said.

“The combination of SST, current and weather inputs into tactical software will allow navigators to make more informed decisions that could result in a clear performance advantage.”

Ocean currents and trade winds have been relied upon for hundreds of years in trade shipping. Previously data was based on estimates and historical information, providing an average ocean current estimate for a given month.

Tidetech’s scientific team evaluates data from multiple sources including satellites, government agencies and observation (among many others) to establish the exact location of constantly moving currents.

Sea surface temperature is often the critical factor as ocean ‘fronts’ where water changes from cold to warm is where the highest differences of current are likely to be found.

SST can also have an effect on localised winds. Increased temperature can create what amounts to a mini pressure differential above the ocean surface that can alter the wind strength and direction.

Savvy navigators will use the data to position their boats in favourable current of potentially several knots (or avoid heavy current against them).

Volvo Ocean Race marine weather consultant Gonzalo Infante said Tidetech’s data was another tactical element designed to increase the competitiveness of the race.

“Tidetech’s data is about as near to real-time as it is possible to achieve in ocean current predictions,” Mr Infante said.

“Clever tactics will be the deciding factor and if a boat gains even a few minutes it could mean a significant difference in the overall standings.”

Tidetech has provided ocean current data in three consecutive Sydney to Hobart races, supporting the overall and line-honours winners in each race. Other recent accolades include the 2011 Fastnet supporting monohull and multihull record breakers and top three IRC overall boats.

Tidetech is also supplying the 34th America’s Cup with its San Francisco Bay tidal model.