Weather plays an integral role in the successful staging of any sailing event, and a deep understanding of wind, currents, and temperature is essential to winning one of the largest regattas in the world. Saildrone is the first company to combine conventional weather information with oceanographic and atmospheric data collected by ocean drones to create a more robust, more accurate weather forecast.
Saildrone Forecast provides a global weather model that ranks among the best in the world. But, the secret sauce for sailors is the ultra-high-resolution (200 m) forecasts that produce detail, not seen in other models. These high-resolution domains are in a growing number of regions—currently San Francisco, the Solent, Miami, New York, London, and Palma de Mallorca.
Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins grew up in Lymington, just across the Solent from the Isle of Wight, and has been passionate about both sailing and boatbuilding since childhood. He was racing dinghies by the age of 10 and completed his first Atlantic crossing at 16. He also crewed nine straight years on various yachts during Cowes Week. As a teenager, he built his first moth, and by his 20s, he was working on boat designs for super maxis.
Jenkins studied engineering at Imperial College London. During the summer, he worked at Green Marine back home in Lymington. One day he noticed a strange-looking wreck of a “boat” sitting in the back of the boatyard. The boatyard’s owner had built it for a customer who wanted to break the land-speed record, but it had never been finished. Jenkins set about rebuilding the land yacht to try to break that record.
The vehicle, first known as Windjet and later Greenbird, was powered by a rigid wing that produced thrust similarly to how an airplane wing produces lift. Though wing sails have become common on high-performance sailboats in recent years, Greenbird’s real innovation was the aerodynamic wing control provided by a “trim tab” on the vehicle’s tail, which allows the wing to trim itself for optimum power.
On a dry lake bed in California’s Mojave Desert, Jenkins clocked a new world record speed of 126.2 mph, smashing the previous record by nearly 10%.
After a decade of research and design off the water, Jenkins turned his attention back to the oceans. He adapted Greenbird’s wing/tail/tab system to an autonomous surface vehicle. The idea was to use the fastest sailing technology in the world to develop a vehicle that could help us better understand our oceans.
“Oceans cover over 70% of the earth’s surface. They are vital to regulating carbon in the atmosphere, provide food to millions of people, and are the main drivers of the weather we experience on land. But, they are also chronically under-sampled,” said Jenkins. “There is so much we don’t know because the oceans are so vast and conducting research with large ships is so phenomenally time-consuming and expensive.”
Saildrones are unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), designed for long-term deployments of up to 12 months, in the toughest ocean conditions on the planet, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Like any ocean-going sailboat, saildrones use wind power as their only source of propulsion and are supplemented by solar power to run their computers and sensor payload. Each USV carries some 20 science sensors to collect data above and below the sea surface including wind speed and direction, air and sea temperature, pressure, and the strength and direction of ocean currents.
“In situ atmospheric and oceanographic observations are crucial to weather predictions, however, most of the in-situ observations integrated into publicly available weather models are from land-based stations,” explained Jenkins. “But, more ocean data can dramatically improve these weather predictions.”
There are more than 30 saildrones currently deployed on fisheries,climate,carbon, and bathymetry missions around the globe. These new high-accuracy datasets transmitted by saildrones via satellite are assimilated in near real-time into our forecasting model. Better data means better forecasts—this was the genesis of Saildrone Forecast.
Saildrone integrates coarse resolution models and high accuracy local measurements with local topography to create an ultra-high-definition wind forecast. Saildrone Forecast iOS also offers a global weather forecast, temperature, precipitation, and cloud conditions, the option to combine multiple conditions into a single view with map animations.
“Sailing and ocean exploration is at the core of what Saildrone does. Our team is comprised of lifelong sailors, and many of us are out on the water every weekend,” said Jenkins.
“Cowes Week is a legendary event and I’m extremely proud to support the thousands of skippers and crew competing this year. Our hope is that Saildrone Forecast will give everyone a leg up, making this one of the most competitive and successful regattas ever.”
Saildrone designs, manufactures and operates a global fleet of wind and solar powered ocean drones, providing in-situ data collection services, global ocean data sets and enhanced weather forecast applications.