Com­pet­i­tive sail­ing en­ters the dig­i­tal age with the launch of the esail­ing World Cham­pi­onship.

Sailing World - - Contents - PHOTO : DAVE REED

Vir­tual Re­gatta In­shore places up to 10 com­peti­tors on a short race­course, invit­ing plenty of boat-on-boat in­ter­ac­tion. Judg­ments are swift in this game, with in­stan­ta­neous penal­ties and rule ci­ta­tions. You’re DSQ’D after two penal­ties.

O “Hon? Are you stay­ing up?” “Um ... er ... no. Hold on. Just … uh … fin­ish­ing some­thing,” I yell up to my wife as I’m clos­ing gauge with a star­board tacker. What the? I can’t be­lieve that guy just hunted me like that! What a jerk.

There I sit, alone in my liv­ing room in the soft glow of a small lamp, mum­bling to my­self and curs­ing some­one I don’t even know, some­one who has just suck­ered me into foul­ing them mere sec­onds into the first leg of the race. Who­ever he or she is, they’re ruth­less on this vir­tual race­course. Be­cause of my penalty turn, I lose an­other race — granted, a race that has zero con­se­quences. But I hate to lose, even if it is a silly video game, a game I’m play­ing on my iphone, against nine other peo­ple with avatars. At this late hour, it’s me and the gamers. Me? A gamer? No way. Games are for my teenagers.

After cross­ing the check­ered fin­ish line, I tell my­self, “One more.”

Five min­utes later, I do it again. And again. And again. Forty- five min­utes pass be­fore I fi­nally close the app and open an­other, to check in on my Volvo Ocean

Race Vir­tual Re­gatta yacht (I’m reg­is­tered as “Sail­ing World,” for those of you who are also play­ing) to make sure I have the right sail and best VMG be­fore go­ing off- watch un­til 3 a.m., when I will wake up and check my boat again.

I ad­mit it, Vir­tual Re­gatta has me hooked

— me and ap­par­ently about a mil­lion other dig­i­tal sailors, who are now brushing up their key­board skills for the start of World Sail­ing’s esail­ing World Cham­pi­onship. What’s this “esail­ing” you ask? The same ques­tion comes to me after read­ing a re­cent press re­lease from sail­ing’s gov­ern­ing body, which an­nounced from its an­nual meet­ing in Novem­ber 2017 that it was launch­ing its “revo­lu­tion­ary” re­gatta.

“A new set of World Sail­ing reg­u­la­tions will be used to al­low the sport’s Racing Rules of Sail­ing to be adapted to the vir­tual world,” read the re­lease, be­fore ex­plain­ing that “in­shore re­gat­tas” would be held through­out the year, with play­ers ac­cu­mu­lat­ing points that will es­tab­lish their stand­ings in the esail­ing World Rankings. Those in the rankings will “have the op­por­tu­nity to qual­ify for global play­offs, and ul­ti­mately par­tic­i­pa­tion in the live fi­nal.”

The fi­nal of the in­au­gu­ral esail­ing World Cham­pi­onships, it fur­ther states, will be held in Sara­sota, Florida, in Novem­ber 2018 (the site of World Sail­ing’s an­nual meet­ings).

Com­pet­i­tive gam­ing, or “es­ports,” is a mas­sive in­dus­try. Even ESPN added es­ports to its X Games Sum­mer lineup in Austin, Texas, in 2016, call­ing it “the next big thing.” To­day, there’s Ma­jor League Gam­ing, just like Ma­jor League Baseball, the PGA and the NHL, with teams, com­pe­ti­tions and play­ers. MLG claims to have “one of the fastest- grow­ing dig­i­tal net­works world­wide,” which con­nects to its di­verse fan base through stream­ing com­pe­ti­tions and packed venues, where au­di­ences in the thou­sands stare wideeyed at jum­botrons, root­ing for play­ers with head­sets, con­trollers and tall cans of en­ergy drinks.

Ac­cord­ing to Vir­tual Re­gatta — which de­vel­ops the In­shore and Vir­tual Volvo Ocean Race games, as well as nu­mer­ous other esail­ing com­pe­ti­tions — most of its cur­rent play­ers are young, and not tra­di­tional sailors like you and me. This strange new world of com­pet­i­tive gam­ing, says World Sail­ing, “con­nects fans with­out ac­cess to sail­ing equip­ment or fa­cil­i­ties to be­come en­gaged in the ex­cite­ment of the sport.”

“The unique qual­i­ties of sail­ing — com­bin­ing sport, na­ture and tech­nol­ogy — lend them­selves to a vir­tual gam­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” says World Sail­ing. “The mul­ti­plic­ity of vari­ables, with the com­bi­na­tion of equip­ment and the forces of na­ture, make vir­tual sail­ing ev­ery bit as chal­leng­ing and strate­gic as the real thing.”

On that last point, I beg to dif­fer. Tack­ing from the com­fort of a re­cliner will never be as chal­leng­ing as go­ing wire to wire on a foil­ing cata­ma­ran or grind­ing in a 150 per­cent genoa in a high- wind tack­ing duel. Still, speak­ing from my own ex­pe­ri­ences,

Vir­tual Re­gatta In­shore is highly ad­dic­tive and quite use­ful for un­der­stand­ing how the Racing Rules of Sail­ing work. The games are es­pe­cially good at re­in­forc­ing tac­ti­cal tenets, such as tack­ing in the zone is a high-risk move.

Once logged in to Vir­tual Re­gatta (as a guest or reg­is­tered player), you find your­self with an over­head view of your boat and the race­course while you wait for other play­ers to join. Once that hap­pens, with a max­i­mum of 10 play­ers, a one-minute pre-start count­down be­gins. It’s a scramble to de­ter­mine the fa­vored end avoid­ing other boats. Con­trol the boat us­ing left and right ar­row icons on the screen (or a key­board). Tap one of three other icons to tack (or jibe), ease sails, and set or douse a spin­naker for races that use spin­naker boats.

The up­per right cor­ner of the screen dis­plays wind­speed, boat­speed and VMG, and ap­par­ent wind an­gle, which re­veals the sub­tle wind­shifts. One tricky el­e­ment of the game, par­tic­u­larly when play­ing on a mo­bile de­vice, is when boats pile up at a mark round­ing; it’s im­pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine who’s who. Red ex­cla­ma­tion points that pop up when penal­ties are ap­plied only make the chaos more con­fus­ing, so a lap­top or mon­i­tor is best for view­ing.

The graph­ics and in­ter­face are good for what you pay ( it is free, at the mo­ment), and the game is simple enough for any sailor to un­der­stand and get around the track. The races them­selves, how­ever, can be ex­tremely chal­leng­ing to win, so much so that once I start, I can’t stop play­ing.

Vir­tual Re­gatta claims more than 1 mil­lion ac­tive play­ers, my­self now in­cluded, and while I don’t have any as­pi­ra­tions of gam­ing my­self to the esail­ing World Cham­pi­onship in Novem­ber, or win­ning a leg of the Vir­tual Volvo Ocean Race, I do in­tend to give my thumbs a se­ri­ous work­out this win­ter. Q

“Vir­tual Re­gatta has me hooked — me and ap­par­ently about a mil­lion other dig­i­tal sailors, who are now brushing up their key­board skills for the start of World Sail­ing’s esail­ing World Cham­pi­onship.”

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