Skip to main content

Vestas Wind and the Cargados Carajos Shoal

When Vestas Wind ran aground on Cargados Carajos Shoal on the night of November 29, 2014, during the last Volvo Ocean Race, it came as a complete surprise to everyone onboard. How could a vessel equipped with the most modern electronics and a professional navigator fail to navigate around a reef some 25 nautical miles in length that was shown on all paper charts, of every scale, covering the West Indian Ocean?

The skipper and navigator believed there was no risk of a collision, because they had examined their anticipated route and saw no obstructions. They did anticipate passing a “seamount” with about 120ft of water over it where they expected a change in sea state. Their confidence was based on having viewed the route on one of the vessel’s two laptops running charts that did not show that there was a landmass in their path when viewed at medium zoom levels. However, at larger-scale zoom levels the shoal was depicted correctly as a landmass and a hazard to navigation.

Many of the current PC-based navigation systems have tools that allow navigators to highlight dangerous objects by placing an electronic “fence” around them. They also can “look ahead” of a vessel’s current position and determine if the water depth is less than a minimum “safe” depth. Neither of these tools were in use at the time of the Team Vestas grounding.

The failure of the crew to understand its dangerous route has inevitably led to the conclusion that they would not have run into the reef had they relied on paper charts. But it’s important to note that these boats can sail 550 miles in a day, are very wet belowdecks, and don’t have any place onboard that is suitable for the traditional use of paper charts. That said, paper charts do have much to offer, even today, aboard less extreme vessel, such as allowing daily overviews of a vessel’s progress. Paper charts can be easily and routinely used for this purpose even if there’s no space for a traditional chart table. Of course, in the event of an electrical failure, paper charts can also be used for plotting and laying out courses on an improvised nav desk, such as a floorboard, galley or engine box space.

It was lucky this accident did not result in serious injuries or loss of life. It was avoidable and costly, yet has caused a vigorous discussion about the best practices of seamanship and the limitations of all forms of navigation information. There can be no doubt that we will all be better navigators as a result.

Related

Background-02

Notice to Mariners: A Blog from the SAIL Editors

As a teenager, I stumbled across a copy of Derek Lundy’s Godforsaken Sea in the back room of a used bookshop. I had never heard of the Vendée Globe and frankly found all the boat-speak in the first 50 pages a little difficult to get through. But Lundy’s storytelling and the draw ...read more

Screen-Shot-2022-01-13-at-9.26.59-AM2048x

VIDEO: Celestial Navigation Episode 2

Celestial navigation is an invaluable tool for all kinds of sailors. In episode two of the celestial navigation series, learn the basic elements of navigation and the sight reduction process using declination and GHA to determine the Geographic Position and navigate using a ...read more

Film-poster

Cruising: Year of the Sea Shanty

Along with other timeless pursuits, like baking sourdough and gardening, singing sea shanties surged back into popularity during the recent lockdown, thanks, in part, to the app TikTok and its “duet” feature, which allows singers from around the world create music together. By ...read more

Book-Cover-9780712353700

Book Review: Sailor Song

Sailor Song is the ultimate guide to the music of working sailors during the 18th and 19th centuries. The book includes lyrics and sheet music for 50 of the most beloved sea songs with fascinating historical background on the adjoining page. Chapter introductions provide ...read more

Screen Shot 2022-01-12 at 10.42.33 AM

Race Update: RORC Transat

With the fleet leaders about halfway to Grenada, the 2022 RORC Transatlantic is shaking out to be a tactically interesting one. The race, now in its 8th edition, began on Saturday with 30 teams ranging from 70-foot catamarans to a 28-foot JPK 1010. Early in the race, light winds ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_1585

Experience: Fire Down Below

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, local racing had resumed with household crews only. My wife, though, while always up for a pleasure sail, was not up for this kind of thing, so, for the fifth time in what was any measure an unusual sailing season, I found myself singlehanding my ...read more

BestBoats2022-logo

Best Boats 2022

In case you hadn’t heard, the fall 2021 boat show season was one for the record books. If there was ever any doubt the sailing public still enjoys making its way to Newport, Rhode Island, or Annapolis, Maryland, to see the latest in boat design, those doubts were put to rest ...read more

01-LEAD-Dominique-David-2048x

Mulithull Show Coming to La Grande-Motte

After a year without boat shows, 2021 proved to be a blockbuster summer and fall for events around the globe, and the International Mulithull Show is looking to continue that trend in 2022. First held in 2010, the show, which takes place in La Grand-Motte, France, on the shores ...read more