‘Sailbot’ to brave solo Atlantic crossing

Local student involved in robotics project that will see an unmanned sailboat attempt a trans-Atlantic crossing.

Neil Dobie

Neil Dobie

Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean isn’t a relatively big deal nowadays ever since Christopher Columbus first did it in 1492.

However, a team of UBC students are hoping to make history again with a transatlantic crossing by boat, this time with a unique twist.

This transatlantic crossing will be by an unmanned and autonomous robotic ‘sailbot’.

And if all goes to plan, a Cranbrook native will be in on that history-making event.

Neil Dobie, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, has been involved with the project since the idea was conceived.

Initially, Dobie and four other students got together to resurrect the sailbot program, which had been defunct for a few years. In 2011, the group began building small sailbots and entering them into regattas around North America.

And their vessel started winning.

“After we went and did everything we could do with this regatta, we went, ‘Well, what’s next? There was this thing called the he Microtransat Challenge, and that’s where you cross the Atlantic Ocean autonomously and we said, ‘Well, lets do it’,” Dobie said.

With the team growing to 70 members, the race is on to get their newest craft field-tested in time for a transatlantic attempt in August, where they will launch from Newfoundland.

It’s not the first crack at a transatlantic crossing with a robotic sailboat; other European groups have tried, and the U.S. Navy recently made an attempt.

However all have failed because of weather challenges, or collisions with ocean debris and a myriad of other reasons. One boat was even stolen during it’s attempted run.

For the last four years, the UBC team cleaned up at a few sailbot regattas around North America. They won an event in their backyard in Vancouver, taking the crown away from the U.S. Naval Academy, and cleaned up with a perfect score at another event in Boston.

Dobie’s main responsibility includes overseeing construction of the physical boat itself, such as the hull, the keel, rudder and the sails.

“I’ve been involved in a couple of the design tasks—the rudder and the keel and I’ve been mostly managing the construction side so back from day one over a year ago when we started construction in January last year, I’ve been involved in every step of the process until now,” Dobie said.

After taking lessons learned from the racing events, the team began planning for a transatlantic run and troubleshooting the expected challenges.

The racing boats were just over 2 metres long, but the trans-atlantic vessel is bigger at 5.5 metres.

“In the trans-atlantic boat, we have to be able to handle anything that the Atlantic throws at us,” said Dobie, “so it’s 5.5 metres in overall length, but the water line is only four metres so at the very front where the bow is, there is a 1.5 metre of the boat out of the water, to make sure you can ride over waves and stay afloat when heavy winds are pushing you down. It can also deflect anything that you’re going to hit.

“It’s designed more being like halfway between building a tank and a race boat because you want to be able to go fast because the less time you have out there, the less chance you have of sinking but at the same time you need to be very strong to withstand the Atlantic which has up to seven or eight metre swells and 60-knot winds.”

The team is planning to take it out to the west side of Vancouver Island next week and test it out on open water. The electronics package includes important components such as GPS, AIS, computers, sensors, sat uplink and solar panels.

“The plan is to have an infrared camera on the front of the boat that’s going to be looking out as we’re going that is going to take pictures and will analyze that on the completely on the boat itself, doing it all on it’s own,” Dobie said.

“We’ve done some preliminary tests and it’s working out pretty well.”

Two weeks is the expected crossing time, which covers roughly 2,500 kilometres. For more information on the project, visit www.ubcsailbot.org


Just Posted

Kimberley Search and Rescue were able to quickly respond to a call for service and transport an injured mountain biker to East Kootenay Regional Hospital over the weekend. Kimberley SAR file photo.
Kimberley Search and Rescue respond to injured mountain biker on Bootleg Mountain

Kimberley Search and Rescue responded to a call for service this past… Continue reading

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

City of Cranbrook, Ktunaxa Nation to host flag ceremony on National Indigenous Peoples Day. (Corey Bullock file)
City of Cranbrook, Ktunaxa Nation hosting flag ceremony on National Indigenous Peoples Day

A temporary road closure and speed limit reduction will be in effect during the ceremony

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

Cranbrook Arts has opened the doors of their  new gallery space to the public with their inaugural exhibit, Kootenay’s Best.
‘Kootenay’s Best’ opens Cranbrook Arts’ new gallery

This exhibit has been in the works for the past several months and features the work of more than 50 emerging and established artists from across the Kootenays

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Pictured are Tyler McNaughton and Sacha Bentall. The husband and wife duo owns and operates Cutter Ranch in Fort Steele. (Zoe Ferguson Photo)
Farm Life: Where food comes from

A chat with Cutter Ranch

Most Read