Team Vestas Wind’s salvage operation is out on the low seas in Volvo Ocean Race

Focus is now on the environmental effect and wreckage removal while Team Vestas Wind hope to return to the around-the-world sailing race soon, writes Osman Samiuddin.
The crew of Team Vestas Wind wave to a plane after it dropped off supplies on Ile Du Sud, Mauritius, following the grounding of their boat on a nearby reef. The accident ended the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race for the crew, who are optimistic that they can return. Courtesy VOR
The crew of Team Vestas Wind wave to a plane after it dropped off supplies on Ile Du Sud, Mauritius, following the grounding of their boat on a nearby reef. The accident ended the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race for the crew, who are optimistic that they can return. Courtesy VOR

Team Vestas Wind will have to overcome monumental challenges to continue their participation in this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) after team officials conceded on Monday that their boat is irreparably damaged.

The team crashed into a reef near Mauritius nine days ago, ending their participation in the current leg and, at the least, the next one.

The priority in the aftermath of one of the more dramatic VOR accidents is on removing the wreckage of the boat at minimum cost to the environment.

Click here for all the latest news from the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race

Talks have begun between the team, VOR and sponsors as to whether a new boat can be built in time to rejoin the race.

Given that it takes between seven and nine months to build a boat from scratch, though some parts are available, a return appears a long shot, if not impossible.

The race is already nearing the end of the second leg and concludes in six months.

“Of course, the short-term consequence is we will not be able to participate in the next leg,” team chief executive Morten Albaek said. “But it is the ambition to get Team Vestas Wind out sailing again. We will do everything in our means to make that happen.

“That said, the assessment is that the boat cannot be repaired. Therefore, one option we are looking into is building a new boat, and whether that can be done and in the time that is meaningful for the team and Vestas to re-enter. We are working closely with VOR on exploring that, but we don’t have any detailed plans.”

As Knut Frostad, the race chief, underlined later, getting a new boat will be a big obstacle. “I don’t want anybody to have expectations that it will easily happen. That is an enormous challenge.”

An announcement on the nature of any future participation is expected before the start of the next leg, from Abu Dhabi to China, on January 3.

The focus remains on the crew’s remarkable escape, unharmed, from a disastrous accident as well as getting to the bottom of what happened.

While VOR competitors have made conciliatory remarks about the trickiness of negotiating that stretch of sea, much of the sailing world is clear that the accident should not have occurred with professional sailors aboard.

The scrutiny has centred on Australian skipper Chris Nicholson, a veteran of four VOR races, and Dutch navigator Wouter Verbraak, who was competing in his third iteration of the event. Yesterday, the team acknowledged that Verbraak failed to sufficiently examine the electronic charts of the area into which they were sailing.

The pair discussed the route beforehand and noticed they would come across sea mounts, or underwater mountains. Nicholson was told by Verbraak that the depths of the sea mount, varying from 40 metres to 3,000m, were safe to cross.

“In hindsight, we should have continued to zoom in on the area much more on the electronic chart,” Verbraak said, calling it his worst moment in sailing. “Not doing so was the big mistake I made.”

The error was made, Verbraak said, because the boat had already crossed sea mounts earlier, during a tropical storm.

“We had passed during the day over several other sea mounts in severe conditions with the tropical storm,” he said.

“The waves were very big at the centre of the storm, but we passed over without any problem. The weather and wave conditions were forecasted to diminish and, as such, at depths of 40 metres, we thought we could safely pass over.”

In a statement released a few days ago, Verbraak also hinted at fatigue after a long day battling the storm, having headed for a rest after checking the electronic chart.

Albaek did not go into detail about what, if any, professional reverberations might transpire for the crew. Debriefings are continuing, but he made it clear that Nicholson’s job was safe.

“What I can say loud and clear is if Team Vestas does sail again, it will be with Chris as skipper,” he said. “I trust him as much now as I did before.”

However, Verbraak’s name was conspicuous by its absence in that endorsement.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 8, 2014 04:00 AM

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