Plans are afoot for a transatlantic race in 2008 with unmanned 4 metre roboboats


It must be about 25 years ago that I wrote an April’s Fool spoof article for Yachting Monthly. It was the same issue in which Des Sleightholme introduced the water ballasted anchor and was inundated by sales enquiries from all over the world.

My article was a bit more elaborate than that. It was about a yacht that had been developed that could sail itself from A to B entirely unmanned, aided by GPS, self reefing and self trimming sails, radar and CCTV to look out for obstructions and shipping, a computer programmed with ColRegs and so on. This yacht set off from Deauville in France and arrived safely at its pre-programmed destination, Brighton.

Its inventor was there waiting for it, re-programmed it to return to Deauville but it never arrived. It later transpired that it had arrived in Deanville in the SE USA.

So now, 25 years on, it looks as though my April Fool joke could be about to become reality. Here’s what the BBC have to say about it:

‘Small, robotic boats are taking part in sea trials with scientists from universities in Canada, Austria, France, as well as Aberystwyth.

‘On-board sensors and GPS technology help the boats “sail themselves” after courses set by computer. The unmanned craft will sail from Brittany next year to the Caribbean, a distance of 4,000 miles (6,436km). The aim of the race is to develop the use of unmanned sailing boats.

‘Called Microtransat 2008, the challenge was conceived by academics in Aberystwyth and Toulouse, France, and it is thought to be the world’s first transatlantic race for such boats. Complete with small solar panels, they can be programmed to sail the course of a race but must be propelled by just the wind.’

Unlike the model shown in the picture, the transatlantic boats will be no more than four metres long, although they will use the same technology.