A job well done

Text by Jonno Turner
Christmas Eve in Abu Dhabi
Eyes on the prize
A job well done Text by Jonno Turner
“We said from day one that we would come back and clean up - and we did,” says Team Vestas Wind skipper Chris Nicholson.

He sounds overwhelmed, emotional and triumphant - and rightly so.

Today he stands, two feet planted on dry land in Mauritius, having done exactly what he set out to do.

It’s over three weeks since his team hit the rocks of the Cargados Carajos Shoals in the middle of the Indian Ocean, resulting in a moonlit evacuation onto life rafts.

But their escape from the damaged boat and back to shore was just the start of this adventure.

Since then, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster - and none more so than when the Aussie skipper returned to his stricken vessel this weekend, alongside old friend, and Team Vestas Wind shore manager, Neil ‘Coxy’ Cox.

"The plan to get it off went as smooth as could be."

“I wasn’t very comfortable, to be honest,” Nicholson admits, recounting the moment that the mast re-appeared on the horizon when he returned to the scene of the grounding.

“But it was really good to have done it, and gotten over with.” 

When the pair set out on their journey back to the site of the incident, they didn’t know for sure what they would find.

“Coxy had been talking with the salvage crew for a couple of weeks leading up to it, so there’d been a lot of thought and preparation gone into it,” explains Nicholson.

“Even though, I guess, they hadn’t seen the boat. But we had a lot of pictures, a lot of information, and the plan to get it off went as smooth as could be.

“The weather was good, the swell was the smallest that it had been for a long time."

But even so, due to the damage sustained to the boat, the operation was fragile and tricky.

“Obviously it was quite difficult to float the boat out seeing as so much of one side and the back was missing from the boat, but we had all the right people, and the longest part of the job was cutting the tail fin off - that took a day or so.”

Luckily, as the pictures sent back from the atoll show, the locals turned out in their droves to help.

“There was a lot of heavy lifting that they did, you know. We were using a lot of oxy bottles for cutting the fin, and scaffolding parts, and just general labour.

“It was great, everyone was chipping in and working hard.”

And although they would have jumped at the chance, due to a lack of space on the mother ship, it wasn’t possible for the rest of the crew to join their skipper and shore manager. 

“I’ve sent an email each day from the reef to the guys just with an update on where we’re at.” 

He continues. “This was really a job for salvage experts, and you can see that we made the right decision with them because of the time and the quality of the removal process.

“I’m sure that they everyone’s thinking about it and thinking about the project so that’s the main thing at the moment. We’re all going to be up in Abu Dhabi in a few days' time.”

It was always going to be a tricky and testing task – but for Nico, and the support network behind him, the importance of completing it was never in doubt.

"We got the boat off the reef in better condition than we thought."

“It’s the right thing to do,” he says, emphatically. 

“It was our doing that put us there in the first place, and you have to be responsible and clean up.

“It’s a beautiful place on the reef out there, and Vestas and Volvo were 100% behind cleaning up out there, and that was a real good part of the process I think.

“To go there and do everything we can to one, clean up, and two, give ourselves a chance to get back in the race.”

By no means does this mean that the future of the campaign is sorted, but the ever level-headed Nico believes that this is at least a massive step in the right direction.

“It’s the biggest thing for sure since we hit the reef - we got the boat off the reef in better condition than we thought we were going to.”

“We actually didn’t cause any more damage to the structure in getting the boat off, and you can see some of the components which could move across to a new or partially-new boat.”

“You can see some of the ingredients which are there to get back sailing again. But we need some more finite answers on the quality of the bow area and the deck of the boat before we can really make the right call.”

He continues. “You know, this was a big chapter, I guess, in the whole story. 

“To get it finished, finalised and remove everything. I was really glad we got it done.”