The Microtransat Challenge


History of the Microtransat

The Microtransat Challenge was originally conceived in 2005 by Dr. Mark Neal of Aberystwyth University and Dr. Yves Briere of the Institut Supérieure de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace (ISAE, formerly known as ENSICA) in Tolouse, France. The first transatlantic race was supposed to take place from Portugal in 2008 but this was delayed until 2010 and the start point changed to Ireland.

Warm up events before the first transatlantic attempts

The first Microtransat competition took place on a lake near Toulouse, France in June 2006. Three teams (Aberystwyth University, ENSICA/IUT de Nantes and INNOC) took part.

The second competition took place on the Irish Sea off the coast of Aberystwyth, Wales, UK in September 2007. This was intended to give competitors a sample of what sailing at sea was like. Four teams from Aberystwyth University, ENSICA/IUT de Nantes, INNOC and Queens University took part.

Transatlantic Attempts

Summary of attempts to date

Start DateTeam NameBoat NameDistance coveredTracked time*StatusOther Information
September 11th 2010 Aberystwyth University Pinta 87 km autonomously
653 km until last message
18 days Lost, last position report on September 29th 2010 Tracking map

Team blog
September 16th 2011 ENSTA Bretagne Breizh Spirit 194 km until recovery, possibly drifting for last 107 km 8 days Recovered at sea on September 24th 2011 Tracking map

Team Page
June 27th 2012ENSTA Bretagne Breizh Spirit DCNS 229 km 4 days, 17 hours Washed ashore in Kilmore Quay, Ireland on August 19th 2012 Tracking map

Team Page

Photo of recovered boat in Ireland
November 27th 2012 Team Joker Snoopy Sloop 8 12.5 km 8 hours Sailed into the Isle of Wight and lost. Tracking map

Team page
July 3rd 2013 Ecole Navale Erwan 1 220 km4 days, 5 hours Recovered at sea by a passing boat on August 20th 2013 Tracking map

Recovered boat
October 11th 2013 Team Joker Snoopy Sloop 9 28 km 15 hours Sailed into the Isle of Wight, recovered on Bouldnor shore, Isle of Wight on October 12th 2013. Tracking map

Team page
May 16th 2014 United States Naval Academy ABoat Time 408 km 5 days, 11 hours Caught in a fishing net. Tracking Map
September 6th 2014 Team Joker Snoopy Sloop 9 62 km 24 hours Sailed into the Isle of Wight, recovered near Hamstead Ledge, Isle of Wight on September 7th 2014. Tracking map

Team page
November 30th 2014 Team Joker Snoopy Sloop 9 185 km 2 days, 9 hours Sailed into the Portland Island, recovered near West Weare, Portland on December 2nd 2014. Tracking map

Team page
March 18th 2015 Team Joker Snoopy Sloop 10 853 km, tidal effects dominate path after first 50 km 12 days, 9 hours Sailed into Brighton Beach on March 30th 2015. Tracking map

Team Page
June 13th 2015 United States Naval Academy ABoat Time 477 km 9 days, 9 hours Picked up by a fishing boat after running aground in Outer False Harbour, Nova Scotia Tracking map

September 1st 2015 ENSTA Bretagne and Dalhousie University Breizh Tigresse 1427 km, deviated from planned path after approximately 600 km 32 days, 6 hours Lost, last position report October 4th 2015. Disqualified October 14th 2015. Tracking map

* Tracked time means the amount of time that the boat was transmitting its position to the race organisers.

2010

The first transatlantic race started from Valentia, County Kerry, Ireland in September 2010. Although several teams had registered, only the team from Aberystwyth University were able to launch during this time.

They started on the afternoon of September 11th 2010 from approximately 4 nautical miles north west of Knightstown on Valentia Island. The boat was to sail towards a waypoint 30km offshore before heading south west towards a point between Madeira and the Azores. A north westerly wind prevented the boat from sailing directly towards its first waypoint and it began on a South Westerly course narrowly missing land only 6 hours after the start. Despite several attempts to tack towards the first waypoint, the boat failed to reach the waypoint and turned south in the early morning of the 13th. It then proceeded to sail south for a further 12 hours. At this point the main computer is believed to have failed. The boat then turned around and sailed North parallel to the Irish coast for another 14 days before messages from an independent tracking unit failed. A map of Pinta's progress can be found at http://www.microtransat.org/tracking-2010.php.

2011

The second transatlantic race started in September 2011 with a start line stretching north/south from a point approximately 160 km west of Brest, France to a point approximately 200km west of Bideford, England.

Only the team from ENSTA-Bretagne in Brest, France were able to launch. Their boat sailed for 8 days in total. Unfortunately it stopped making progress towards the start line after 2 days and gradually moved away from the start line, without having crossed it. The boat was spotted by a customs aircraft 2 days later, the aircraft was able to take a picture of the boat showing that one of the sails had sustained damage. The team then decided to rescue the boat and were able to recover it 4 days later. The course taken by the boat can be seen at http://www.microtransat.org/tracking-2011.php

2012

The third transatlantic race was open for the whole of 2012. The start and finish lines where the same as the 2011 competition. Two teams attempted, but failed to complete the Microtransat in 2012.

The team from ENSTA-Bretagne began their attempt in June using an improved version of their boat from 2011. Unlike their 2011 entry this successfully crossed the start line, but position messages from their SPOT messenger were very intermittent. After 113 hours of sailing the messages stopped arriving all together. At the end of August the boat was found washed up on the southern coast of Ireland some 300 miles from its last reported position.

In November Team Joker launched their boat Snoopy Sloop 8 from Barton-on-Sea in Southern England, it was programmed to sail 30 miles south into the English channel and then head West towards the start line. After two hours sailing straight towards the first waypoint, the boat moved for towards the east. After a total of just 6 hours the boat hit a rocky beach, near the Needles, on the Isle of Wight, it's tracker stopped, and it has yet to be found.

The course taken by both robots can be seen at the http://www.microtransat.org/tracking-2012.php

2013

The fourth transatlantic race was open for the whole of 2013, it added the option of a second route from west to east starting from a line to the eest of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and heading towards a line to the east of Ireland. Several North American teams had asked for a west to east route and registered for the 2013 competition, but unfortunately none of them had their boats ready in time to compete during 2013. Two European teams did attempt the traditional east to west route, which remain unchanged from 2012.

The first of these was Erwan 1 from Ecole Navale in Brest, France who began their attempt on July 3rd 2013, crossing the start line two days later and making good progress along their route. Unfortunately on July 7th, their boat stopped transmitting, it was recovered on August 20th about 20 nautical miles north of its last reported position. Photos of the recovered boat can be found in the Erwan 1 - Microtransat 2013 photo gallery.

In October, Team Joker made another attempt with their new boat Snoopy Sloop 9 that was based on a similar design to their 2012 entry Snoopy Sloop 8. They launched from the same location in Barton-on-Sea in Southern England on October 11th. The boat followed a different path to their 2012 attempt, being carried east and west by the tide, and after 15 hours it washed ashore on the Isle of Wight, although this time on a beach further east and with it's tracker still working. The boat was soon recovered and is being prepared for the 2014 attempt.

2014

The fifth transatlantic race was open from April 1st to December 31st 2014. A minor rule change was made, requiring boats to transmit and log their positions once every 6 hours instead of once every 24 hours. The start lines were also moved further offshore to reduce the chance of collisions with other boats, although many teams still chose to launch from closer to shore. There were a total of three attempts made to cross the Atlantic, one by the United States Naval Academy and two by Team Joker.

The US Naval Academy began their attempt on May 16th 2014 with their 1.2 metre long "MaxiMOOP" ABoat Time, from Cape Cod in Massachusetts and were aiming for Fenit near Tralee in County Kerry, Ireland. On May 22nd she was accidentally caught in the nets of the scallop dragger Atlantic Destiny based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The crew were able to bring her on board and contacted the team. They noticed some small damage to the solar panels, but no water inside the boat. The boat was eventually returned to the team who hope to try again in 2015. Some photos of ABoat Time can seen in the photo gallery.

Team Joker made two attempts, the first began on September 6th 2014 from Barton on Sea in Southern England, the same location as their previous attempts. The boat used was Snoopy Sloop 9, the same boat used in their October 2013 attempt. There was only a very light wind and Snoopy became caught in the tides around the Isle of Wight and was dragged east through the narrow passage between Hurst Castle and the Isle of Wight, then dragged west and back through the passage and finally dragged east again. 24 hours after launch Snoopy was washed up on a beach near Bouldnor Cliff on the north side of the Isle of Wight, the team were able to rapidly recover the boat which had some damage to the rudder servo and keel. The team have uploaded some photos and videos of the launch and recovery to their website.

Team Joker's second attempt began on November 30th 2014 and launched from Boscombe Pier, approximately 12 km west of their previous launch site in Barton on Sea. The boat sailed well to its first waypoint approximately 25 km south of the start point, before turning west and heading for the next waypoint to the south of Prawle Point in Devon, approximately 150 km to the south west. The boat performed a small loop a few hours later due to the actions of a strong tide, but the proceeded to head west, although on a course which pointed due west instead of the intended south west. From around 9 AM on the 1st of December the boat became trapped by strong tides around Portland Island which took it on two loops around the eastern side of the island, before bringing it round to the western side of the Island on the morning of the 2nd and finally into Chesil Beach on the western shore of the island on the evening of the 2nd. The team were able to recover the boat a few hours later. The only major damage to the boat was from the rudder linkage. More information on this attempt is available on the team's webpage.

2015

The sixth transatlantic race was open during the whole of 2015 and first half of 2016.

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