VOLVO OCEAN RACE: Team Vestas Wind Wrecked

Vestas aground

Here’s one way to get cruising sailors interested in the ongoing Volvo Ocean Race–have one competitor pile up on a reef at night in the middle of nowhere. It was definitely NOT a happy Thanksgiving holiday weekend for the crew on the VOR65 Team Vestas Wind, as they hit Cargados Carajos Shoals (a.k.a. Saint Brandon Shoals) 200 miles north of Mauritius on Saturday while racing in leg 2 of the Volvo race, from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi. Reportedly, they were making 18 knots at the time.

Ouch! This is why crew on these boats always fall asleep in their berths with their feet facing bulkheads.

Another competitor, Team Alvimedica, which has since resumed racing, stood by the grounded boat for several hours until all the crew were safely off and local authorities arrived on the scene. The Vestas crew, who initially had to evacuate on to the reef itself, are now all ashore and are plotting how best to salvage their vessel.

The burning question, of course, is how did this happen? How does a navigator on one of the most sophisticated racing sailboats in the world, with satellite comms and a full-on electronic nav suite, manage to drive up on to a charted reef? Online forums, predictably, are abuzz with commentary, and the usual suspects are proclaiming how such a thing would never ever have happened to them because they would have had paper charts, etc., etc., etc.

What we do know for sure is:

A) Yes, this most certainly would never have happened to any of those usual suspects, because they will never ever in their lives have a chance to navigate a boat in the Volvo Ocean Race.

B) The area where the reef is located was originally in an exclusion zone that competitors were prohibited from sailing in. The zone was opened, however, so that boats could stay clear of a tropical storm in the vicinity.

C) At least one other boat, Team Dongfeng, had trouble avoiding the reef and its tiny islands and had to jibe at the last minute to stay clear.

Vestas track

The blue track is Team Vestas Wind, which landed on the eastern windward side of the reef. The red track is that of Team Dongfeng, and you can see clearly how close they came too. The orange track is that of Team Alvimedica, coming in to stand by on the leeward side of the reef

Another thing is also certain. We will eventually get a detailed debrief on what actually happened, as every Volvo boat has an “embedded” journalist onboard, taking lots of notes and photos and video. Most likely, once the Vestas reporter, Brian Carlin, gets some serious comms capability we will be inundated with on-the-spot images and info.

Vestas below

Ironically, not long before Vestas ran aground Carlin shot this image of the boat’s underbody and posted it to Instagram with the caption “Look out below!”

Meanwhile, there’s lots of other relevant video to inspect. I suggest you start with this Facebook video put up by race leader Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, in which Abu Dhabi‘s skipper, Ian Walker, gives us his post mortem on the accident. He notes in particular how he had worried about how easy it would be to go aground here at night and how you have to zoom in real close on their electronic chart to see the obstruction at all.

You might also check out this viddy, taken onboard Alvimedica as they stood by to help:

Plus this one here, in which Vestas skipper Chris Nicholson fields a call from VOR Race Control after he and his crew made it to dry land:

And this one, where Alvimedica‘s navigator, Will Oxley, also talks to Race Control:

I should also note that this event is well worth following even when the fleet isn’t hitting the bricks. The new VOR65s are essentially one-design boats, and the racing has been very close. Right now, for example, the top three boats are all within four miles of each other!

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3 Responses
  1. ian humphrey

    I have really enjoyed following the race so far and watching onboard videos on facebook. I am so sorry to hear what has happened. As a skipper I would be disappointed but at the same time be relieved that every one of my crew is safe and sound. cheers

  2. stephen Crow, Circumnavigator

    Yeah, and I did it with a sextant.
    That reef is accurately indicated on all gps[size=16px][/size]charts.

  3. Randall Reeves

    Fascinating. Wonder how this will compare (both in fact and in fallout) to the 2010 loss of Clipper Yacht CV4 “Cork” on a submerged reef in the Java Sea. My guess would be that the culprit here is lack of process rather than technology or individual failure (sure, it will all come back to the skipper, but that’s a matter of protocol).

    Q: That race area had just been opened. Had crews been given time enough to plan? If not, could the race committee have issued warnings re hazards to nav in that area?

    Q: Knowing, as we all do, of the “zooming problem” in electronic charts, what were the on-board route planning procedures?

    Should be an interesting case.

    As to CV4, I am told (though I can’t verify this) that the skipper was blackballed.

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