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Old 01-10-2014, 08:32   #1
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Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

Hello Cruisers!

I'm part of a team of undergraduate students working on designing and building an autonomous sailboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The goal is to sail from Newfoundland to Ireland in the month of August. We're trying to get a good grip on the types of obstacles we should anticipate encountering while at sea to better detect and avoid them.

Anyone here sailed transatlantic, specifically from West to East in the northern latitudes? What kinds of stuff did you see floating on the water? How much floating debris, and what did it look like?
More generally, what are the major factors a navigator must take into account when directing a vessel across the North Atlantic? What obstacles should they be on the lookout for, and how do they avoid them?

Thanks for your insight!
-ECP
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Old 01-10-2014, 09:12   #2
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

Greenland and Iceland.


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Old 01-10-2014, 14:07   #3
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

Welcome to CruisersForum, ecamphunk
There is some shipping between America and Europe. In August, there are some icebergs around Newfoundland, too.

You can find free information about shipping routes and icebergs in the Pilot Charts for North Atlantic ocean, to be downloaded for free here:
Maritime Safety Information

Alain
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Old 01-10-2014, 14:25   #4
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pirate Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

There's a variety of stuff out there apart from Shipping...
Weather buoys, trees, logs, ice floes, commercial chest freezers.. abandoned Oysters and Catamarans... hell I even saw a 'monster truck' wheel.. complete with tyre..
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Old 01-10-2014, 14:41   #5
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

I crossed during July/August this past summer west to east. Not a day passed that I didn't see at least one floating object. Styrofoam looks unbelievably clean and white when it has been floating around out there long enough.
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Old 02-10-2014, 09:26   #6
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

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Originally Posted by MarkJ View Post
Greenland and Iceland.


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Old 02-10-2014, 09:52   #7
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

The unknown, that why ships need highly trained captains! How about a video link same as they use on drones so the captain can be on shore.
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:05   #8
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

I'm actually crossing now, but the other way, Cape Wrath Scotland to St Johns NFL.
Not actually seen very much, but thats mainly due to the 10-15meter sea and swell, and the driving spray. Did see a hump back whale a couple of days ago.
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:15   #9
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

I would add as your team appears to be a group of well-intentioned non-sailors, you should know there are other sailboats out there and your craft will be a hazard to them.

I am assuming your craft will be equipped with radar. However, smaller fiberglass boats and wooden boats will not appear on radar until very close and sometimes not at all - particularly if the weather is rough.

A radar screen in rough weather will throw up many conflicting pieces of information and potential collision targets. Determining which of those are factors and which of those can be ignored takes judgement and experience. Since your team will lack both I would suggest you make your craft HIGHLY visible to others. This could be done by painting it day-glo orange and festooned with multiple radar reflectors. It should also be well-lit every night in accordance with COLREGS.

Good luck.

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Old 02-10-2014, 10:26   #10
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

Most cruising boats carry back-up navigation lights and in some cases are required to do so. The reason why should be obvious.

I am curious to know if the OP is planning on providing redundancy for this purpose and also if he is planning on carrying liability insurance least I crash into his boat at night in the middle of the ocean?

During our crossing we occasionally ran without nav lights, but we alert to turn them on when other vessels were sighted, as well as to alter course as required. Had our nav lights failed, we would have been able to recognize and remedy this deficiency immediately.

I understand the purpose of the thread is to inform the OP with regards to what potential hazards his autonomous sailboat may encounter, but wonder if he has also considered he is creating a potential hazard for human commanded vessels? AIS seems like a nice tool for this situation but as we all know not everyone either has them or has them turned on.
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:32   #11
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

Quote:
Originally Posted by nigel1 View Post
I'm actually crossing now, but the other way, Cape Wrath Scotland to St Johns NFL.
Not actually seen very much, but thats mainly due to the 10-15meter sea and swell, and the driving spray. Did see a hump back whale a couple of days ago.
Wishing you a safe passage!
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:35   #12
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

Saw one of these guys basking, altered course slightly to avoid it. We were doing 6.5-7 knots. Probably would have killed it if we had run it over. Freaky fish BTW, very strange.
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:37   #13
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

As an old and experienced engineer who is thoroughly familiar with how often and how unpredictably devices fail, regardless of how "well-engineered" -- and in direct proportion to their complexity -- the very idea of autonomous vehicles, whether land-based or floating, scares the crap out of me.

I don't even want to be on the same ocean with an autonomous vessel or on the same road with an autonomous car.

Other than as a design exercise with the consequence of putting others at risk, what could possibly be the practical benefit of development of an autonomous sailing vessel? Surely no-one thinks that the future of transport lies in fleets of unmanned sailing cargo ships stumbling their way across the oceans? What a nightmare!

Ever consider "pushing back" a little on whatever whacky prof assigned you this stupid exercise in technology over-reliance?
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:45   #14
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dhillen View Post
I would add as your team appears to be a group of well-intentioned non-sailors, you should know there are other sailboats out there and your craft will be a hazard to them.

I am assuming your craft will be equipped with radar. However, smaller fiberglass boats and wooden boats will not appear on radar until very close and sometimes not at all - particularly if the weather is rough.

A radar screen in rough weather will throw up many conflicting pieces of information and potential collision targets. Determining which of those are factors and which of those can be ignored takes judgement and experience. Since your team will lack both I would suggest you make your craft HIGHLY visible to others. This could be done by painting it day-glo orange and festooned with multiple radar reflectors. It should also be well-lit every night in accordance with COLREGS.

Good luck.

Dhillen
Excellent advise. I was just going to chime in about shipping may be a bigger concern than flotsam.
Chances are your "autonomous" vessel will be constructed on a material that won't present much of a radar signature. Insure you have an adequate reflector as high as possible. Even at that you'll only be a small blip to that 1000ft. ship
To add to Markj's levity,check with Leif Ericson.

Fair winds.
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:49   #15
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Re: Sailing "blind" across the North Atlantic

I think this thing just did some kind of Pacific crossing.
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