Volvo Ocean Race: Chris Nicholson on the Team Vestas Wind disaster – part 1

Part 1 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 discusses the factors leading up to hitting the reef, interspersed with other research information, charts, video and images. Parts 2 and 3 will follow on consecutive days.

'Team Vestas Wind’’s boat grounded on the Cargados Carajos Shoals, Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. In this image, the crew head back to the boat to retrieve everything they can; including ropes, diesel, Inmarsat dome and sails.'     pic by Brian Carlin - Team Vestas Wind

‘Team Vestas Wind’’s boat grounded on the Cargados Carajos Shoals, Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. In this image, the crew head back to the boat to retrieve everything they can; including ropes, diesel, Inmarsat dome and sails.’
pic by Brian Carlin – Team Vestas Wind

‘I made a mistake’ was Wouter Verbraak’s very honest admission to accusations from the Armchair Admirals, a week after the wrecking of Volvo Ocean Race entry, Team Vestas Wind in late November.

The Dutchman’s courageous words were highly unusual in a sport noted for its Codes of Silence at the first sniff of a catastrophe.

Verbraak was navigator on board the Danish flagged Volvo 65 which rammed into reef off the Cargados Carajos Shoals 200 nm from Mauritius in the Southern Indian Ocean at a speed of almost 20kts.

The highly credentialed navigator made his very honest admission in a media conference, held in Abu Dhabi, venue for the finish of the second leg. ‘In hindsight we would have continued to zoom in on the area much more on the electronic charts. Not doing so was the big mistake I made.’

Team Vestas Wind struck the reef off an idyllic atoll, named St Brandon, in the first hour of the night ten days into the second leg of the 40,000nm Volvo Ocean Race. The hazardous area is described in one Pilot guide as being too dangerous to approach from the seaward (eastern) side, the track taken by the yacht and her nine crew.

‘The Shoals have been reported to lie about 3 miles further south west than charted,’ the NGA’s Pilot handbook for the area says. ‘The eastern side of the reef has not been closely examined, because it is almost impossible to approach it from the East, in addition to the tremendous sea always breaking over it, is reported to be steep-to, and, therefore, most dangerous to approach under any circumstance.’

In what proved to be the final move of her race, Vestas Wind entered the area of the Shoals from the direction warned against by the Pilot, an hour after nightfall, and having just cleared a rain squall which further restricted any visibility of the low lying archipelago that lay ahead.

Wouter Verbraak studies the weather models at the navigation station aboard Team Vestas Wind. pic by Brian Carlin - Team Vestas Wind

Wouter Verbraak studies the weather models at the navigation station aboard Team Vestas Wind.
pic by Brian Carlin – Team Vestas Wind

Backed by a Denmark based Vestas Wind Systems, the world leader in wind energy, Team Vestas Wind was one of the seven identical yachts, supplied by the Volvo Ocean Race organisers. The team was the last to enter the round the world race, which is in its 12th edition, and now stops at nine ports on a three yearly cycle.

Vestas Wind did not have the same work up time as the other race teams. She was launched in the third week of August and only completed her 2000nm qualifying voyage en route from Southampton to the race start port of Alicante in Spain.

She’d performed well enough in the first leg despite expected teething problems and was unlucky to miss out on third place in Cape Town, which would have set her up nicely for the remainder of the race.

Late course changes:
Leg 2 was one of the most vexed for race organisers. Due to the threat of attack by Somali based pirates, No-Go or Exclusion Zones, had been established to keep the boats well away from the Somali pirates and their attendant motherships.

Race organisers made a further course change the night before the start of Leg 2, issuing a change to the course to create an escape route from the path of an expected tropical cyclone. The edge of the exclusion zone was moved closer to the African coast, allowing the boats to sail a more direct course to Abu Dhabi and pass inside Cargados Carajos Shoals.

‘There was a change made the evening before the leg start,’ said skipper Chris Nicholson, a four race veteran who had skippered the Emirates Team New Zealand crewed Camper to second place overall in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race.

The Australian, a three times World Champion, and top skiff sailor in addition to his impressive round the world race credentials, had been skipper designate of a Team New Zealand crew in this race. A late decision by the Kiwi team to focus solely on the 2017 America’s Cup, left the crew without a ride. Along with two other Team NZ crew members, the trio had 12 round the world races between them, with one having first competed 30 years ago.

‘That change allowed the Shoals to be within our sailable course. There had been some discussions, and everyone had their eye on the tropical storms. The thinking was that if the Exclusion Zone was widened out then it would be easier to deal with those storms if they eventuated.

‘We were surprised that the weather could be worked out eight days with a degree of certainty, but we thought the cyclones were a real possibility. If you want to go around a tropical storm, in this area, you go around it to the west,’ Nicholson explained.

To read more follow this link:
http://www.sail-world.com/index.cfm?nid=129959

SAILING Publications, the publishers of SAILING Magazine, SAILING Gybeset and the “Talking SAILING” blog, have an association with Sail-World (www.sail-world.com). Sail-World is the biggest circulating sailing news blog in the world. Enjoy.