ALICANTE, Spain, December 22 – Team Vestas Wind’s stranded Volvo Ocean 65 boat has been retrieved from a remote reef in the Indian Ocean and on Monday was heading on a round-trip via Mauritius and Malaysia back to Europe.
After three days’ planning, the Volvo Ocean Race boat was gingerly floated clear of the reef in St Brandon on Sunday evening, where it had laid since November 29, and on to a nearby lagoon.
© Shane Smart/Volvo Ocean Race
From there it was lifted on to a waiting Maersk Line ship to complete the delicate first stage of an operation, which could yet see the boat being reconstructed.
The shore manager of Team Vestas Wind, Neil Cox, and the boat’s skipper, Chris Nicholson (AUS), oversaw the complicated process of extracting it from the rock where it was trapped.
Nicholson had led his crew to safety just over three weeks ago after the boat ran aground on the reef, 430 kilometres from Mauritius, at around 19 knots (35 kph), in the middle of Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Volvo Ocean Race COO Tom Touber explained that the retrieval was achieved thanks to meticulous planning beforehand in which several scenarios were explored with a detailed plan of action for each.
“Our preferred plan – to rescue the boat as intact as possible – worked out,” he said.
He paid tribute to the race’s shipping partners, Maersk Line, and their retrieval company, Svitzer, which had played a large role in the operation. “We have had awesome co-operation,” he said. “They were a dream to work with.”
Touber continued: “For both ourselves and the sponsors of the boat – Vestas and (sub-sponsors) Powerhouse – it was also completely key that we made sure that the environment in this beautiful part of the world was looked after too.”
Team Vestas Wind CEO and Vestas Chief Marketing Officer, Morten Albæk, added his voice to the praise for Maersk and the residents of the island who assisted with the retrieval.
“We have been in contact with the shore manager of Team Vestas Wind, Neil Cox, throughout and were so relieved to hear that the operation to lift the boat intact on to the ship was a complete success thanks to great teamwork involving Maersk, our team, Volvo Ocean Race and the local people.
“For us, the environmental side of this project was a key objective. It’s mission accomplished.
"We'll make an announcement on the outlook regarding a potential return to the 2014-15 race before the start of Leg 3 (January 3).”
Cox added: “We had to bounce slightly and re-invent the wheel, we just needed to be very careful and just make sure that we finished the job swiftly.”
It was a job which was always going to be fraught with difficulty – but even more so after three days of working around the clock to clear the area and ensure the structural integrity of the boat.
“We've been really lucky that from the minute the incident happened, we've developed a relationship with the guys who actually live on the island here,” he said.
“We've employed the workforce that already exists out here, and without it we couldn’t have done the job, full stop. There's probably a work force of 10 guys.
“They've been standing knee deep in water with waves hitting them all day, they've been carrying oxygen bottles for us to be able to cut the keel off, they've been helping us re-anchor the boat otherwise things would start moving across the reef.”
Cox was cautious about over-promising on next steps – the boat will be checked out more fully in Malaysia before heading to Europe, possibly Italy, for a rebuild.
“A week ago the light at the end of the tunnel was getting smaller and smaller, but what we’ve been able to retrieve off the reef is substantial.”
He added: “I'm not going to say it's great by any means, but it's the first stepping stone, and it's enough to shine a light and to work hard to put things back into place. “