inyourfootsteps.com uses a ‘question and answer format’ to help transfer information quickly and efficiently. We are delighted to use the same approach to let you know about us.
What does inyourfootsteps.com do?
We are all on personal journeys of experience. Sometimes we are ahead of others on our paths, sometimes behind. When our pathways intersect or overlap the possibility of ‘connection’ becomes advantageous. Then the individuals that are ahead may provide valuable insights to those following in their footsteps. At other times, the followers may be the experience leaders, so roles continually exchange and everyone benefits.
That ‘connection’, to freely share and benefit from a flow of sailing insight, is what inyourfootsteps.com offers. ‘Footsteps’, as it is fondly called, however, goes beyond providing a simple ‘connection’ point for valuable sailing experience. It simplifies, adds structure and consistency to the information it exchanges. To this it then adds layers of technology to present surrounding data in easy to understand visuals and provides unique search and selection capabilities that benefit from real-time data feeds. Overriding all of this is an intelligent safety harness of alerting tools. They are designed to flag and minimise static and developing weather driven hazards. The objective of all this is to not only transfer data, but to convey understanding more quickly, easily and reliably than any other.
Footsteps makes this available as a comprehensive web application and a simpler Lite site for low bandwidth access. Its collective wealth of information is made freely available to all, for the common good.
Why we do this?
We believe many things. That a skilled man with a powerful tool is better than a skilled man without a tool. That data driven decisions are better than those without. That the greatest achievements we make are created by the power of what we do together. That the most precious thing we bring to a collective is our individual human insight. With human insight, the more we share, the more we have, the more we may advance together, the bigger, better and safer sailing is for us all.
Most of all we believe that sometimes you have to be what you want to see in the world. That’s why we created footsteps. That’s why we are addicted to it. That’s why we look at it every day and say ‘how can we make this better?’ That’s why this is the start of what its potential is, not its destination. That’s why we make it freely available to all.
How did this all come about?
In the early nineties a thirty year old Irish man called Michael Harpur was looking for an adventure. The prospect of buying a boat and sailing it around the world appealed. He had no sailing experience whatsoever. But this was not a discouraging factor, rather it added to the challenge of the exploit. When set alongside the unique and interesting promise such an adventure held, he elected to do it. In 1995 he set off from Ireland in a classic yacht called ‘Obsession’. Although inyourfootsteps.com was to appear more than a decade later, its founding keystone of ‘Experience’ was to come directly from the first months of this circumnavigation.
Upon launch, and for the first time completely committed to a sailing craft, it was sailing nomenclature that proved to be an unexpected obstacle. Needing to get everything from books, and quickly, the ancient naming conventions and language of the sea presented an impenetrable foreign language. To overcome this he resorted to transcribing key sections of sailing books into plain English. This process provided the mechanism and focus he required to break down maritime knowledge and simplify it. Through this process of simplification he could then draw-out and decide upon the key practices and procedures to implement aboard his vessel. In time the plain English notebook began to include innovations and ideas developed and discovered along the way. A decade after the circumnavigation had been completed, it was this notebook, or more precisely the loss of this notebook, that was to be the catalyst for inyourfootsteps.com.
At this time Michael was working in London for Hewlett Packard’s Server Strategy team. His toddling first son Robert was bringing about a home move and a garage clear-out was required to lessen the removal van load. The rule was, ‘use it or lose it’, either an item had a definite purpose in the new home or it was to be jettisoned. Amidst a focused sorting the old circumnavigation notebook resurfaced from a dusty box of haggard boating equipment. The sight of it caused him to pause and he could not help but leaf through it. Then, in a moment of haste, he adhered to the rule, discarded the notebook and returned to clear out the garage.
This was something that did not sit well in the back of his mind in the following weeks. A sense of remorse tinctured by wasteful guilt for discarding the notebook and its information began to colour his reflections. When established in his new home a month or so later this unsettled thought made an unexpected connection. At the time he was making hand and foot imprints on paper with Robert. When looking at the small hand and foot prints the background regret finally made itself clear. He may not have any need of the content of that notebook, but what about the next generation, what about them? Reaching for a pen he noted down ‘what about those who follow in your footsteps’ and started to consider it from that perspective.
A few weeks later, he took clients out for a long and very friendly Christmas lunch that was extending well into the evening. In seasonal spirits, and within technology circles, he found himself discussing making the sailing experience available via a dot com. Traveling home via train Michael searched for the URL inyourfootsteps.com. It was not taken and in the heat of the moment he purchased it there and then. The first logo was his son Roberts feet with ‘for those who follow in your footsteps’ beneath.
At the beginning inyourfootsteps.com was a flat website that Mike designed and programmed himself. His circumnavigation notebook was gone but he could recall many of the innovations he had discovered and implemented. He documented these in a simplified and consistent ‘what is it’, ‘why do it’ and ‘how to’ format so that the information could be clearly communicated to the inexperienced. Soon he co-opted his father-in-law Tony Gibson into the project. Tony had just retired from his building company and his drafting technical drawing skill could be applied to the schematics required for ‘Experience’. Over the years Tony began taking on different and more challenging aspects growing to become a solid backbone to project progress.
By 2007, intensely innovative and increasingly anchored in the project, Michael found the desired functionality he required quickly stepped out beyond his own programming capabilities. A chance conversation with the son of his next door neighbour had him mention a programming school friend. This was Michael Sheldon who lived within a couple of miles and was, at the time, studying for his Doctorate at Aberystwyth University Wales. The two soon met and Michael Sheldon took on a short task of taking the first flat ‘Experience’ site and make it dynamic. This quickly turned into an unending code chase; Michael Harpur continually inventing and reinventing user interface features, functions, visuals and design; Michael Sheldon chasing to implement the back end capabilities within the system.
Michael Sheldon proved himself to be an exceptional programmer who never failed to implement a requested technical requirement. But he brought more than code skills to the project. He brought with him the core values of computing’s ‘Open Source’ movement and instilled it deep within the project’s DNA and ethos. One year after Michael’s arrival a fledgling new category called ‘Harbours’, that was to be subsequently renamed ‘Havens’, appeared on the inyourfootsteps.com task bar.
‘Havens’ was born out of a tragic story Michael Harpur chanced upon early in his circumnavigation. It was during a stay in the age old trading port of Porto when he came across the account of an English leisure yacht wrecked whilst approaching Lisbon. Caught out in a storm the skipper, seeking sanctuary for his family, ran for the safety of the capital’s commercial port. However ports built on river estuaries, such as Porto and Lisbon, are subject to river deposited ‘bars’ building outside their entrances. In heavy onshore conditions the seas break upon these elevated bars rendering this type of port completely inaccessible. In the event the vessel was destroyed on the bar's seaway and the entire family lost their lives. The story illustrated fully the dangers of accessing ports in rough conditions. It also pointed to an age old sea truism that ‘novice sailors rejoice at the sight of land, where seasoned sailors brace themselves knowing the most dangerous part of the passage is drawing near. At this stage, and after experiencing even a minimum of prolonged rough seaways offshore, he was deeply empathetic to the plight of the family. The complete exhaustion, the nausea, the total incapacitation of many hands, the endless and remorseless hurtling about, the lure of a safe haven to make it all stop. This salutary story made a deep and lasting impression upon him: 'the land is the danger'.
More than a decade later, and inspired by the possibilities that footsteps enabled, that impression was to resurface again. It was 2007 and at the time Michael Harpur was holidaying in his home county of Wexford, Ireland. He was looking at his old Europe wide leisure sailing guide of County Wexford. It was the one he had used as a novice whilst crossing back and forth to England and Wales. Looking at it anew, in the light of his seagoing experience, something occurred to him that he had never noticed before. It only featured three locations for the country's key southeast corner-county. Only two of these catered for yachts and they offered complete protection. However he saw both would endanger a vessel running for safety in strong easterly conditions. By its nature it was creating a funnelling effect that could precipitate a dangerous situation for the inexperienced sailors that would rely upon it the most. ‘Havens’ was to be the result.
It began by reaching out to Wexford boatmen and trapping their local knowledge. The first havens were each written in the vernacular of the seagoing people engaged. It was found that Wexford had not three sailing havens, but more than twenty. In time ‘Havens’ started to spread beyond Wexford, and as it extended it developed its own voice. This voice became more confident, assured and professional and steered clear of jargon. Rather it focused on simplicity plus consistency to effectively and efficiently transfer understanding. It was a voice designed for the novice and the seasoned sailor, plus anyone who wanted to enjoy the Irish coastline.
By 2010 ‘Havens’ had begun to introduce external weather feeds that were specifically optimised for sailing. A year later local tidal data calculations were added. By 2013 all of this was overlaid by an innovative self-monitoring, alerting and reporting layer. The reporting systems provided users with intelligent decision making tools that optimal selected locations and suggested routes. These made it easy to find true sanctuaries, in both good and unsettled conditions. Alongside this an alerting system continually monitored and flagged location dangers. It not only warned people of existing situations, but also developing situations that could be overlooked and make for an unsafe approach or stay. By the time Ireland was complete, not only had it made the country freely available to boatmen, but it had by degrees of innovation, redefined how sailing information should be conveyed.
When ‘Havens’ grew out from County Wexford, to embrace the national coastline, another new category was also added to the taskbar. This was called ‘Routes’ and it was set in place to provide a collective sharing point for local routes. Such paths and directions included convenient short cuts as well as tidal strategies that made for intelligent and efficient passage making. In 2011, when ‘Havens’ had grown to cover two thirds of the Irish coastline, ‘Coastal Descriptions’ were added to ‘Routes’. These descriptions were designed to provide offshore passage planning information. This data enables vessels to safely move between the extending list of ‘Havens’ and in and around the Irish coastline.
With the final addition of ‘Routes’ inyourfootsteps.com had found its final natural structure, creating and fulfilling its own brief as it grew. Armed with a seaworthy vessel, plus a good set of charts, and as long as they had access to an Internet connection, like nothing else before it, inyourfootsteps.com completely empowered all sailors to approach and enjoy the areas it addressed. Being for the common good and freely available, it also had the advantage that they could share data with other people or even share their own data by adding to the content.
But access was not just reserved to computers. As far back as 2008 an alternative mobile phone or 'Lite' view of the content was provided at Liyfs.com. Liyfs, the initials for Lite In Your Footsteps, is a lean and efficient mobile optimised view available alongside the web orientated inyourfootsteps.com version. It was set in place to fulfil the promise that anybody who goes down to the sea can have the resources of inyourfootsteps.com information in their pocket, available to them anytime, from anywhere.
In 2014 the coastline of Ireland was increasingly approaching completion. Michael Harpur bought SY Whistler to explore and survey the UK coast. During this time his son Robert, then accompanied by younger brother Giles and Sister Lauren, were learning to navigate and sail the yacht. Berthed in Shamrock Quay, situated at the head of Southampton Water, the trip back to its berth after a weekend in The Solent entailed a run up the length of the inlet. As often as not most evenings heading for port, marginally over canvassed, this was an exhilarating power ride home. Noticing both Robert and Footsteps had long since shed their baby feet the thought was in the air that a new logo needed to be created. Captivated by the feeling of the yacht, under full canvas, at full speed, slicing through the flat water, he drew ‘Whistler’ powering on the beat; the site logo.
This is how inyourfootsteps.com came to be. But it is only part of the story of this great resource. Throughout its development, it has been supported by and shared the information provided by countless sailors, harbourmasters plus imagery of photographers with a keen eye for the beauty of the coast. It is impossible to single any one individual out, but equally impossible not to mention the deeply experienced Wexford aviator and sailor Burke Corbett. First introduced when Wexford’s fledgling ‘Havens’ were being set down, Burke went on to be a major knowledge contributor, evangelist and mentor who has shaped and guided the project throughout its growth. But this is not to lessen all who have contributed to inyourfootsteps.com and we name all our contributors on each page. We would like to thank all those who have left something of their experience and knowledge for those who follow in your footsteps.
But this is already done and available elsewhere?
Yes there is a wide selection of sailing publications available; technical books, cruising guides, voyage accounts not to mention a host of excellent sailing magazines.
Few are freely available to anyone who have web or mobile web access; right here, right now. Few are defined by category in a normalised, straight-to-the point easily understood format. Few allow the user to comment, enhance or correct data with immediacy. Few, if any, are free. When inyourfootsteps.com focuses, for example in Ireland, nothing compares with the breadth and depth of information available. This is what we do and why we are unique.
But it is more than that; it is what stands behind what we do that defines us most. Our vision, focus on safety and knowledge sharing, the innovation that is in our blood, our recipe of people, process and technology. All combine to make inyourfootsteps.com very unique.
What we are doing now?
We are currently focusing on finishing the Irish coastline whilst opening up England. Through ‘Havens’ and ‘Routes’ we are striving to make the following statement true: ‘No boatman need pass our shores for the want of shelter in a storm, the knowledge of its resources, or a berthing place to enjoy in a place of natural beauty’.
All of Ireland’s coastline is covered by inyourfootsteps.com and we are continuing to deepen and broaden our data on the coast. If you would like to help please click the ‘share’ button above for details. We would also be delighted to hear of proven cruising routes or short cuts along this coastline.
Finally, have you discovered optimisations on your boat or solved problems? Let’s share them. Nothing is too small or too large to help. Again please click the ‘share’ button and you will be guided through an immediate contribution. All will be of enormous help to the next boatman who will be following in your footsteps.