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Posted by on Oct 22, 2009 in Sailboat Racing, UK, US |

Tweeting Around the Island

A sailing blogger reports on the JPMorgan Round the Island Race via micro-blogging technology, Twitter.

I had three firsts on the longest day of the year last summer…my first race around the Isle of Wight, an improbable first-place finish, and a first in mid-race communications while competing. To read about the race and our finish, I’ll refer you to “Around the Island to Improbable Victory”, a story first published in YachtWorld.com magazine in September. In fact, if you pull it up in a separate browser window, you’ll be able to follow the novel bit of broadcast I did during the race much better.

Tweeting. You’ve all heard of it. Some of you are even doing it. Maybe you’ve got a Twitter account and you’re blabbing to the world your status updates. Well, I’m doing it, too, and on this day in June, I did it throughout this epic, light-air circumnavigation every time I got a little break in the action as mid-deck crew on my boss’s J/80 named, of course, Boats.com.

Sam, Ian, and Dan enjoy the downwind ride southeast of the Needles.

I'm Tweeting and taking photos while Sam, Ian, and Dan work us downwind after rounding the Needles.

So here’s how it went:

“Shocking alarm at 0430 but due on dock for #JPMorganrti in 60 mins. Light is coming to the coast, pink sky below overcast to east. Gotta go!” 4:35 AM

“Heading down the Hamble, drizzling rain, a growing fleet of boats ahead and behind. The skipper says we’re bang on time. Even smiled once.” 6:10 AM

“First start getting lined up; we’re 3rd class. North end for pressure or south end for fair current #jpmoranrti” 7:28 AM

“Sailed the south shore which was good until headed, off Yarmouth now and w/ Sea breeze here; we’re well back but sky is bluer” 9:40 AM

“Almost at Needles, 12-14 kts seabreeze; made a couple gains. Skipper not smiling, but it’s a beauty of a day.” 10:13 AM

“Spinnakers up, approaching Atherfield ledge. Dan’s in shorts, trimming hard. fluky winds along cliffs, close w/ 1097 Jommy Dodger” 11:06 AM

“We’re 2 mi short of Bembridge ledge having just passed Jevan and Oi! (A1720) getting light at times but plenty of food still.” 1:53 PM

A sample view of my "johnsburnham" Twitter page during the race

A sample view of my "johnsburnham" Twitter page during the race

“Appr. Bembridge Ledge, jibed offshore, passed 30 boats, then got inside of 50 more: left the J80s behind. Now beating toward Ryde in 9 kts” 3:28 PM

“The mighty @boatsdotcom is passing Ryde in sunshine and 8 kts SW breeze, in clouds and sun. Some Melges passed us but life isn’t bad.” 3:51 PM

“1.5 miles to go, closehauled along Cowes shore. RS400 close off our bow making good progress. Enough breeze at last to hike and make 5+kts” 4:59 PM

“Finished 1724; hopefully there was no mistake as the RaceC fired a gun when we crossed! From near last to 1st…I’d like to see the replay!” 5:47 PM

“@boatsdotcom confirmed first among J80s. We are a happy crew!” 6:13 PM

“Lights out on a great 18 hr. day; always wanted to do #rti; got to see the whole fleet both at start + Bembridge Ledge! Hope 2 be back soon.” 11:07 PM

Did I omit anything in my Tweets? Of course, I did, but if you read the story you’ll find out about the rock we hit.  You’ll pick up a few other points if you read my original blog on the race. And for some background on how we engaged J/80s and other sailors in Tweeting Round the Island, I’ve excerpted below a story written by my colleague, Jonathan Bowker:

…[not only did] YachtWorld.com magazine’s editor, John Burnham, have a Twitter account and plan to send “Tweets” about the progress of his boat and the race around him, but from shoreside, using the RoundTheIsland account, we planned to ReTweet his messages and those from any other sailors and observers sent to us so they would get further distribution.

With 1,779 boats competing and some 14,000 sailors, and who knows how many family members, friends, and sailors who wished they were racing, we figured this would be a test of the technology and a chance to learn if other Twitter people (known as “Tweeps” in the vernacular) might join us. Although we didn’t have time or resources for full-scale pre-race promotion of our effort, we figured that the scale of the event would allow us to gain some traction, and we were right.

We registered a Twitter account called RoundTheIsland and connected in advance with a few key press folks and some sailors in the J/80 and other classes. The majority of the Tweeters and Followers who participated were land based but, judging from the content of their Tweets, many were moving around the island following the action. Having a central communication channel via Twitter meant they could receive up-to-the-minute race progress information, which helped them plan their movements for photo opportunities and updates. Likewise, those following or contributing to Twitter from their boats were able to enjoy the race from different perspectives — good for morale and plenty of extra jokes on such a long race. And of course, long-distance followers cheered for their teams and sent encouraging and other witty comments.

By mid-afternoon, we were tweeting to approximately 550 followers, from which there was an active core of 31 Tweeters, whose followers totalled over 11,000 people.

Our results certainly indicated that a serious marketing campaign in advance could have increased our reach significantly, especially if we were to work alongside the race organizers to encourage more boats to Tweet. Overall, the results from a small experiment would indicate good potential in the service and there seems to be plenty of scope for development for future races and events.

So that’s what we did. It was a memorable day on the water going from last to first, but it would’ve been memorable regardless, and whatever the results, we’d have dozens of Tweets to show for it!

—John Burnham