Future Uncertain for Wrecked Volvo Ocean Race Team

After three days of being largely out of touch with the world, the nine-man crew of the Volvo Ocean 65 Vestas is now back on Mauritius after running hard aground this past weekend on a remote reef in the Indian Ocean.
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The Team Vestas crew removes lines, diesel and other materials from its stricken boat. Photo courtesy of Brian Carlin/Team Vestas

The Team Vestas crew removes lines, diesel and other materials from its stricken boat. Photo courtesy of Brian Carlin/Team Vestas

Five days after Team Vestas ran aground on a reef off Mauritius, all that is certain is that the crew is now safely ashore and that the boat is severely damaged, likely beyond repair. When or if Australian-born skipper Chris Nicholson and crew will be able to continue to compete in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race remains an open question—as does the matter of what went wrong.

According to an official team statement: “What we can say now…is that human error is at the root of the accident. We’ll learn more about the details of what happened exactly when we have a chance to properly debrief with the crew, which we expect to happen in Abu Dhabi over the weekend.”

“Though we won’t be able to compete in the next leg from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China, we are considering all available options for re-joining the race at a later stage,” added Vestas chief marketing officer, Morten Albaek.

One thing race fans have been able to learn are some of the details of the grounding itself, which was a harrowing one to say the least.


Raw footage from aboard Alvimedica as the crew stands by to possibly assist Team Vestas.

According to Nicholson, it was early Saturday evening when the boat ran hard aground while sailing at 19 knots, immediately lodging the boat’s keel into the coral. Unfortunately, because it was only shortly after nightfall, the crews had to then endure a full eight hours of simply having to hang on until there was enough light to think about abandoning ship. As they did so, Team Alvimedica stood by: unable to get close because of the treacherous shallows, but still able to help with communications between Team Vestas and VOR headquarters.

Team Vestas skipper Chris Nicholson (left) safe and sound on Mauritius with shore crew manager Neil Cox following the grounding. Photo courtesy of Marc Bow/VOR

Team Vestas skipper Chris Nicholson (left) safe and sound on Mauritius with shore crew manager Neil Cox following the grounding. Photo courtesy of Marc Bow/VOR

“We knew there was shallow water on the other side of the reef in the lagoon side,” Nicholson says. “The problem was that for most of the night we were just on the deep-water side where the keel was jammed in the rocks and the boat was being beaten by those complete point-break waves. We had to just hang on through that with the boat breaking up around us.

“Toward daylight, like two hours just before daylight, the bulb broke off and the boat leaned over heavily. While that was happening we probably lost the back of the boat, it was gone, missing, and the deck started to fold and the boat was heeling over more so I made the decision that we were getting off. We’d already practiced deploying the jonbuoy off the back to see where it would drift to, and we’d already deployed one life raft, which was across the reef if we could get to it. We’d been practicing throughout the night how we were going to do it. We made the call and got on with the job.”

The Team Vestas crew with some of the gear salvaged from the wreck. Photo courtesy of Marc Bow/VOR

The Team Vestas crew with some of the gear salvaged from the wreck. Photo courtesy of Marc Bow/VOR

Ultimately, the nine-man crew was able to wade through the shallows to a dry point in the reef where a local coast guard RIB was able to take them to the tiny islet known as Ile du Sud island, where they spent three days before being taking a 20-hour boat trip to Mauritius itself. During their stay on Ile du Sud, the crew removed as much of the boat’s rigging, fuel and other hazardous materials as possible.

Team Vestas’ position at the time of the accident, the evening of Saturday, November 29. Image courtesy of VOR

Team Vestas’ position at the time of the accident, the evening of Saturday, November 29. Image courtesy of VOR

At the time of the accident, Team Vestas was in fifth place, some 90 miles behind Donfeng Race Team and roughtly 40 miles ahead of Team Alvimedica. The entire fleet was following more or less the same track, with the four lead boats having passed just slightly to the east of where Team Vestas grounded a few hours earlier.

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