03 December 2014: The Volvo Ocean Race crew forced to abandon their boat after ploughing into a reef in the Indian Ocean are finally on their way back to civilisation after two days stranded on a remote strip of sand at risk of encountering sharks.
Team Vestas Wind grounded their Volvo Ocean 65 on St Brandon archipelago on Saturday and were rescued by a coastguard boat from the nearby Íle du Sud, an almost deserted islet with virtually no communications with the outside world.
The islet is serviced weekly by a fishing vessel from Mauritius, which is some 430 km (267 miles) away – a 20-hour trip. Australian skipper Chris Nicholson’s nine-strong team were picked up by the supply boat yesterday and plan to fly to Abu Dhabi at the end of the week.
In the meantime Inmarsat, the official Satellite Communications Partner for the Volvo Ocean Race, has despatched three additional IsatPhone 2 satellite phones and a Cobham SATCOM EXPLORER 710 BGAN HDR terminal to make it easier for the crew to keep in touch with their worried families back home.
The Team Vestas Wind boat was badly damaged when it hit the reef on Saturday but the crew clung on for eight hours before making the tough decision to evacuate.
“I can’t begin to describe how hard it was literally just to hang on,” Chris told Mark Covell from Volvo Ocean Race Control in a call on the Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 satellite phone that was packed in the boat’s life raft.
Speaking from the isolated islet the day after the accident, he said: “We’ve been making lots of calls on the satphone through one of the most beautiful nights I think I’ve ever seen – and last night was one of the worst nights I’ve ever seen.”
Neil Cox, the team’s shore crew chief who has travelled to Mauritius to meet them and organise the salvage operation, told Volvo Ocean Race organisers: “We’ve had nine guys sitting on a sand pit in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
“You’d think it’s a bad movie. You sit there and talk to the coastguard and they’re telling us about everything we’re dealing with on the technical side, then they’re asking me to warn the guys that the reef is riddled full of sharks and barracuda and God knows what else.”
He added: “The coastguard did a flyover yesterday and they parachuted in cans of Coke, chocolate and cookies. I don’t think people can totally appreciate how remote this place is.”
Neil paid tribute to the crew for keeping their cool after such a devastating collision, which happened during the second leg of the nine-month, round-the-world race. Chris Nicholson, one of the most experienced off-shore sailors in the world, has said that a ‘mistake’ was responsible but has not elaborated. The team plans to make a full statement later this week.
All the key kit, including the Inmarsat FleetBroadband 250, FleetBroadband 500 and Inmarsat C safety communications equipment, has been taken off the boat but it has not yet been decided how to recover the stricken vessel.
“We’ve got the satphone there, that’s our main source of communications as there’s obviously no communication left on the boat. But the reality of it is that it’s been amazing what we’ve been able to deal with, with such small resources in such a short period of time,” Neil said.
Volvo Ocean Race: www.inmarsat.com/vor