What Happened TeamVestas Wind?

Editor’s Note: John Fulweiler’s “Boating Barrister column titled ‘What Happened Team Vestas Wind?’ garnered a great deal of response last month and the grounding of the Volvo Ocean Race team is still a subject of much discussion.

From Cruising Log of the Murrelet

The saying that there are two kinds of sailors, those who have run aground and those who will run aground, is comforting to those recently grounded. But grounding rarely involves shipwreck and, with modern electronics and reporting, the chances of being unintentionally grounded, let alone shipwrecked, are minuscule. This means that investigators must diligently research the possibility that shipwrecking is a purposeful or negligent act.

There is also need to look holistically at the system under which the team operated. If the vessel is fully insured, then financial gain becomes a motive. It was very common around the 1900s for owners to cash in on shipwrecks. Typically the wreck involved a sailing vessel in commercial service and the wrecking benefitted owners in converting from sail to steam power. Sailboat sailors could not trust owners with their lives during these times. Rumors spread from crew to crew (scuttlebutt) regarding possible purposeful shipwrecking, served to alert all to the risks. The risks typically were not compensated for.

One way of assessing the risk was the presence of the owner. If the owner was on board, the risk was reduced. The owner of Vestas Wind was the Volvo Ocean Race organization and, at least in the US, it is hard to see how the wreck brought enough promotional (buzz) or other value to compensate for the disaster. A study of tweets and other communication world-wide might reduce insurance company pay out. Likely this is being done as there is promotional value in the increased attention given the race owing to the shipwreck.

The Captain, or his sponsor, leased the vessel. The team was organized to win a race. It is useful to provide the perspective of US sailors such as myself. We are all vulnerable from the rear.

US Sailors who cruise are different than those who just race. A US pure racing sailor views sailing as a competition between human athletes with the vessel being equipment. A US cruising sailor views the crew as components of the vessel required to make it seaworthy. These views have implications in crew selection and training. The former allows for selection of athletes who have no sailing experience (but are otherwise fit for a triathlon). These follow without knowledge necessary to form questions. Those who do not venture to ask questions are valued over those who do. Knowledge is shared on a need to know basis because there is concern that selected athletes may take knowledge to competitors. Knowledge of the racing rules isn’t desired because loyalty is valued above the competency gained from study of the rule books.

The athletes are replaceable – meaning they can be flicked off crews with no damage to the overall goal-which is to win. The later US Sailors, the ones who cruise, are different animals. They must seek knowledge, not just from rule books but from libraries and from scuttlebutt. They must question everything in order to gain competency and make the vessel seaworthy. This is because, on any given day, the least experienced among the crew may need to make a decision necessary for safe operation of the vessel. There may not be time to consult and if there is the captain may not have all the facts in which to make a good decision and those facts come from the knowledgeable. If a crew member is flicked off, there is damage to the overall goal which is seaworthiness.

The U.S. Perspective above appears to explain the Vestas Wind shipwreck. Briefly, the boat was crewed with “yes” men organized in a way where transparency was difficult. Imagine the curious team member, checking the work of the navigator. Would the member question the navigator or captain? Or would this result in the member being flicked from the team on the next leg? It is likely that the team member would not even seek to satisfy the curiosity.

What Can Be Learned

There are at least a few things to be done moving forward. The first is for Captains of race boats to apply the standard applied in the US which is to gather information from multiple sources. This could take the form of having others check the work, others including onboard crew, shore crew and race management.

Next, flicking team members off of crews between legs must be discouraged, because this promotes a gang yes man mentality and lack of transparency. But that will not fully make the race boat seaworthy.

Many do not know that the U.S. navy allows 19 year olds to operate huge war boats that must race across seas to perform their duties on a need to know basis. The U.S. Navy way of decision making is the way it should be in racing. ”

Frank Mighetto, via email

More on Vestas Wind

It is a case of situational awareness, and all of the questions [John Fulweiler] asked about paper charts, a co-pilot, a depth sounder, or perception of changing sea state are all part of maintaining situational awareness. The five crews who passed the shoal ahead of Team Vestas Wind were wary, and knew that it did not show up on vector charts without a big zoom. The causes of the TVW loss of situational awareness are a great place to start on lessons learned.

Peter Rugg, Fishers Island, NY

Observations at NSPS

About 300 sailors attended the National Sailing Programs Symposium (NSPS) in New Orleans in January. The three-day symposium was jam-packed with presentations, seminars, panels and most important, networking. Attendees were from Yacht Clubs, Community Sailing Programs, boat and equipment manufactures, and US Sailing, who organized the event.

Some of the presenters were from the Northeast, and from my perspective, a recurring theme at many of the sessions was how to keep junior sailors and women involved in sailing. The vast majority of the juniors enrolled in our programs, it turns out, are not interested in competitive sailing and we need to find other paths to keep them engaged and involved in our sport.

Ideas such as Adventure Sailing, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), destination sailing, windsurfing, stand-up-paddleboarding, and kayaking are all ways to keep juniors and women interested.

Paul Risseeuw, Ivoryton, CT

My Name is Luke

My Name is LukeI finally had a chance to pick up a copy of the Jan/Feb WindCheck and I can only say that I am eternally grateful for the review you wrote of My Name is Luke [January/February 2015; windcheckmagazine.com].

I haven’t staked the farm (if I had one) on the book’s acceptance, however, stringing a host of words together in hopes of giving diversion, entertainment, and fun to other people is an aim that appreciates appreciation.


Jim Ruddle, Rye, New York

Jim – We’d stake the farm (if we had one) that your book will be well received! We look forward to your next.