On their way back

Text by Jon Bramley
Vestas from the air
New extremes
On their way back Text by Jon Bramley
Chris Nicholson’s stranded Team Vestas Wind crew are finally on their way back to civilisation.

They're transiting now to the Mauritius Island, after two days sitting on a remote “sand pit” in the Indian Ocean where there was a risk of shark encounters.

The team dramatically grounded their boat after ploughing into a reef on St Brandon archipelago on Saturday at 19 knots and were forced to abandon it in the early hours of the following day, before wading through knee-deep water to a dry position.

They were then picked up by a coastguard boat from the nearly Íle du Sud, a near deserted islet with no communications with the outside world.

The islet is serviced weekly by a 20-metre fishing vessel, called Eliza, from Mauritius, which is some 430 kilometres away to the south-west.

A trip to the holiday island takes more than a day to complete.

Australian skipper Nicholson’s nine-strong team finally are on their way after taking the ‘Eliza’ on Tuesday. From there, they plan to fly to Abu Dhabi at the end of the week.

“We’ve had nine guys sitting on a sand pit in the middle of the Indian Ocean,” said Neil Cox, the team’s shore crew chief. 

“You’d think it’s a bad movie. 

“You sit there and talk to the coast guard 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.

“They’re telling me about a fisherman they found out there who’d been basically mauled by a barracuda and there was barely much of him to deal with.”

“You’re sitting there, going, yeah, well, next time I talk to Nico I might remind him that if they are wading out there in the reef, keep their eyes open.”

The team will arrive in Mauritius mid-morning on Wednesday with literally the clothes they have on their backs, Cox said.

“We want to make sure that even the simple things are covered; a clean T-shirt, undies, a toothbrush, a bit of food,” he said.

“The coast guard here did a flyover yesterday and they parachuted in cans of Coke and chocolate and cookies.”

“I don’t think people can totally appreciate how remote this place is. We saw there’s a coast guard out there; it’s literally a tool shed in someone’s backyard.”

The boat is being stripped of key kit and Cox is still working out how it can be retrieved.

He paid tribute to the crew for keeping their cool and professionalism after such a stunning collision on Leg 2.

“Their procedure, everything was as professional and as good as it could be - you couldn’t ask for more.”

Nicholson is a twice-Olympian who is one of the most experienced offshore sailors in the world.

He said that a ‘mistake’ had been responsible for the collision with the reef but did not elaborate.

The team plans to make a full statement on the facts later this week.