Amory Ross / Team Alvimedica

Team Vestas Wind crew abandons ship

Danish VO65 runs on to an Indian Ocean reef; skipper Chris Nicholson's first impressions

Sunday November 30th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

There was considerable egg on the face of the Team Vestas Wind crew when yesterday afternoon (UTC), during the night their time, they ran their VO65 hard ground on a reef in the middle of the Indian Ocean, severely damaging their boat and ultimately forcing the crew to abandon ship.

At 1510 UTC the Danish team's crew, skippered by race veteran Chris Nicholson, informed Race Control of the Volvo Ocean Race in Alicante that they had grounded on the southeastern side of the Cargados Carajos Shoals, due east of Coco Island, 220 miles NNE of Mauritius.

No one was injured in the incident, but both rudders were broken in the grounding and subsequently the stern began taking on water. Even at that point it was evident that it would be necessary for the crew to abandon ship.

The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) on Reunion Island was made aware of the problem and remained in regular contact with Race HQ. Team Alvimedica was diverted to stand by Team Vestas Wind ready to assist if required.

For several hours, the crew stayed onboard their stricken vessel whose stern was being beaten badly by the waves as it was stuck fast to the reef with the bow facing the ocean.

Finally, around midnight, the crew abandoned the boat and waded, knee-deep through the water (with their liferafts in tow) to a find dry spot on the reef from where they were set to be rescued by a coastguard RIB at daybreak, at around 0230 UTC. They were transported to the tiny islet of Íle du Sud, part of Cargados Carajos Shoals, which is also known as St Brandon, situated some 430km northeast of Mauritius. From they are looking at the possibilities of salvaging their stricken yacht before the sea fully claims it.

Team Alvimedica was standing by on the opposite side of the shoals ready to assist in the rescue if required but was eventually cleared to continue racing. Navigator Will Oxley reported: “All is well on board, though it is fair to say we are all shattered and quite emotional about what happened. We are really pleased we were able to be of assistance and that the crew of Team Vestas Wind are all well and we look forward to a beer with them as soon as possible.”

Shortly after Team Alvimedica had returned to racing this morning, skipper Charlie Enright reflected on the dramatic chain of events. “Last night we acted as a relay between the Coast Guard and Team Vestas Wind. We stood by and logged the events as they transpired. We also acted as a go-between because often times the Coast Guard and Vestas had trouble directly communicating due to range issues and the fact that Vestas was on a hand-held VHF. They boarded their own life rafts and anchored them to a rock before they were picked up this morning."

Team Alvimedica had been preparing to welcome the nine crew from Vestas on board. “Originally, when Nico didn’t have any information, he was going to board our boat to re-group. We even made them a meal. But after talking to the locals, they discovered that there’s a supply boat coming tomorrow (to Ile du Sud) and that they had food and accommodation for the night so they released us to continue sailing.”

Team SCA also appears to have passed close by to the shoals but on the same southeast side as Team Vestas Wind.

Knut Frostad, Volvo Ocean Race CEO, said it was also not yet known why Nicholson’s crew had hit the reef, but this would be examined in due course. “I’m extremely relieved that every one of the nine crew members now are safe and that nobody is injured. That has always been our first priority since we first learned about the grounding.

“At the same time, I’m deeply saddened that this happened to Team Vestas Wind and Chris Nicholson and his team. It’s devastating for the team, for the race and for everyone involved. I really feel for Chris and the team right now and we will continue to support them all the way going forward.”

Morten Albaek, CEO of Vestas Wind Ocean Racing commented: “The safety and wellbeing of the crew has been our only concern during these difficult hours. We are extremely grateful to the team at Volvo Ocean Race and to Alvimedica for their support and outstanding professionalism during the rescue operations. The extent of the damage to the boat will be evaluated and dealt with from here on.”

This evening skipper Chris Nicholson, 45, spoke of his immense pride at the way his Team Vestas Wind crew came through the ordeal of being grounded and being forced to abandon their boat in complete darkness on the remote Indian Ocean reef.

“It’s the most beautiful night I’ve ever seen,” he said. “And last night was one of the worst nights that I have ever seen. We’re kind of literally shipwrecked It’s a unique experience going through it.”

He told how the boat had run into the reef at around 19 knots and yet astonishingly, none of the nine on board suffered even minor injuries. Nicholson was also amazed that the boat survived the impact without breaking up immediately.

He said his plan had been to keep the crew on board until daybreak, before being rescued, but had practised a drill for abandoning the boat 15-20 times, ‘never with the intention of having to do it', he explained.

However, the ‘massive pounding’ of the waves eventually had their effect and Nicholson decided he had no option but to abandon ship. He and his crew then waded across the reef in knee-deep water in their boots before finding a dry spot where they waited for a coastguard RIB to take them to Íle du Sud and safety.

Nicholson, said the spirit of his crew after such a blow had stunned him. “I always believed that we were a strong team. We made a mistake, which led to what happened last night, but I’ve been blown away by the way the guys dealt with the situation, trying to make things as right as possible today. They make me so proud.”

He now plans to meet up with shore crew chief Neil Cox (AUS) and assess the chances of salvaging the boat. “We have a pretty unique group of people to get as good an outcome as possible,” he said.



Latest Comments

  • Mats Ohlsson 06/12/2014 - 12:07

    You can actually see the beacon on the photo, slightly west and south of the middle of a line between Alvi Medical and Vestas, less than 2 miles from the wreck. It must have shown up on the Radar. A 50 metre alarm on the sounder should also have alerted the crew of the situation. I'm sorry but I do not agree this was just bad luck.

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