Greg Dziemidowicz, VR Entrepreneur on Sailing

I used to sail a lot when I was a sea scout in high-school. Then I went to University to study IT, moved cities and stopped sailing as much. It turns outs it’s actually a fairly common story for young adults to drop out of sailing at that age. 2 years ago, I was spending New Year’s Eve in Tasmania and I had a chance to see yachts finishing the Sydney to Hobart race. The atmosphere of the race and the harbour city reinvigorated my interest in sailing. At the time, I was thinking about starting a start-up utilizing the emerging consumer virtual reality hardware. The Hobart event was a spark that inspired me to seriously pursue virtual reality sailing, as I realized that VR will be a game-changer for digital sailing. Part of the motivation to work with VR is the ability of the medium to “share” the experiences. I have many fond memories of sailing and VR lets me share them with others in a unique way.

My name is Greg Dziemidowicz and I am the co-founder of MarineVerse, a start-up using virtual reality to promote and democratize access to sailing. The inspiration for my programming career was a book about “Turbo Pascal”, which my father left on the desk next to the PC when I was about 8 years old. At the time, I was getting (too much) into computer games, and the book must have been my father’s idea to turn my obsession with games into something useful. I pretty much always knew what I wanted to do, which was to have a career in the IT industry, so I could spend more time tinkering with the computer.

As a teenager, my parents introduced me and my friends to a local sea scouts team. In retrospect, it was a great move on their side, because my passion for IT was already developed at that stage, and I would probably never discover the beauty of nature if not for the experiences that sea scouts provided. With sea scouts, I’ve learned how to sail and, in the process, found the activity to be very enjoyable. Most of my holiday memories and adventures growing up as a teenager are related to sailing.

I currently live in Melbourne, Australia, where there are plenty of opportunities to sail all year round with sailing clubs and events like ‘Discover Sailing’ days. I am still surprised by how many different sailing clubs there are around they the bay – the concentration seems to be really high. You can visit many of them riding on a bicycle along a cycling path with a great view of the water and the city. This, combined with usually a pretty good weather, makes it a pretty good spot for outdoor activities.

My favourite place to sail is the Black Rock Yacht Club. It’s a majestic sailing location reachable from my flat on a bike. In Black Rock, you can sail near the HMVS Cerberus Shipwreck and you can enjoy the spectacular coastline. Also, as someone who grew up sailing on the lake, being able to surf on the waves while sailing in a small dinghy is really exciting. The dinghy I use is a beginners training boat, but it’s enough for me. I enjoy how quickly you can set them up and go on the water. I’ve used to also sail on bigger keelboats and I like them as well, but for longer cruising voyages.  

The best thing about sailing is being outside, harnessing the force of the wind to move through the water. As a software developer, I like automation and peaceful environments where one can focus, and I am generally “lazy”. Relaxing sailing is a perfect past-time for me because once the boat is set-up for a course, the wind does all the work. One can contrast that with canoeing on a lake, where you have to constantly paddle to keep moving – I find that much less satisfying. As mentioned, my favourite part of sailing is relaxing and cruising, not so much racing as I am not really that competitive; if possible, I prefer to co-operate.

I started MarineVerse by “just building” a prototype for an idea I had, a teaching tool for sailors using the emerging tech. This is a beauty and a curse of being an engineer – I can just build “stuff”. The problem with this approach is that it’s unlikely to be viable from the business point of view or even solve a real problem for the user. Luckily, I also like iterating and getting feedback from users, so I quickly learned that a “simple tool” I built for a “Google Cardboard” platform wasn’t really that useful in a sailing club context.

Since then, we discovered that there is a real curiosity among the general population about how sailing and high-end VR ( like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive ) can provide quite a compelling experience. We’ve also discovered that the sailing community is interested in attracting more people to the sport and are looking for new ways to engage the general public. This is where Virtual Reality Sailing can help. It can provide a tool for sailing organisations to attract more people to the sport, while at the same time being a platform for newcomers to get a “taste of sailing”. In the future, I hope to expand on our “training” capabilities by offering more and more practical tools for practicing various aspects of sailing, such as different weather conditions, sailing crafts and locations.

Sailing is a great activity and actually quite easy to get in to. It also doesn’t have to be expensive. If there is a sailing club in your area, just go visit and find out what are the opportunities for beginners there. Quite often, yacht owners are looking for a crew to help and are happy to show beginners the ropes. Sailing as a sport really wants to attract more people, so you will be welcomed. If you don’t have a club in your area, consider “sailing holidays” as an alternative. For example, you could pick up a sailing course over the summer in some nice holidays destination.

I am looking forward to VR hardware becoming more accessible and commonplace. Currently, not many people can benefit from our work as most of them don’t have virtual reality equipment. This is understandable as the hardware can be expensive and non-intuitive to use for a non-technical person. This will change with time, and I am looking forward to the “iPhone” moment of the VR industry.

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