Monday, April 16, 2012

A Spark Ignites

By sheer luck I happened to be a Tradewinds at the time of a fun race. Not a big thing. There are lots of fun races at Tradewinds, but this one was different. There was a whole bunch of people, and they talked and talked about this new boat, the brand new and refreshing little single seater dinghy, Becca's Spark. Still in alpha test.
Sparks Ignite
Liv was running things, so I decided to join the fun, and see how it behaves in a fleet. That was great fun. Spark is a modified BWind 2.0, so it has all the good things of a BWind powered boat. The sailing is pretty good. It is fast, easy to sail and it feels like sailing. Besides, it is stable. In a computersense that is. The Spark capsizes if you don't trim it right. We sailed three races. I won one, did ok in another, and didn't complete the third due to crashes.
In between races
Here's another shot. It's from in between races. If you race the Spark to win, there's no time to take pictures. Notice the boats aren't red anymore, hehe. We discovered the color command changed the color of all boats nearby. That sorta made everybody type "color something-else" all the time. Loads of fun.
Me testing...
After the race I took the Spark for a more systematic test-spin. Obviously, there are issues when sailing a prototype. Those capsizes sometimes seem odd. It seems the boat always capsized on a sheet too tight. There is no balancing, - only one thing to do... sheet out. And fast. I like the idea of a capsizing boat, but in a small capsizing dinghy it is weird, that you can't move to balance the boat.

Atop the mast there is a windvane. It looks great, but sadly it is defunct. It always points backwards. Now, I can easily remember the feeling of sitting in my dinghy not knowing where the wind comes from. That's no fun. What the vane does is, it makes the invisible wind visible. Check the vane on the Shelly Fizz. It is a huge help for the new sailor, and it would easily fit on the Spark.
The Spark up close
The boat itself is kinda cute. The hull is somewhat like a crossing of a Starboat and a Laser, only smaller? Nicely put together with rounded corners and few sharp edges. Cleats too. It is the rigging, gear and sails that need more work. There is no visual trim indicator. The sail flaps when too loose, but there's no telltales, plus, - there's no compass.

So I can't see my direction, I can't see my trim, and I can't see the wind. How's that for a sailing simulation? At this early stage, the Spark is sailed by numbers. Wind, bearing and trim is indicated with green text floating mid air. The text is colourcoded, so pink means capsize, blue means too tight, green is good, yellow is loose and red is very loose. After all it is a prototype in alpha-stage. The really, really, truly great news is that the BWind 2.0 actually supports telltales. 
It's a pretty lil thing allright
Then there is the windsystem. The Spark uses Beccas BWS, a proprietary wind system, designed for easy cruising. It is very different from the advanced WWC system that is available everywhere, pretty much the de facto standard. The BWS windsystem has many good features. It is stable, easy to use and low lag. But it has no support for waves and currents, and there is no support for any local variations of the wind. It is simply not very interesting for racing.
Wind systems collide
Due to the differences in design goals, it hardly makes sense to compare those two wind systems. The Spark could read the winddata from the WWC system, but handle the info as if it was BWS. That would make it easier to use, when WWC is everywhere. Surely waves, currents and local shifts are also needed in order to have a truly interesting boat for racing. Rumours has it that the BWS will be updated, but adding those features to the BWS really just means reinventing the free and open WWC.

I've had this little boat a while now, and I like it. It looks great, it sails well, and it keeps getting better.  While there's still work to do, it sure will be exciting to follow the Spark. It looks very promising, and it is definately worth a test. These past few days the alpha-version has been freely available at Tradewinds.


  1. This is a fast, fun little boat. I have taken her out several times. It seems to be a crossover between the Sunfish (tink board boat) and Lazer (think planing monohull/racer). It is very easy to sail, although she will tip over of you are not quick with your responses. When the hud text goes purple, act quickly to prevent tipping! She does not have the realism of the Fizz, but I don't think Beccas was trying to make another Fizz. Whatever Beccas intent, she made a fun boat. I recommend taking her out and giving her a try. They are at TradeWinds Yacht Club at eh race line. Then send Becca a note telling her what you think, help her make the best boat possible!

    Word of warning: slow the boat down before lowing the sails. SHe wil tip of you lower while moving too fast.

  2. True Jim, - thanx... I hope, I wasn't to hard on the little critter there. It is very promising.


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