Thoughts on Team Vestas grounding in the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race

Wouter's initial response:

We finally have means of communications again, so a message is highly overdue…

I am totally devastated and still in shock as the gravity of our grounding is slowly sinking in now that we are safely in Mauritius with finally some time to reflect on what happened.

We are very lucky that nobody was hurt, and a lot of that is credit to our teamwork in the seconds, minutes and hours after the crash.

I made a big mistake, but then we didn’t make any others even though there were many difficult decision to be made and the situation was very challenging and grave indeed.

Once I can get power to the boat’s laptops (if they survived) I can look further into how we didn’t see the reef on the electronic charts. I did check the area on the electronic chart before putting my head down for a rest after a very long day negotiating the tropical storm, and what I saw was depths of 42 and 80m indicated. There is a very good article posted here which highlights some of the zooming problem in the vectorised charts that we used.

I can assure you that before every leg we diligently look at our route before we leave and I use both Google Earth, paper charts and other tools. However, our planned route changed just before we left, and with the focus on the start and the tricky conditions, I erroneously thought I would have enough information with me to look at the changes in our route as we went along. I was wrong. I am not trying to make any excuses – just trying to offer up some form of explanation and answer to some of your questions.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this, which we hope will be able to relay in the time to come.

I am immensely grateful for all the support that we as a team, my family and myself have received from our wonderful friends, colleagues, family, Vestas, Powerhouse and Volvo. More over we are heavily in debt to the thorough support of Alvimedica throughout the first night, as well as the local fisherman and the coastguard of Ile du Sud in the atoll. So I want to thank everybody so very much. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I am forever in your debt.


Cut to the bone… any sailors worst nightmare.
I would put it down to inferior tools of the trade. Reliance on electronic charts brings with it an understanding of their shortcomings. Non navigate-able areas should be apparent on all zoom levels. Dah…
An indication that would incourage closer scrutiny. It is long overdue that the maritime authorities  draw up some guidelines.

This reef shows up on the chart on Virtual Race game, zoomed way out. This is not a game for a lot of people. Let's make sure they have the proper tools.

Navigators today are aware of the lack of detail and should scrutinize the area in their path. Not always an easy task in view of sudden unplanned course changes. Jibes and tacks means course alterations of 90° at any given time. A very difficult task trying to foresee your path at max zoom.
Routines on board should include the skipper in the task of navigation in the traditional sense seeing that the job of the "navigator" is often saturated with tactics involving other boats and weather routing. A task which often leaves them dazed, blind and exhausted.
Watch captains should visit the nav station before their watch for an overview of their situation ahead. In a perfect world this reef should have been spotted. In a perfect world non navigate-able areas should be apparent on lower zoom levels.
This fact has been the frustration of all who use electronic charts as a tool. About time for the industry to address the issue, and do something about it.

Shit happens.. in this case it couldn't have happened to a nicer more competent guy. In the spirit of his response, I hope lessons will be learned on all (zoom) levels.

He might have to get used to being referred to as Wouter Zoom Zoom Verbraak from now on.