Lessons from the Vestas Volvo Wreck

The fixed camera on the stern of Vestas Wind captured the worst possible unintended gybe. That’s when you’re blasting along at 19 knots through a tropical night offshore, and your Volvo Ocean 65 suddenly smashes its way up onto a reef, shearing off the rudders and spinning 180 degrees as the waves and wind take total control
Author:
Updated:
Original:
In a screen grab from onboard Alvimedica, the location of Vestas Wind is shown by a crewman’s PLB, designaged as “SART ACTIVE”

In a screen grab from onboard Alvimedica, the location of Vestas Wind is shown by a crewman’s PLB, designaged as “SART ACTIVE”

The fixed camera on the stern of Vestas Wind captured the worst possible unintended gybe. That’s when you’re blasting along at 19 knots through a tropical night offshore, and your Volvo Ocean 65 suddenly smashes its way up onto a reef, shearing off the rudders and spinning 180 degrees as the waves and wind take total control.

Of course, the obvious question is: how the heck did professional sailors make this mistake? The fairly large area of reefs and islets is well charted, and is certainly obvious from space. In the screen grab shown above left, taken from a video shot aboard Alvimedica, Vestas Wind (designated as “SART ACTIVE,” actually one of the crew’s PLBs) is on the very steep-to, western side of the reef while Alvimedica (the green boat icon) is on the safer side ready to assist. While I’m not sure exactly what the Volvo navigators saw on their AdrenaPro Offshore and Expedition 9 charting and routing screens, several reported that they had to zoom way in to see the real danger, and Vestas Wind thought the shoal was at least 40 meters deep.

An example of a Jeppesen Guardian Alarm

An example of a Jeppesen Guardian Alarm

At any rate, Vestas Wind navigator Wouter Verbraak and skipper Chris Nicholson have admitted to a grievous navigation error, and hopefully a lot of sailors will now be extra careful with their electronic chart work. But here’s the thing: I believe that most every charting program, app and MFD “knows” when we’re about to make such a mistake and could warn us! Vector charts are databases of objects and related information, and the algorithms that decide what gets drawn on a screen at any particular location and zoom level are what we need to be careful with, since they can sometimes omit crucial info. However, no matter what a user may see on screen, the software always knows precisely where you’re headed relative to the data—whether or not its being displayed. A constantly running search algorithm that can tell us, “Hey, shoal water and then land one mile dead ahead!” doesn’t seem hard.

In fact, data-based grounding alarms have existed for quite a while. Jeppesen C-Map calls their version Guardian Alarm and any developer who wants their charting software to use C-Map Max or 4D cartography receives an SDK containing the search algorithms. When available—and apparently that includes a lot of current chartplotters produced by the likes of Furuno, Standard Horizon and Humminbird—the MFD user gets to set a minimum draft and the distance to look ahead. They also get to choose what chart objects will be “interrogated,” and the search area is shown on the chart by a red triangle. If a danger is seen, an alarm pops up, and you can also get a report showing what object type triggered the alarm. The Guardian Alarm can only be set to search one mile ahead at max, which is not ideal for a boat doing 19 knots offshore, but it still might have helped (especially if they’d set their draft to 99 feet or whatever that max is). And couldn’t ever-improving processors handle longer ranges?

C-Map’s grounding alarm doesn’t only run when you’re underway, but can be used to check a proposed route. I’m happy to add that Raymarine is working right now to make C-Map 4D cards compatible with all its current displays. I don’t know for sure that Guardian Alarm will be part of Lighthouse II v13, but let’s hope so.

Let’s also note the similar “Look Ahead” function that was prominent on the Maptech i3 over a decade ago, and was also on the sister Sea Ray Navigator, now long gone. The graphic looked something like the Simrad and Echopilot forward-scanning sonar that is gaining a new lease on life, but of course, is quite different in potential range and use. I want both!

Finally, Coastal Explorer can also identify obstacles along a planned route and even guesstimate their names by using the data from vector charts. If it had an underway-grounding alarm it could maybe say, “Hey! Cargados Carajos Shoal five miles or 15 minutes dead ahead!”

So what am I missing here? We all make mistakes. Why aren’t vector-data-based grounding alarms more readily available, and why aren’t they used more when they are available?

As a side note, at press time veteran Volvo Ocean Race navigator and Expedition developer Nick White e-mailed me to say he has decided to enable C-Map Guardian in his racing software, but he’s hoping that no one will use ?this chart-based grounding alarm ?as substitute for the proper ?practice of identifying all dangers ahead.

Related

Waypoint.image.cd

Say No To Waypoints

Ever since they first appeared in my navigational toolbox decades ago I have been wary of waypoints. They certainly do seem helpful, these electronic flags we plant in the ether to guide us to where we want to go. But I noticed early on they also tend to distort our perception. ...read more

Lead-shutterstock_429247

A Cruise up Florida’s St. Johns River

The chart showed 45ft of vertical clearance, and I knew the boat should be able to pass under the bridge. Still, there was that nagging voice in my head that wouldn’t let me be. “What if your air draft calculations were wrong?” it said. “And if you’re just a little too high the ...read more

pic00

Installing a Helm Pod

Our 1987 Pearson project boat came with an elderly but functioning Raymarine chartplotter, located belowdecks at the nav station. Since I usually sail solo or doublehanded, it was of little use down there—it needed to be near the helm. When I decided to update the plotter along ...read more

Panamerican

Pan American Game Success

Team USA’s young sailors went to the quadrennial Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru this summer with high hopes, and returned with a good haul of medals—two Golds, three Silvers, and two Bronze. Gold medals went to Ernesto Rodriguez and Hallie Schiffman (Mixed Snipe) and Riley ...read more

190916-AC75

U.S. Team Launches First America’s Cup Boat

Fast forward to around 2:25 to see the boat in action. First day out and already doing full-foiling gybes: not too shabby! Hard on the heels of the unveiling of New Zealand’s first AC75, the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic team has now launched its first America’s Cup ...read more

GGTobCaysHorseshoeColors

Picking a Charter Destination

Picking a destination should reflect the interests of your group, says People often ask about my favorite charter destination, and invariably, I sidestep the question with one of my own: “Well, what do you want to do on your vacation?” Most often I hear an incredulous, “Why, ...read more

sinking

Waterlines: Chasing Leaks on Boats

Chasing leaks on boats is a time-honored obsession. Rule number one in all galaxies of the nautical universe through all of nautical history has always been the same: keep the water on the outside. When water somehow finds its way inside and you don’t know where it’s coming ...read more

BestBoatNominees2020-Promo

Best Boats Nominees 2020

Bring on the monohulls! In a world increasingly given over to multihull sailing, SAIL magazine’s “Best Boats” class of 2020 brings with it a strong new group of keelboats, including everything from luxury cruisers nipping at the heels of their mega-yacht brethren to a number of ...read more