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Volvo Ocean Race- Navigator comments on error aboard Team Vestas Wind

by Richard Gladwell, on 6 Dec 2014
Team Vestas Wind's navigator Wouter Verbraak appears to have 'fessed up to the error which put the Volvo Ocean Racer on a collision course with Cargados Carajos Shoals, some 200 miles north-east of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean

Writing on his Facebook page, in an entry since removed, Verbraak commented:

We finally have means of communications again, so a message is highly over due….

I am totally devastated and still in shock as the gravity of our grounding is slowly sinking in now that we are safely in Mauritius with finally some time to reflect on what happened.

We are very lucky that nobody was hurt, and a lot of that is credit to our team work in the seconds, minutes and hours after the crash.

I made a big mistake, but then we didn’t make any others even though there were many difficult decision to be made and the situation was very challenging and grave indeed.

Once I can get power to the boats laptops (if they survived) I can look further into how we didn’t see the reef on the electronic charts. I did check the area on the electronic chart before putting my head down for a rest after a very long day negotiating the tropical storm and what I saw was depths of 42 and 80m indicated. There is a very good article posted on

I can assure you that before every leg we diligently look at our route before we leave and I use both Google Earth, paper charts and other tools. However, our planned route changed just before we left, and with the focus on the start and the tricky conditions, I erroneously thought I would have enough information with me to look at the changes in our route as we went along. I was wrong. I am not trying to make any excuses – just trying to offer up some form of explanation and answer to some of your questions.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this, which we hope will be able to relay in the time to come.

I am immensely grateful for all the support that we as a team, my family and myself have received from our wonderful friends, colleagues, family, Vestas, Powerhouse and Volvo. More over we are heavily in debt to the thorough support of Alvimedica throughout the first night, as well as the local fisherman and the coastguard of Ile du Sud in the atoll. So I want to thank everybody so very much. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I am forever in your debt.


The two graphics above, with the top one being a very low level level view of some of the tracks is taken from Vestas Winds position at 21400UTC, the lower one is a higher level view showing all boat tracks and going back one or two sked reports. Her previous position was at 1240hrs UTC when she was sailing in 18kts of breeze. The times of the positions for other boats also vary, but the tracks, such as they represent a course are accurate.

The lower one shows that Vestas Wind was initially on a course to pass to the east of the atoll, but there was an alteration caused by a course change or currents, which swept her onto a collision course with the atoll group.

Note that the course lines are just joining up the position dots, and do not reflect the actual course sailed between the skeds.

Further it should be noted that beyond the Cargados Carajos Shoals which Vestas Wind hit, the area is riddled with atolls and shoal water, raising the question as to whether a waypoint, or Shoal Gate (similar to the Ice Gates) should have been inserted into the leg to keep boats away from the danger of sailing through low lying islands and shoals at night, placing a very heavy reliance on electronic systems.

The leg was already substantially altered to route the fleet clear of pirates, and may have put them on course for another hazard.

In a video released today by Volvo Ocean Race it is clear that the crew were aware they were sailing in shoal water.

Skipper Chris Nicholson was on deck and keeping watch in the cockpit. He calls 'We're going over some shoals right now. 40 metres deep.'

There's a call from another crew member: 'You can see the line here.'

There is no further comment fpr another 30 seconds, although it is obvious the crew are keeping a very sharp look out. Then there are the typical sequences associated with hitting a reef at speed in a yacht. Unfortunately with the canting keel to windward it is not possible to spin the boat into deeper water and with the engine get off the reef that way.

Just prior to the sequence there is a further comment possibly about current being visible - even in the dark water, then there is a video edit and the 30 second sequence above starts.

The statement by the navigator, answers the obvious conclusion drawn by many over the incident - which will raise further questions about the reliance on electronic navigations systems and the underlying assumptions involved in the use of such systems.

Also the merits of racing short-crewed in this size of yacht to reduce costs, with the accompanying strain on the navigator and skipper. Late entries such as Team Vestas Wind, only had the minimum build-up to the race - maybe not giving sufficient time to shake down systems and crew processes.

Late course changes by organisers are also an issue, and while longer established teams may be able to cope with their preparation ashore - it may well be that Team Vestas Wind had a significant work-list in Cape Town, and the significance of the changes, as noted above got left for a later time.

It was significant that in course plots taken immediately after the incident, that the other Volvo Ocean Race competitors had taken a course to pass well to the west of the atoll, while Vestas was either headed for the obstruction or to pass the other side.

The incident has a number of parallels with the fate of another Round the World racer, Heaths Condor, or Condor of Bermuda, which struck the atoll of Tetiaroa near Tahiti in July 1980. The wooden maxi yacht was later salvaged by a team lead by Peter Blake, and was repaired after being high and dry on the coral reef.

There is no further word on the team's plans to salvage the boat or re-enter the race.

Very reputable boat-building sources spoken to by Sail-World, yesterday indicated that the repair job could not be properly completed in time to restart in Leg 5, from Auckland, and that it would be dangerous to head into the Southern Ocean under those circumstances anyway. Most likely option is the boat is to be repaired is for her to go to Europe, be fitted with a new stern section made in the original mould, and then rejoin for Leg 6 from South America.

That advice was predicated on a stern section only being required to be made and fitted (not an unusual boat building task). However the whole boat would have to be rewired to take account of the water damage. Further if the boat had suffered damage to hull structures around the keel, then the situation was probably terminal.

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