Dear autonomous sailing fans,
Ada, our autonomous sailboat, appears to have experienced a rudder control failure, probably mechanical in nature (servo or linkage), and is currently headed south on a close-hauled bearing. The failure occurred about 800km into her journey, in over 20 knots of wind, while she appeared to be planing at 12.41 knots. Up until that point, everything was working beautifully, and this trip had been a major success! Ada has already set multiple records on this journey, sailing further east than any boat ever has autonomously crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
We have fielded several questions now about potentially recovering Ada. Ada is over 800km from the nearest coastline (St. John’s, Newfoundland), and heading south into an even more desolate area of the Atlantic. Frommarinetraffic.com, we can see that the only ships in the vicinity of several hundreds of kilometres are tankers and cargo ships.
Previous boats that have attempted this trans-Atlantic voyage have been recovered: by the Canadian Navy, the Coast Guard, and fishing vessels. Ada isn’t near any of these types of vessels. She’s simply too far from the coast, and we think that these are the only types of vessels from which we can reasonably hope for assistance.
For now, Ada is truly on her own. We will daily consider the feasibility of a recovery given traffic in the region, but the opportunity for recovery might take several weeks or even months. In the meantime, Ada’s electrical and satellite systems seem to be working fine, and those will remain on to aide a recovery.
This has been an incredible journey with all of you, and we can’t thank you enough for your support! When we first began this project three years ago, we knew that we were attempting a crazy engineering challenge that would involve tens of thousands of volunteer hours, the support and true dedication of so many incredible individuals, and many all-nighters. This entire project wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the University of British Columbia, our many sponsors, our amazing industry mentors and advisors, and the incredible people of Newfoundland who helped us every step along the way in the lead-up to saying good-bye to Ada as she began her trans-Atlantic voyage.
Just launching Ada from St. John’s and seeing her so successfully sail those first 800km has given our team the conviction that we really did accomplish something, and this failure is a great lesson for our team in our need to focus on iterative design, mechanical reliability of critical components, and component testing for future autonomous ocean-going boats!! We do hope to recover Ada, and we will monitor traffic daily in the region which could facilitate this. If recovery does take place, we would expect it to take place once Ada is much nearer to shore. Ada was just too good a sailor for the first 800km of her journey for us to realistically reach her right now!
We will continue to keep you updated on Ada, and will also soon be excited to share how this project will shape our next one in a few weeks! Our team’s dream for autonomous sailing continues, and we can’t wait for you to continue this voyage with us!