A brilliant new route-planning tool
A month or so ago we came across a route planning tool that was so simple, and so free, we couldn't contain ourselves. Using the beautiful animations of WindyTy as a platform, Fastseas allows sailors to put in their polars (allowing a simpler version if polars are not available), start and finish positions, and Fastseas shows the optimal route. Including when and where to tack. It is that simple. In short, we love it.
So we tracked down its creator, Jeremy Waters, and threw a few questions at him. Here they are...
In a sentence, tell me what FastSeas is.
FastSeas is a weather routing calculator for sailors... that was easy :)
What is your philosophy behind creating such a service?
When I am cruising, I am a total weather junkie. You have to be - so much depends on the weather. Mornings always start with collecting weather data from various sources: weather gribs, current gribs, NWS forecasts, weatherfax, spotter observations, rumors, grapevine, etc. And then I have to pick through that heap of data and try and figure out what it means for me today, tomorrow, and the day after... and whether today is a good day to move... or whether I must move in order to ensure our safety.
The philosophy behind FastSeas is that there must be a better way to present that heap of data; in an intuitive graphical form; to help sailors better understand the weather "picture"; and hopefully make more informed decisions leading to improved safety and comfort at sea.
How many man hours did it take you to create this?
The initial working prototype of FastSeas took about a hundred hours to develop. Since then hundreds more hours have poured into to project to make it easier to use, faster, and to add functionality (including requests from the user community).
Tell me about your sailing experience.
I started sailing at a young age - sailing Optimists when I was 6-7 in France. Since then I have lived and sailed in Algeria, the Med, the US (including lots of windsurfing) and the BVI.
In my 20s my wife and I quit our jobs, sold everything, and went sailing for three years. We sailed our boat in and around he Caribbean. We still have the same boat we sailed in our 20s, an old Sam L. Morse Bristol Channel Cutter, which we keep in the Chesapeake Bay.
Is it hard to build in things like cold fronts graphically into FastSeas?
FastSeas started with just Google Maps integration - and did not originally have any graphical depiction of the GFS weather model data. Later, I worked with Ivo and the Windyty team to make FastSeas the first app integrated with Windyty. Now Windyty provides all of the front end weather graphics. I'm grateful to Ivo and the Windyty team for providing the API. Pretty much any overlay that Windyty can display can be incorporated into FastSeas.
Windyty does not currently have a "surface analysis" overlay. But I will be able to incorporate it without much effort if it does get added in the future.
What about the future? Where do you see FastSeas going?
FastSeas is a personal project that has allowed me to pursue my passions for weather, sailing, and coding. All this and I can provide a free service to my sailing brethren. I am still actively developing FastSeas and have a pile of ideas and request in my backlog. Recent work has focused on back-end scalability - so nothing people will have noticed other than it just consistently works faster and more reliably. But in the future I hope to add a number of features, including multiple waypoints, an improved routing algorithm, weather alerts, and boat tracking.
FastSeas is currently donation supported. The stark reality of that is that fewer than 1% of users donate and I've had to cover most operating expenses out of pocket. I'm happy to continue down this same path for now, but at some point I will have to introduce a subscription model. Yet I feel strongly that this is a service that everyone should have access to. So subscription pricing will be very attainable for even the most modest cruising budget - and I plan to keep a free plan in the mix.