The sight of four-feet-tall, robotic sailboats gliding across portions of Gloucester’s harbor this week has given those visiting the waterfront a different look this week.
Yet the International Robotic Sailing competition — called Sailbot for short — is providing a look at something else as well. It’s giving anyone who makes it down to the harborfront a taste of what engineering technology can perhaps do on the water in the future, it’s giving the high school and college participants — ranging from those at Gloucester High to those from as far afield as British Columbia and Wales — a real-world environment in which to test their skills. And it’s giving all of us a taste of the kind of marine educational events and research projects that Gloucester, as America’s oldest seaport, should actively seek to host more often.
The Sailbot competition, now in its seventh year, is making its first visit to Gloucester, hosted in large part by Olin College of Needham and Endicott College, which opened its new Gloucester campus in Mac Bell’s 33 Commercial St. building in 2012 and is a sign of a growing educational and research presence on the waterfront in its own right.
But it has also been pulled together in part by Iain Kerr, who heads the Ocean Alliance marine research nonprofit that has now moved into at least one building in the historic Paint Factory complex, and Maritime Gloucester, which is serving as a focal point for the sailbotters as they fine-tuned their craft.
Today marks the last day of this three-day celebration of marine science, technology — and, yes, sport. But let’s hope that this week’s event here leads these programs and sailbotters to make many happy returns to Gloucester in the future.
Gloucester Harbor, while obviously rich in heritage, isn’t merely a working waterfront of the past.
It’s also one with a vibrant present, and with showcased talent such as this, a very bright future.