Australian skipper, Chris Nicholson, spoke on Sunday night 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 a remote Indian Ocean reef.
Nicholson, 45, said he had to make 'the number one toughest decision of my life' to leave the stricken Volvo Ocean 65 in the small hours of the morning after it was effectively beached on the reef on an archipelago of islands called St. Brandon, 430 north-east kilometres from Mauritius.
He was interviewed by volvooceanrace.com on Sunday night as he surveyed the idyllic, but remote, island of Íle du Sud, where he was transported with the rest of his crew to safety as day broke following a night of drama.
“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.”
Nicholson, from Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, continued: “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 told and Nicholson decided he had no option but to abandon ship, the most dreaded words a skipper can utter.
He and his crew then waded across the reef in knee-deep water in their boots before finding a mercifully dry spot where they waited for a coastguard RIB to take them to Íle du Sud and safety.
Nicholson, who at times struggled with his emotions during the 20-minute long interview, 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.
For more information on the Volvo Ocean Race please visit: www.volvooceanrace.com