“The first priority for us now is the safety of the crew – that is the absolute number one priority,” says Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad.
Behind him, in Race Control, computer screens and communication systems blink and flash, and people move decisively around the room – the Crisis Management Team is, unfortunately, in full operation.
The Team Vestas Wind boat has been grounded on the Cargados Carajos Shoals, some 200nm northeast of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.
Fortunately, no one has been injured.
“They reported that they were stuck on the reef, they were all safe, all the crew were in good health, no one was injured, but they had broken both rudders on the boat,” adds Knut.
“We have also learned about some damage to the stern compartment which has had an ingress of water, and that’s the first information we had.”
As the information dripped through, the rest of the fleet was also informed, and the reaction – followed by relief – began to flood in.
“The good thing is that nobody’s injured – everybody’s safe,” says Roberto Bermudez de Castro, or ‘Chuny’, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
“And when I say ‘good thing’, I mean it’s incredible nobody’s injured, with the boat broken against land, enough to abandon it.”
Over on Dongfeng Race Team, bowman Kevin Escoffier was hit hard by the news.
“I’m sad,” he says. “I’m sad for them, and I’m just imagining the situation if I was in the same one on our boat. It’s very sad, very very sad.”
“It’s terrible for them, and terrible for the fleet and the race,” says skipper Charles Caudrelier.
“We are offshore in the middle of nowhere, and on the chart, if you don’t go on the maximum zoom you can’t see anything.”
“There are shallow spots, and plenty 200m deeper – I’m not surprised you can miss them,” he adds.
“When I was looking at the navigation a few days ago, checking these things, it took a long time for me to find them.”
All-female boat Team SCA was at the back of the fleet when they received an email to say that the incident had occurred.
“We’ve offered assistance and we’re awaiting news on whether they’d like our assistance, but we’ve also taken an even wider berth and getting ourselves ready to go round and keep going,” explains navigator Libby Greenhalgh, in the dark of the galley.
“I hope they’re all okay, I’m sure they are. I hope nobody got injured, but you don’t normally run aground at 15 knots so there could be a few bumps and bruises.”
Her team mate, Annie Lush, echoed those sentiments. “It’s really sad,” she said, having just woken up to the news.
“It’s quite scary for them now I’m sure and I just really hope that they can do this safely. It’s tricky, it’s quite a big sea, it’s dark, and Alvimedica have gone to help.”
In a slice of luck, Team Alvimedica weren’t too far from the Danish boat when it grounded – and Race Control was able to arrange for them to divert in support of Team Vestas Wind.
Skipper Charlie Enright was in a sombre mood as his orange boat anchored close to the incident.
“We’ve put ourselves near the reef in a place where we can communicate with them via VHF and we’re checking in with them on a regular schedule, monitoring their situation. We’re prepared to help in any way we can,” he says.
“We can’t see anything. It’s about 2 hours until sun rise. We can see that they have their liferafts deployed and we can see the light flashing but that’s about it.”
He continues. “Everyone is trying to keep their heads about them, we’re in the watch system still, it’s going to be a long night, and who knows what will come of it in the morning, so we’re trying to keep things as business as usual as we can.”
“We’ve taken some safety precautions and prepared the boat for potentially having some more people aboard for a while.”
So what next? Well, Knut adds, it’s complicated – but everything’s stable, and under control.
“I think the challenge with the current situation is that, first of all, it’s in a very remote part of the planet, far away from ships, ports and services,” he adds.
“The closest large civilisation is in Mauritius which is more than 200 nm from this location.”
“That complicates the situation. That said, we have a good weather forecast for the next 24 hours, the wind is no more than 10-12 knots and is dropping.”
He pauses. “However it’s obviously a complex and serious situation for Team Vestas Wind and for the race, and we’re monitoring it very carefully.”