Moving Parts | Meet Meteorologist and Data Analyst Tom Harrison
Tom Harrison is the team’s meteorologist and data analyst, working in the test and validation department at INEOS Britannia. Tom grew up in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight and has been a keen sailor since his early childhood. Being a part of the team at INEOS Britannia is a ‘pinch me’ moment for Tom, and his background in physics, oceanography and meteorology make him a key asset to the team.
Tom explains how his passion for boats developed at such a young age: “Sailing is a huge part of my family, and it is really all we ever did when I was younger. I grew up sailing dinghies on the Solent and then moved into bigger boats and more competitive racing. In the last four or five years, I have moved more into offshore sailing. I basically just love spending all my time on boats and around boats. Both of my parents moved to the Isle of Wight from the Midlands because of sailing. They met through a sailing club in the Midlands and my dad owned a small 20-foot cruiser, so they moved down to Cowes and that's exactly how we got into boats.
“My background is in pure physics. I graduated with a master's degree in physics. During my time at university, I was looking for ways to steer my career into sailing and I got involved and interested in meteorology. From university, I spent a bit of time working at a software company before I committed and retrained as a meteorologist. I then spent a few years working in operational forecasting for aviation, mostly military aviation. Then I took a bit of a break, decided to go sailing a bit more, try and do a bit of freelance work forecasting and doing routing advice for amateur teams, sailing teams, some professional teams, mostly in the French Figaro circuit, and then for general ocean-going expeditions as well.
“I mean, you can't really grow up in Cowes, be interested in sailing and not be interested in the America's Cup. My first memory of knowing really that the Cup existed was when they had a big Jubilee event on an anniversary. I think it was the 150th anniversary of the Cup and seeing the J-class yachts racing on the island, it was amazing. Ever since then I've followed it with keen interest and had a pipe dream of maybe one day being involved. I didn't really think it would come to fruition. It’s pretty amazing to be here now.
“I joined INEOS Britannia in April 2022, and it was the culmination of a year of sailing with teams I was involved in, at an amateur level, and trying to do a bit more navigation and forecasting. I wanted to get back involved in a challenge that was a bit less specific and do more problem solving. I was lucky enough to be recommended to apply for a job at INEOS Britannia and the rest is history, I guess.
“So, my primary role is as a data analyst in our test and validation team. My role spreads between doing specific analysis tasks usually focused around performance and how the sailors are sailing the boat, rather than more specific engineering analysis, although I do those as well. Managing the flow of data to the rest of the design team and the engineering team, to make sure that everyone has well segmented data that is useful and of high quality. And if there are any caveats, they know exactly what those are to try and make sure that the conclusions we draw from our testing are as robust as possible.
“The other part of my role is a bit more secondary and relates back to my prior experience as a meteorologist. Down here in Palma I'm working as our main operational forecaster for our testing days. I keep track of what the weather's doing and making sure we're making the most efficient use we can of our testing days down here.
“On a typical sailing day, I need to be at work up to 3 hours before we brief the sailors for their day. So that I have time to get my head properly into a forecast, make sure I've looked at all the options and considered everything that's going on. We will then sit through a sailing briefing where I'll go over the weather for the day. We'll make some decisions. Perhaps it's a bit of back and forth about what tests are going to be best for the conditions we've got there on the day. From there, I play a sort of advisory role. The guys go out on the water, I stay on the land, from there I can answer questions that the sailors or coaches have about where we should be going to find particular conditions. Especially if the forecast is not panning out as expected, together we plan where we will go next.
“After this, I get on with other analysis tasks that we've got on the go, until the boat gets off the water. When it is back on land, I am involved in the offload process of the data. Making sure that we get our visual data and our numerical data available as soon as possible to the coaching team, the design team, and then we run our segmentation process. This breaks up the data into useful pieces, then we run reporting on that, and provide a sensible set of reports for the structures team to make sure we haven't broken the boat. And for the performance team to see how we're getting on against where we're expecting to be. Finally, there are reports for the sailors so that they can diagnose how they're sailing the boat.
“My favourite part of my job here is the people. I am privileged to work with people at the top of their field, from engineering design to fluid dynamics, boat building, rigging. Everyone is absolutely at the top of their game. And it's just a joy to be part of every day. The team effort and the drive to want to win and want to apply that knowledge is quite amazing. The highlight of working in a Cup team, for me, is that I get to spend all my days thinking about the coolest boats in the world and working with some of my childhood heroes. It's fantastic to be sat in a briefing with all those Olympic gold medals, laps of the planet, and all the rest.
“It’s an ultimate culmination of things I'm interested in; sailing, design and science. It's the oldest sporting trophy in the world. I think the nature of it and the way it sets up is unique. The fact that we're always working with a difficult rule, understanding how to exploit that rule and the fact that the rule might change the next time round. I think it always presents an extremely interesting challenge. And because of that it is unrivalled in its difficulty to win.”