This is the Latitude 38 article, writen by "Max Ebb," that
stimulated the project.
From LATITUDE 38, October 1988 (with permission):
        One of the most poorly-kept secrets of commuting to the city 
from the East Bay is the relationship between the carpool lane on the 
Bay Bridge and the bus stops along the express bus route.  All you 
have to do is pull up to one of the more popular bus stops, lean over 
to roll down the right-hand window part way, and before you can even 
say "San Francisco," two or three yuppies will climb inside your car 
without giving it a second thought.  This allows you to use the 
carpool lane on the bridge, which means no toll and no twenty minute 
wait at the bridge approaches.  
        I usually get on the bus very early along its route in the 
morning, so I don't get rides like that very often.  But whenever I 
drive, I make sure I pick up riders.  
        The last time I did that, it started as the usual routine.  
After a some rather creative driving to get ahead of the bus, I 
coasted up to the bus stop at Grove and University, stopping in front 
of an attractive, well-dressed young woman standing next to a very 
professional-looking man.  Without a word being spoken they both 
climbed in, the man in back and the woman in the front seat.  I pulled 
out into traffic towards the freeway. 
        "Good morning, Max!" said the woman.  "This is total 
coincidence, getting a ride with you!" 
        I was so shocked to hear Lee Helm's voice that I practically 
lost control of the car.  
        "Lee," I gasped, "I didn't recognize you dressed up like this!  
New job, or just a heavy lunch date today?" 
        "Same job, Max, but like now I'm up to three full days a week 
while I finish my thesis.  There's a meeting tonight after work - you 
know, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.  Borrrrring. 
But it's a good place to meet prospective employers." 
        "I see. So you're just a little more 'presentable' than usual. 
        "For sure.  But really, Max, you should still be able to 
recognize me before I get into your car!" 
        I offered the fact that it was still very eary in the morning 
as an excuse, and then asked her what new and exciting projects she 
was might be getting involved in as a way of changing the subject.  
        "Nothing much," she said.  But then she hesitated. "Except for 
one thing I might get mixed up in next summer." 
        She hesitated again, looked back to make sure that the 
commuter in the back seat was buried in his Wall Street Journal, and 
said in a low voice: 
        "I'm planning to set a major long-distance sailing record." 
        Once again I had minor difficulty keeping my car on the road. 
        "Lee," I tried to explain, "do you realize what that involves?  
Women have already sailed around the world and across every major 
ocean non-stop. The transatlantic record is less than ten days.  
People have gone to Hawaii in a rubber raft, crossed the Atlantic in a 
six foot boat, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if somebody's 
rounding Cape Horn in a bathtub this very moment.  You'd have to be 
certifiably insane to go after one of those records." 
        I looked over at Lee - she was dead serious.  Could she 
actually be crazy enough to risk her life trying to pull off some odd-
ball stunt?  
        "Max," she said.  "I'm going to be the first person to sail a 
radio controled model across the Atlantic Ocean." 
        This time I nearly lost it on the freeway on-ramp. 
        "Lee," I laughed, "those things are much to small to support a 
        "No way, max," she interrupted. "I'm not acutally going to be 
on the boat. I'll be sitting at home with the computers and ham radios 
and weather maps.  I mean, that's what's so neat about it.  I can 
accomplish something that's never been done before in sailing, 
probably even write a book about it, get my name in the record books - 
all from the comfort and safety of my living room!" 
        I was relieved, but the project still seemd more than a little 
bit dubious. 
        "How are you going to control a boat that's a thousand miles 
from land?" I asked.  "And what about power?  And navigation?" 
        "It's all a matter of allocating the right amount of control 
to the onboard processor versus remote control," she explained. "The 
boat will be sailed by an autopilot, and I'll only need to communicate 
with it intermittantly." 
        "What kind of model boat are we talking about, anyway?" I 
asked.  "You can't put an autopilot and a computer on any model boat 
I've ever seen." 
        "Actually you can, very easily.  But for this project the boat 
has to be big enough to support a standard masthead wind instrument 
cluster, and have a long enough backstay for a reasonable ham 
antennae.  We also need enough deck area for the necessary solar 
panels - I calculate about 100 watts of peak rated power.  It also has 
to be heavily ballasted - remember that small boats with no moveable 
or live ballast are inherently less stable than big ones -  and we 
need to have the load carrying capacity for all the batteries, radios, 
satnav, and the autopilots." 
        "So how big a model do you end up with?" 
        "Something like a Mini-Twelve or a Millimeter should do 
nicely.  We just seal up the cockpit and cover the deck with the solar 
panels.  Some of the rigging details would have to be upgraded, of 
course, and it would save a lot of power if we redisign the rudder 
slightly to be fully balanced, or even slightly overbalanced - an 
autopilot doesn't care if there's no 'feel' in the steering system." 
        "How are going to tack and jibe?  And what about reefing?" 
        "That will take some development work, Max.  Right now the 
plan is to use a self-tacking working jib, and a main with a single 
very deep area reef.  No spinaker, although radio controled models 
have used them successfully.  I mean, there's no reason to sacrifice 
reliability for speed.  I'm estimating 45 to 50 days for the crossing, 
New York to Falmouth." 
        "That's a good point," I said. "No consumables, so you really 
don't care how long it takes.  Unless, of course ... " I paused as I 
completed the thought, "unless of course another syndicate was to form 
to try and beat you to the record.  Then you'd have one of the most 
bizzare transatlantic races ever on your hands!" 
        "That would be outrageous, Max. But we'd rather not have the 
competition for the first try.  That's why we're keeping a low profile 
with the publicity, at least for now." 
        "No publicity?  I though that was what was driving this 
project in the first place." 
        "for sure!  But I mean the timing has to be just right.  We'll 
document the whole project with tons of pictures and videotape, but 
the media blitz won't turn on untill we're approaching the finish.  
Then we fly over to England, go out in a launch to intercept the 
model, and steer it right up to the pier." 
        "Are you going to delay a few hours to hit the prime-time TV 
audience?" I suggested with just a hint of sarcasm. 
        "Why not?  If we do this right, we can have a crowd lined up 
on the pier to see us sail in that's even bigger than the crowds that 
greeted Manry or Chichester!  And we won't even have to get wet!" 
        By this time we were snaking our way through the labrintine 
approaches to the free commuter lane of the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza.  
Lee certainly sounded enthusiastic about the project, but I still 
wasn't sure whether it was serious business, or just another one of 
her wild schemes that plays well around the yacht club fireplace 
during a winter storm, but never goes much further. 
        "Explain what you meant by 'allocating between on-board and 
remote control'", I asked. 
        "Sure.  The way I have it worked out, the model will be on its 
own most of the time.  The computer will have instructions to make 
good a desired course, and will trim sails, reef, and steer depending 
on a fairly simple computer algorithm, according to the wind speed and 
direction.  At certain intervals - maybe only once a day, maybe 
several times a day - we communicate via one of several ham 
frequencies, get a satnav reading from the model, check our weather 
maps, and send out a new course instruction." 
        "How are you going to talk to it over ham?" 
        "There are number of ways to do it, I think.  The radio to 
computer interface is one of the areas we need to work on." 
        "That's the easy part!" said the man in the back seat.  "Use 
packet radio format on 20 meters, with backups on higher and lower 
bands.  The actual data transmission can be very short - a few seconds 
should be plenty.  And the interfacing to the various devices is no 
problem at all.  Most marine instruments use a common data protocall, 
and the specs are available." 
        Evidently our third passenger had lost interest in his 
newspaper quite some time ago. 
        "Do you have some experience in telemetry?" asked Lee. 
        "Well, I am an electronics engineer," he confessed, "and I did 
work for NASA for a number of years on some unmanned space probes."  
        For the next five minutes, as we slowely traversed the east 
span of the bridge, Lee and the telemetry expert were engaged in a 
totally incomprehensible conversation.  Not only were all of Lee's 
communications problems solved, but when they exchanged business cards 
she also got the name and phone number of a robotics expert who 
proportedly could design and somehow obtain inexpensive servo-motor 
and controler systems.  
        "This is major progress," said Lee as she inspected one of the 
cards.  "I think one of the last obstacles is dissappearing." 
        "Just one minor problem, Lee," I said.  "How are you going to 
pay for all this hardware (not to mention the trip to England)?" 
        "I think we can do it for about $25,000, including incidental 
expenses, Max. 
        I was reminded of a very old joke.
        "What you mean 'we', paleface?" 
        "I mean 'the syndicate'," Lee responded.  "We'll have about 10 
members to distribute the cost and get the expertise we need.  Don't 
worry - we won't freeze you out of the action.  You can help with 
        Lee and the back seet commuter fell back into their technical 
discussion, while I tried to come up with some good reasons why the 
project might not work.  Short of being run over by a ship or hitting 
an iceberg - both of which suddenly seemed like very acceptable risks, 
considering the absense of crew - I couldn't find anything wrong with 
the scheme. 
        "Okay Lee, count me in," I said as we pulled over into the 
unloading area across the street from the downtown bus terminal.  
        "Great.  But remember, Max - keep this quiet for now.  Unless, 
of course, you know anyone else who's seriously interested in giving 
us some support." 
        "I'll see what I can come up with," I promised. 
        "We could go for commercial sponsorship," suggested the 
telemetry expert as they got out of the car. 
        "No, I don't think money is the problem.  What we need now is 
a mechanical type - somone with their own machine shop and the time to 
build the stuff we'll need. 
        "Good luck at your meeting tonight, Lee," 
        "Thanks.  You'll have to come to one of these meetings some 
time, Max.  You might find them interesting." 
        "I'm sure," I said, imitating Lee's valley accent. 
        She slammed the door and I drove off to the parking garage 
near my office building.  
        Can Lee Helm really set a major sailing record from the 
comfort and safety of her own living room?  Is there anyone out there 
who wants to help?  Time will tell.  Meanwhile, think it through 
during your morning commute. 
                                                 max  ebb