Volvo Ocean Race: Chris Nicholson Interview – Part 2 – On the Rocks

Part 2 of three part, 80 minute, interview with Team Vestas Wind skipper, Chris Nicholson on the wrecking of the Volvo Ocean Race yacht on an idyllic atoll in the South Indian Ocean during the night of November 29. In this part, Nicholson covers what happened from the time the Volvo65 hit the reef on the SE corner of the Cargados Carajos Shoals. Parts 3 follows tomorrow.

If you missed Part 1 click here:

November 30, 2014. Team Vestas Wind on the Cargados Carajos Shoals as the crew remove gear. pic by Brian Carlin - Team Vestas Wind

Team Vestas Wind on the Cargados Carajos Shoals as the crew remove gear.
pic by Brian Carlin – Team Vestas Wind

Nicholson says that when they hit he assumed the worst.

‘We hit so hard and I saw jagged rocks. At that stage, I hadn’t seen any shallow water on the other side.

We didn’t turn the engine on straight away. We had to deal with the sails because we’d been tacked by the impact.

So while the sails were up they were just pressing the keel harder onto the bottom. Until we got that under control, there was no moving. We had no rudders, but the difficulty was that we needed to have the sails up to get steerage and get off the reef.

‘That was a no-win situation with the sails up and the keel on the wrong side.

‘Every time you try to heel the boat over, it just drives the keel down harder. We had a couple of attempts to cant the boat up and over, to get the bulb on the right side of the boat. It was a long shot – but we tried it. It didn’t work’

(The keel was on the port side when Vestas Wind hit the reef on port tack. The impact of the impact swung them around, with the sails now on starboard tack, with the bulb, now stuck underneath on the port side, effectively jamming the boat onto the reef)

 Team Vestas Wind aground the boat on Cargados Carajos Shoals. The heavy breaking surf is clearly visble in the background pic by Brian Carlin - Team Vestas Wind


Team Vestas Wind aground the boat on Cargados Carajos Shoals. The heavy breaking surf is clearly visble in the background
pic by Brian Carlin – Team Vestas Wind

‘I knew instantly that both rudders had gone. The wheel was spinning violently. There must have been a little bit of rudder left, but the force was so strong you could not hold the wheel against the shock-motion of the rudder hitting the rocks.’

‘There was instantly no steerage.’

‘We very quickly closed the bulkhead doors down below. There was a little water in there straight away, but it wasn’t an area of the boat you could enter. We were getting pounded by waves and the jolting motion of the boat meant you could not do anything in a confined space.

‘We got the sails under control – that was a difficult job as we were getting washed by breaking waves. Sometimes they would break on the bow of the boat. Sometimes they would break on the side of the boat.

‘It was a very violent jolting motion on the boat. It was difficult enough to hold on, let alone deal with the sails.

‘We were caught in deep ruts that run up to the edge reef. We felt like we were hooked in them and the boat would surge forwards and backwards – maybe only half a metre, but the blow that the boat would get at the end of that half metre, had no give in it at all.

‘The boat would do a little surge and then just come to an abrupt halt,’ he added.

‘It took a long time for the boat to drive up on the reef (to her final resting place). She got pushed up and over the reef just after we got off.

‘After we lost the bulb, we took one wave that knocked us over to a 45-degree angle’.

Threat of being rolled over
Nicholson says that he didn’t want to get off the boat until daylight. They had discussed the prospect of being rolled over, when a wave hit taking them over to 45 degrees. A second wave rolled her over even further over and pushed Vestas Wind more side on to the seas.

‘That was when I made the decision to get off. Until then it had been a matter of deciding whether to stay on the boat or get off making an exit across the top of the reef.

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