A perfect race course that can be quickly and easily adjusted to the changing wind … how perfect would that be? Michiel and Wouter van Dis agree and talk about their project, the MarkSetBot, a robotic sail mark.

Michiel en Wouter van Dis are brothers and sailing in the International Dragon together for almost 30 years. Michiel is commodore of a Dutch Yacht Club and board member of DutchSail. Wouter is board member of the Dutch Dragon Association.

Michiel says: “We have been actively looking for ways to create easier and better race courses. We understood that MarkSetBot is the most experienced and best solution (there are three different solutions worldwide). We had good contact with the CEO Kevin Morin by telephone and online, after which we were able to obtain one his MarkSetBot’s in Italy. The buoy was not allocated and still in Europe and because we were a lot closer than the American CEO, we were allowed to collect the buoy in Italy. In fact, the DutchSail team for the Youth America’s Cup were literally around the corner in Italy and they were able to pick-up the mark quickly for us.

When asked what the experiences have been so far, the brothers are delighted: “Much better than expected! We have now tested a number of weekends. There were some initial things, which were due to too little experience or knowledge. The buoy supplier is very responsive to our questions”, says Michiel. Wouter explains: “We tested in many different conditions, including 35 knots with the well-known ‘choppy-IJsselmeer’ waves. What is striking, is that the ease and speed of laying jobs makes a huge difference. At the end of September, we sailed a weekend without any race committee and were able to restart without delay. In the meantime, the track has been adjusted five times. And we managed to sail eight races. This was ideal, an excellent upwind and downwind at all the eight races, and without needing any committee for these training races”.

The Marksetbot is also a sustainable solution: the buoy can replace marks, anchors and RIBs. A RIB is not really the epitome of sustainability, but moreover, a RIB is vulnerable and the driver needs a license to operate. In addition, when using a robotic mark, fewer volunteers are needed during competitions. Not unimportant in these Corona times.

a photo from the old days… 3 people, 2 boats, 2 buoys

What does the future look like with the MarkSetbot? Michiel: “This is the start of race course automation. We expect that with the current state of this technology, this automation will fast mature. Video cameras on the marks, automatic e-start and horn, OCS detection, wind detection, etc. Integration with various platforms and trackers is already finished or very close. We are convinced that next year you can follow a match from shore on a screen. Perhaps even more important is that this allows sailors to monitor, analyze and improve each other’s performance”.

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