Volvo Ocean Race’s ship-wrecked nine-man Team Vestas Wind crew finally made it back to civilisation on Wednesday, telling of their amazing escape from a collision with an Indian Ocean reef which grounded their boat.
The unshaven, exhausted team in the global ocean race were holed up, incommunicado, for three days in the remote archipelago after their boat ran into the reef on Saturday afternoon at 1510 UTC.
Chris Nicholson, their 45-year-old skipper from New South Wales, who was contesting his fourth edition of the nine-month Volvo Ocean Race until the accident at the weekend, said he was still piecing together his emotions after the crash.
“I’m really disappointed of course - on the other hand, we have to realise how fortunate we are for everyone to be here in one piece, and to be healthy. It’s pretty amazing, so there’s a lot of emotions at the moment,” he told volvooceanrace.com shortly after arriving at dockside in Mauritius.
“The past four days have been very challenging for all of us, and I am extremely proud of the whole crew’s professionalism, composure, and endurance. It’s clear that human error is responsible for the shipwreck, there’s no avoiding that. And as skipper, I take ultimate responsibility.”
They had smashed into the coral rock at 19 knots – the equivalent of 35 kilometres an hour – in the 65-foot Volvo Ocean 65 boat, span 180 degrees and crashed to a halt, grounded on the reef.
They remained on the reef until the small hours of the following morning, before abandoning the boat in pitch darkness and wading in knee deep water to a dry position on the reef, led by Nicholson.
A small boat from the local coastguard then took them early on Sunday to a small islet, Íle du Sud, which is known as a favourite with shark-watching holiday-makers.
The crew could have left the area on Tuesday but decided to stay an extra day to pick up key equipment from their battered boat.
Their blue vessel, caught underneath breaking waves, is badly damaged, but the crew decided to remain for an extra 24 hours to complete a clean-up operation around the area.
“The bad things had to come off,” said Nicholson, having just stepped off the local fishing boat, ‘The Eliza’, that transported the nine-strong crew back to the mainland.
“We had a clear list of removing that equipment, and once we had all those off the boat it came down to removing things that were expensive.
“We’ve done a really good job in clearing it all up.”
Experienced New Zealander sailor Rob Salthouse was also keen to focus on the positives. “It’s just good to be back on dry land,” he said.
“I think the team has grown strong with what we’ve been through.”
Danish sailor Peter Wibroe, white shirt stained yellow by sand, sweat and sea salt, was full of admiration for Nicholson.
“I must say that the team worked really well together, especially Nico, the skipper, who led the whole situation in a very professional way.
He continued: “We all felt extremely safe despite the situation. We were conscious about what was going on and we all had our responsibilities.
“We worked really well as a team, and that’s why we’re all here today.”
The team’s main sponsors, Vestas, a wind energy company, said they were now focused on returning to the race which will continue until the end of June 2015.
“Though we won’t be able to compete in the next leg from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China, we are considering all available options for re-joining the race at a later stage,” said Morten Albæk, Vestas’ chief marketing officer.
“We’ll learn more about the details of what happened exactly when we have a chance to properly debrief with the crew, which we expect to happen in Abu Dhabi over the weekend.”
A spokesman from fellow sponsor Powerhouse added: “We at Powerhouse are extremely relieved that no one was injured as a result of the incident.
“When we entered the Volvo Ocean Race with Team Vestas Wind we understood it would be life at the extreme.
“The team still faces many uncertainties, however, we are more than ever committed to support the team in this extremely challenging situation and help them to get back in the race. We are deeply involved, in successful times and in challenging times.”
For more information on the Volvo Ocean Race please visit: www.volvooceanrace.com