Following the successful inaugural UCL entry into the HydroContest last year, the 2017 team set off early September for the new location of Saint-Tropez, to try their hand at the competition. Following a year of design, construction and testing, we were excited to see how our vessels would compete against the 32 other universities which take part in the competition.
The new location, announced late in the year, presented its own challenges: the change from fresh to saltwater, the larger waves and – as it turned out – the rocks all caused trouble from the offset. However, on arrival we all agreed that the competition was bigger, better and more fun than the previous edition.
Scrutineering and bad surprises
The tough scrutineering process underway (examination of the heavyweight vessel shown)
Days 1, 2 and 3 were solely for scrutineering and qualification. Scrutineering caused immediate issues for the UCL team: a misinterpreted rule meant that the heavyweight vessel was not compliant with regulations (it was stated in the rules that the boats must be buoyant even with hull damage, but actually meaning they must be filled with enough foam to keep them afloat when entirely submerged). This rule was an issue for most of the teams, and with our design it was not easily rectifiable. The lack of hardware stores in Saint-Tropez led the team far out of town to find foam, and it was not enough. Luckily, the lightweight vessel had been designed with two foam-filled, sealed sections, and was accepted into the competition.
That said, the electronics were also deemed unsatisfactorily sealed – again due to ambiguities in the rules – so a new electronics box was manufactured onsite overnight, and the lightweight vessel successfully passed scrutineering for . This meant that the team wasable to kick off their qualification attempt. Sadly, the issues with the heavyweight meant that we were unable to pass scrutineering within the time limit, so instead we focused our attention on the lightweight.
Heading to qualifications
Adam and George making alterations to the lightweight vessel’s electronic system on the pontoon prior to qualification
As the new timing clashed with our graduation, we we had arrived later than most for the competition and we were up against the clock to qualify. Numerous little issues with electronics and rudder initially held us back , with a lot of work to rectify these problem being done on the race pontoon, s under the sun. Finally, after a lot of very hard work by the electronics team – and a lot of swimming from the recovery team! – we qualified for the lightweight race in the top sixteen. This was our main objective for our year at the HydroContest, so we were naturally delighted.
Unfortunately… we got cocky. We knew that our qualification times were much slower than what we were capable of: our first run had been slowed significantly by a driver error that led to the catamaran being caught on a buoy and our second run the vessel had to stop mid-lap when the local ferry entered the race area. With that in mind, we decided to complete a few final laps. While attempting to beat our qualification time to push us up the rankings, the vessel suffered a major failure. After a lot of splashing and yet another rescue, it was discovered that the mast had shattered – depositing our rudder, motor and propeller system at the bottom of the Mediterranean. We still don’t fully understand how this happened, but the damage was consistent with hitting a rock. This meant that we could no longer continue to trial the boat, and we were unable to participate in our heat the next day. We were knocked out by default, and so ended our attempt to win in the speed races.
Southampton to the rescue
The lightweight vessel taking off to qualify – controlled by Adam, and helped by ‘in-water technicians’ Lucy and George
Overnight, the team from Southampton – with the help of a highly powerful magnet – kayaked out to the ‘drop’ location and kindly retrieved our rudder and motor. This is an example of the HydroContest spirit, and particularly of the friendly relationship between UCL and Soton! Now with no mast, we improvised a new steering system in an attempt to compete in the Endurance race. The challenges of developing a new steering system on-site,with few tools and little material, were exacerbated by the pit area flooding to a level that allowed teams to travel the area on inflatables. The team persevered and managed to find a solution, which gave us moderate control and a chance to compete in the endurance race. However, overnight storms meant that the conditions on the day of the race were incredibly choppy and the team was unwilling to risk our very expensive hulls, the development of which only made possible by the generosity of our sponsors and the department’s help and which are intended for use in the upcoming years. We were already well aware of the hidden rocks around the course and didn’t have confidence that we could control the vessel for more than a few laps. The endurance race involves all 32 teams on the track at once, as w and the risk of collision and damage was too high. We withdrew from the race and instead supported Southampton once again. Having watched the race, it we unanimously concluded that we had made the right choice – a number of teams withdrew over the conditions, and those who raced came back with some fairly catastrophic injuries!
After the storm
Although disappointed, the team had a great time in France. We were joined by a number of members of the incoming 2018 UCL team, and the learning experience for them has been invaluable. It was a real opportunity for them to understand the races and the contest better, but also to learn from our mistakes! On reflection, it has been highlighted that a much more sophisticated and reliable electronics and control system will be needed next year to up our game. With the use of the (well-performing) 2017 hulls, this should be the making of some very competitive vessels. It was even stated by the organiser of the competition that our hulls were excellent, so a better electronics system should raise UCL to the top ten or five – if not a position.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our sponsors for their support, without which we would not have been able to compete this year. We and the university very much appreciate your involvement in the project, and we look forward to keeping you updated with our progress in the coming years!
The UCL Racing HydroContest Team 2017
The team, comprising the current 2017 team and some of the incumbent 2018 team*
L-R: Yi Zhong*, George Robertson, Marcus Wilcock*, Joanna Tomlin*, Fred Panks*, AdamPinnock, Ciaran McKeon, Lucy Wiles, George Curtis