Well, I didn’t overlook it, really. Much worse, I dismissed it. I tried Vlm once, must have been back in ’09 or even earlier. It was mostly in French and didn’t agree with me. I never bothered with it again. Until recently, that is.
Turns out I missed out. Because Vlm is friggin’ awesome!
Seriously. It is.
Vlm is unlike any other online sailing slash navigation simulator I’ve ever used. For starters, it doesn’t have a Flash client interface. Yeah, that’s right: you don’t even need to have installed that resource hogging, crash-prone security risk, which even its own creators advice against using, anymore. Also, Vlm is completely free and open source with its code base available on GitHub. What’s more, as we’ll see in a future post, Vlm is also the place where weather router QtVlm really comes to shine.
Vlm can be found at virtual-loup-de-mer.org. The Vlm home page lists several races that are currently under way or open for registration. After you’ve created your account and logged on with it, you’ll create a boat which you’ll then assign to one of the available races. Once assigned, that particular boat cannot be used in another race until such time as the race closes or you withdraw it from the race. If you wish to participate in several races at the same time, you simply create a boat for each race.
Upon entering a race, your boat’s control page will appear. Think of it as your nav station where you’ll spend a lot of time plotting, planning, and scheming. The control page consists of five frames.
The second frame is a placeholder for your boat’s masthead instruments: navigation display, graphical wind angle display, and wind data display, respectively. The navigation display shows current geographical location, boatspeed, average speed, heading, distance to waypoint, logged race distance, great circle and straight line bearings to waypoints, and VMG to waypoint.
The third frame has all the controls with which you steer your boat. You can set a fixed heading, a fixed wind angle, or sail towards a waypoint on a gc line, on optimum VMG, or on what Vlm calls “VBVMG” but which to the rest of the world is known as VMC. Also on this panel are two buttons giving access to the autopilot and a VMG calculator, respectively.
The fourth frame is used to control the settings for Vlm’s GSHSS nautical chart. Settings include map dimensions, zoom level, length of track (up to 48 hours). The “Display Map” button will show the map with the selected settings in a new browser tab, or update an already opened map. For a broader view, there’s also the Spectator mode, a Google Map option showing the entire fleet with additional information available for each boat.
The final frame shows server information, such as the current server time, update interval, etc.
Vlm also offers access to all your boats through web pages designed specifically for mobile devices. The pages are almost entirely text-based, quick loading, and low in bandwidth usage, yet they give you full control of your boats. These pages are in French, but still easy to use for non-French speakers.
If you’re passionate about virtual sailing, you have to give Virtual Loup-de-Mer a serious try. Don’t be discouraged by the minimum of English documentation available. Because it’s open source, there are external tools out there on the interwebs, such as QtVlm, that will be of great help while navigating the globe.