Category Archives: Star Bay

Sailing Straight: Two Boats With a Lee Helm

Not too long ago I wrote excitedly about two new, free Tako-based boats: the BBK 137 and Nemo Nantucket. The boats differ in both their concept and construction, and I thought it was pretty fantastic that Kanker’s original ideas might live on in the creativity and enthusiasm of a new generation of boatbuilders.

While testing out those boats, I noticed that Nemo had a “Lee Helm.” It’s a small point, but this issue comes up in real life too and it may partly explain some of Nemo’s behavior, so I thought I’d mention it here.

First, to introduce the topic, let’s talk about helm ‘balance!

A Balanced Helm

JG-44 30R holds a course

When they try out a new boat in real life, many sailors will check how “balanced” the boast’s helm feels on different points of sail. After all, as Ben Franklin said, “A helm unbalanced is not worth sailing.” (or maybe that was Socrates… 🙂 )

Anywayz, a well-designed and well-rigged boat should feel at home on all major points of sail; if you set a heading of 40°, the boat should ‘dig-in’ and hold that course without much complaining.

Quite often however, boats end up unbalanced and consistently drift off course. The most common example of this is called a weather helm, where a boat sailing upwind continually wants to head higher into the wind; it tries to “sail to weather”.  A  skipper needs to constantly apply leeward pressure to the wheel or tiller to hold a ‘weather helm’ boat on a constant compass course. This is only a small irritation on leisurely weekend cruises, of course, but it can become a real pain in races when strong foul weather gusts dramatically amplify the forces on the boat. I’ve sailed races where I had to give up the helm because I didn’t weigh enough to control the boat; the weather forces transmitted to the helm kept lifting me in the air while I tried to hold the boat on course.

Luckily, most boats in SL are nicely balanced. You can set a compass heading, raise sail and let go of the wheel; the boat will faithfully hold it’s course. That’s good news, since most skippers end up busy enough sheeting to the apparent wind changes, switching the sails, reefing, and much, much more.

Click to enlarge

To illustrate this, I’ve added some images above from an Oceanis 160 on a beam reach; the Oceanis 160 is a good example of a BWIND boat with nice balance.  It’s also an easy boat to test, since it has multiple, detailed displays.

Using wind from the North at 15 kn, the first image in the figure above shows the boat heading directly East at a bare 1.63 kn.

JG-44 on beam reach; Wind dial shows AWA adjustment

That results in a real wind angle (RWA)= 90° and an apparent wind angle (AWA)= 84°, as shown. If you then trim the sails without touching the helm or changing course, the boat picks up speed and the  apparent wind direction appropriately shifts toward the bow (AWA= 55° in the middle frame above). After many minutes of sailing without changing the original heading, you can then drop sail and confidently find yourself on the exact compass course you originally set. Oceanis 160 uses BWIND brains for helm balance,  and the boat holds its own, sailing straight as an arrow… quite nicely, in fact.

Good balance is, of course, not a trait exclusive to BWIND or Oceanis.

I’m gradually going through the whole list of popular sailing vessels in  SL, and every boat so far in the Trudeau Fleet  and Juli Designs’ lineup shows a “straight-down-the-line balance.” If you set a course and take your hands off the wheel in these boats, they remain compass-true.

By the way, you can also add the Wildwind Fleet to the ‘balanced boat bunch’ too; I ran my JMO-60 through it’s paces, and got no more than a 2° fluctuation in heading while sailing a fixed course for three minutes. 

Two For the Lee Road

Ok, so my point above is that the large majority of sailboats in Second Life have what might be called ‘a balanced helm.‘ You can set a compass course and take your hands off the wheel;  your boat will sail true.

 This may seem like a small point, and you might even think it’s a pretty obvious one.  However, I’m bringing it up  here because there are two popular boats, the Tako 3.3 and the Nemo-N/R, that appear off-balance and seem to have a ‘Lee helm;’ If you set a course heading, these boats won’t sail a straight line; they sail an arc that gradually turns the boat away from the source of the wind. A skipper needs to invest extra time and tiller touch-ups to stay on tack.

Let me show you what I mean :

In the figure below I set my Tako on a beam reach (RWA=  89°) with a compass heading of  270°.  After sailing for nearly 4 minutes without touching the tiller or changing the heading, the boat had spontaneously turned 11° away from the wind.

Click to enlarge

Is an 11° deviance in four minutes a lot?  That’s for you to judge and it certainly depends on the context, but let me make these comments in that regard:

  • Columbus, Magellan and Cook would still be sailing slow circles in European harbors if they were even 1/1,000 so inaccurate 🙂 ;
  • Any Tako racer knows that even a 2° difference on close haul, say from 34°-36°, can have an enormous impact on boat performance;
  • None of the other boats mentioned above showed any helm preference, so it’s not an ‘artifact’ of the sims or system; and
  • Although a beam reach is a “special” point-of-sail for the Tako (the spinnaker inflates on that heading), the downwind drift appears to happen at all points of sail; its intrinsic to the boat and its power algorithm, not to any specific heading.

Behavioral Genetics

The recently-released Nemo-N/R has a similar Lee Helm propensity.

The figure below shows a series of six sequential Nemo images, while sailing a fixed course with the default 15 kn wind.

If you look at the circular guage, you can see the blue indicator shows the boat starting on a beam reach, with an approximate wind heading of 90°.

 As the boat picks up speed, look carefully at the next four frames. Even with a boat speed of 7.0 kn ( half the true wind), the blue indicator for wind angle stays locked at just about 90°.

 That looks like the Real Wind heading, not “Apparent Wind.”  Two weeks ago I concluded that Nemo’s sailing engine must be using a ‘Real Wind’ algorithm. Nomad Zamani (the boat’s  scripter) corrected me, however, revealing that the boat did use apparent wind, albeit an attenuated version of it (Apparent Wind Lite?).  I was sort of ‘flummoxed’ with that info, since I couldn’t show any upwind velocity-based angular wind swing toward the bow in Nemo (the definition of ‘Apparent Wind’).

It turns out Nemo’s Lee Helm may explain why ( at least in part).  

Click to enlarge

Take a look at the orange arrows in each of the frames above.  They indicated a fixed reference, the clock over the raceline in Farragut. When the boat’s at rest in the first image of the sequence, the bow is pointing slightly starboard of the clock. In each of the following frames, however, the boat’s heading falls further leeward and further to the port side of that heading relative to the clock.

That may explain the Apparent Wind confusion in the prior Nemo discussions; I didn’t appreciate Nemo couldn’t hold a heading. One reason Apparent Wind doesnt show the typical shift toward the bow in Nemo seems to be that Nemo wants to turn away from the wind; it’s heading spontaneously rotates downwind. The size of that angular fall-off is roughly equal to the maximum adjusted wind angle change (AWA) in the boat.

If you’re confused by this, so am I :-), I’m still looking at it, and I’m posting here to get more input and ideas. Hey, but don’t worry :-), the ‘Trouble with Nemo’ seems similar to what happens in the Tako, and that can’t be too bad. We all know that little unruly Tako showed it had the right stuff.

It proved to be the inspiration that lit the fuse for everything else in SL Sailing over the past four years.

So, that lee helm thing? It’s not a defect, it’s not a flaw…

It’s just personality!

Oceanis 160: A Star Is Born

Thursday night Svar Beckersted and Sallysue Cahill showed up in Farragut for a surprise visit at racetime. They haven’t been around much in SL for the past few months, so it was a true delight to see them. My first reaction was to give them a ride on a more modern race boat than what they remembered or, perhaps, were used to… I rezzed an Oceanis 160!
The Oceanis 160 is a modern-design, double-masted 48 m schooner crafted by  Metkenan Metty and Emmanuelle Loire of Star Bay Yachts.
The boat is truly majestic in size, remarkably detailed, and it has an expansive, furnished cabin below. With the boat fully rezzed at dockside Oceanis weighs in at 517 prim, but don’t be afraid of that number; this boat has everything. A skipper can live and sail through Second Life aboard Oceanis without compromise… and take their best half-dozen friends along for the ride.
If 517 prim seems like a lot, let me mention that you can get by with fewer than half that total number of prim options, and at that smaller size, Oceanis has the same resource footprint as a Trudeau Larinda. But why cut back on the prim? Oceanis is not just another pretty face, and beneath its sleek exterior this boat is a tough, practical workhorse fueled by a Becca Moulliez engine. With Becca’s BWind under the floorboards, Metkenan Metty’s design is uncompromising, and built to survive rough ocean passages full of treacherous sim crossings. Even with a half-dozen crew aboard, this boat proved dauntless on the high seas and was virtually bulletproof in pre-release trials.  


As I mentioned above, on first view the Oceanis 160 is a knock-out. My biggest problem sailing this boat is the crowd that forms every time I launch it. I was even hit by two airplanes last week as they swooped low to catch a better glimpse! Oceanis is one the largest and most detailed sailing vessels in Second Life, measuring 48 m in length and nearly 10 m on beam. The two masts soar 52 m above the water line, towering high above every other wind-powered vessel. The keel is thankfully a bit more modest, drawing 3.6m, a depth that’s comparable to J-Class and Columbia.
The hull, topsides and sails are all ‘no-mod,’ but the color pattern is easily adjusted by use of a HUD. However, the boat is so thoughtfully crafted, it’s rather hard to imagine what an owner might want to add to the exterior or rigging.

 Living aboard Oceanis 

Fully rezzed, Oceanis takes up 517 prim, but that amount of ballast is carefully distributed over three components.
 The first is the boat’s vehicle component, the part that actually drives the boat. It accounts for a spare 24 prim of the total size. That anorexic number makes room available for multiple crewmembers. Last week we sailed a test boat with a crew of six, and I regularly (and easily) sail this boat with three or four aboard.  You have the friends? Oceanis has the room.
As shown below,  the Oceanis also uses two “attachment” components that are worn by the skipper.  The first attachment includes the hull and essential rigging, and it adds an additional 242 prim to the boat total. The second attachment consists of the inside cabin space and furnishings. That part is modifiable, allowing each owner to personalize the boat  according to their needs and interests.
Since we are on the topic, Let me say a word about attachments… 
Before this boat and the Trudeau Columbia, I admit I never liked “attachable” boats. I mean, enveloping yourself in a phantom hull often seemed more like a Hollywood stunt than a serious sailing emulation, and, frankly… having a house-sized boat attached to your pelvis can often prove “socially awkward” in SL.
If you share some of those attachable concerns, don’t worry!  The most recent SL boats like Oceanis integrate sculpties, attachments, and scripted vehicles in ways that  prove seamless, realistic, and quite remarkable. I’ll tell you more about that in the next section, but let me first give you a “walk through” down below… I think you’ll get the idea. 🙂
 Geez, the simple act of walking around a boat supposedly “attached to your pelvis” probably makes my point, so go ahead, stand up on this boat!  You’ll find a gangway with swinging doors behind the aft mast;  it leads down to the cabin quarters below.  In the main compartment, you’ll find a rather incredible amount of space unmatched by any sailing vessel I know of.  The furnishings are appropriate and impressive, and the living space is complimented by wide seascape windows on either side. The living space is so well done, you might forget the most key feature:   “This boat actually SAILS.” 

If you’re hunting for a live-aboard schooner (and who isn’t?) , Oceanis has so much room below you may never want to live ashore again! 


 As you move further forward in the cabin space, you’ll find bunk beds, a shower, and a computer station.  (Just keep repeating the mantra :” This boat sails.”) 

Please don’t stop there,  however;  keep going, because next in line, you enter the Master Cabin at the bow.  It contains a large scripted bed, and…

OK, I admit I’m having an anxiety attack here… in three years of writing about boats, discussing detailed features, and arguing for serious sailing emulations… I have never used the following words, but now I’m facing the undeniable truth before me and I can’t hold back.
So stop, go get a Valium, and get me one too please, because…
Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore,
and you can put that Tako away now… because…. the Master cabin has a hot tub!”      

 Well; there, I said it…  🙂
But it’s okay, calm down. Remember: THIS BOAT SAILS

 Sailing Oceanis.  

Frankly, if anyone wrote an article about a new sailing boat and mentioned it was 517 prim with a hot tub, I would probably laugh at the painful joke and I’d go read something else.
I know Metkenan Metty’s  boats well; they are absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful,  but they they usually cannot leave the dock,  they are  so full of artisanship and complexity. I expected Oceanis would be similar, and I didn’t take a project like the ‘sailable Oceanis’ seriously. I thought something as big and detailed as this boat could never survive the usual treacherous sim crossings we all deal with in SL.
I think nearly all the SL skippers reading this know what I’m talking about. I was pretty sure when Oceanis hit it’s first sim crossing the skipper would lose control, most of the prim would end up 50m astern, and all the crew would fall so far overboard they’d re-rez on OS-Grid and never come back.
Well, I was wrong.

Oceanis gets BWind Brain

Undaunted over these issues, Emmanuelle Loire made Blackbird Latte a chief beta tester on Oceanis. If you know BB, you know he is obsessive, relentless, and pretty uncompromising ( 🙂 Hey, those are compliments, BB!). 

As you might anticipate, BB badly trashed the first Oceanis sailing betas… but that’s what betas are for, and Star Bay listened. Star Bay made a bold move, transplanting the BWind engine into Oceanis, and suddenly the fog cleared and the sun came out.
Becca Moulliez’s BWind engine is a tako-based, low-lag wonder. It  is easy to sail, adroitly juggles limited resources, and holds true to real life apparent wind force conversions. Major features of Becca’s design are rapidly appearing in a series of racing and cruising vessels from boatwrights across the grid. 
Oceanis is pretty unique, however. BWind and Star Bay together combine brilliance in scripting with a relentless attention to design detail, and that combo is a perfect match-up in Oceanis. It is sort of  like roast beef and rye,  Bacall and Bogart, or Bush and Cheney  (well… cough… scratch that last  analogy).

The attention to detail in Oceanis and its sailing performance are notable from the initial Rez: although the boat is very large and made of three sections, a single command is enough to drop the entire vessel in the water.  There is no need to go through a ritual where you rez a vehicle and then wear different parts.  It’s more like launching a RL boat, and the perception may be entirely different from what you are used to in SL. When you stand up, once again the ‘attachments’ automatically fall away and the whole boat rerezzes as a stand-alone structure.
Let’s take that one step further, OK?
With attachments and sculpties, it’s common to have phantom hulls and a ‘mismatch’ between what you see and the actual ‘collision mesh’  framework of your boat.  That can prove pretty frustrating for a skilled sailor who is trying to cut corners on a racetrack.  Oceanis gets these details right, however. Take a look at the picture below; I just stood up from the helm and my sneakers are standing on the aft deck; the boat’s solid. Even more remarkable, look at the Linden navigation buoy. It’s tilted on its side, resting against the hull’s starboard fore quarter.
Woots; the alignment is pretty exact. Although I will spare you the images, let me comment that I have slammed the bow and stern of this boat into many docks, boats, and even the linden ferry while testing it out.  This is as good as it gets, and it’s amazingly close to the real thing. “The boat you see is the boat that sails,”  and any serious sailor in SL knows that is no easy accomplishment.


Instrument displays and Trim Control. 

Oceanis has three separate info displays for racing or cruising ( that’s right, I said “three”).
It has a numerical HUD that indicates sail angle and wind heading.  This is visible to all crew members. By typing “HUD” a sailor can  toggle between a simple and more complete list of details.
The second HUD is indicated on the lower left of the figure below. It gives a skipper a host of options concerning camera angle and boat appearance; it also includes a very nice ‘compass graphic’ and an in-your-face display of the boat speed.
If you use the optional ‘driving’ camera position, it puts you in front of the numerical display, but no worries! As shown below, there are working instrument displays at each wheel, and a traditional compass and horn centrally located (yellow arrow below).
The boat uses apparent wind, and trimming the sails with the BWind system is simple and precise with the “UP” and “DOWN” keyboard arrows. The HUD changes color to warn the skipper when the sails fall out of tune.
The chart below shows a graph of Oceanis boatspeed (SOG) as a function of the real wind angle (RWA), using the boat’s default 15 knot wind.
  The boat luffs at 30°RWA, but as the heading falls off the sails fill and the boat does 40% of real wind speed at 40°RWA.  Peak boat speed is nearly equal to the real wind, and occurs around 60° RWA; after that there is a slow, linear decay with progressive downwind angles, and a sharper drop when the boat’s on a dead run.
The shape of the Oceanis performance curve  is less ‘boxy’ than other BWind and Wildwind boats I’ve recently tested. It actually looks quite similar to the wind response of Trudeau boats, so many sailors will find it familiar and easy to handle.     

Experienced sailors already know that the interconnected waterways in Second Life are expanding at a fairly breathtaking rate, and the opportunities for extended cruises, explorations of exotic far-off continents, and even flat-out extreme, global grid-challenges grow daily. Oceanis 160 is ready. 

It is a unique and truly remarkable vessel that sets a new high standard for features, quality, and sailing performance. Oceanis will boldly bring you across SL’s distance sailing competitions in 2010… and you’ll be grinning the entire way, and leading the pack when you make landfall.