Vestas 11th Hour Racing Collision Results in Fisherman Fatality

Vestas 11th Hour Racing motoring into Hong Kong after the collision.

In a tragic sequence of events Friday, the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) entry Vestas 11th Hour Racing collided with a fishing boat about 30 miles from the finish in Hong Kong, east of Waglan Island. The fishermen were pulled from the water, apparently by the crew of Vestas. Nine fishermen were rescued and one died of his injuries.

Vestas skipper Charlie Enright was not onboard, handing the reigns over to his longtime sailing partner Mark Towill while he had some pressing issues ashore. 

Vestas was reaching along at about 20 knots at about 2 a.m. local time, in a strong second place for the leg. Details are unknown and will likely remain so as an investigation is conducted. Vestas motored in to Hong Kong with the boat heeled to starboard apparently to keep the holed port bow out of the water.

Little is known and not much is forthcoming from VOR headquarters. In fact, while the online sailing community scoured the world’s servers for information, the VOR media team virtually ignored the calamity on air while it was happening.

While explaining the situation to my favorite newbie sailor (my wife Abby) I heard myself saying that flying into crowded waters at 20 knots at night is just not seamanlike. It’s not. If a vessel is dimly or not lighted, there’s not much time to react at 20 knots. Radar cannot easily pick up some low-slung vessels and AIS is not universally used. When you think about it, for the unsuspecting fisherman even trying to avoid a Volvo 65 flying at 20 knots isn’t at all easy. Without a doubt, these Volvo crews are the world’s greatest offshore sailors. But they can’t be expected to be the most seamanlike when racing into crowded waters at night on a boat capable of those speeds and so much at stake.

One thing about our sport is that no matter how risky we make it, we’re generally only endangering ourselves. The fact that a mariner not competing in the sport died is simply tragic. I’m sure the crews of all the boats, and especially Vestas, are devastated.

Ironically, it was Vestas Wind (crewed by a completely different team) that ran up on the rocks Cargados Carajos Shoals near Mauritius in the last Volvo Race.

I’ll spend way too much time trying to figure out what went on out there, and present it here when significant new confirmed information becomes available.

The rest of the boats finished in this order: Scallywag, Dong Feng, Akzonobel, Mapfre, Team Brunel and Turn the Tide on Plastic.

 

 

 

Kurt grew up racing and cruising in the Midwest, and has raced Lasers since the late 1970s. He has been Assistant Editor at Sailing Magazine and a short stint as Editor of Northwest Yachting. Through Meadow Point Publishing he handles various marketing duties for smaller local companies. He currently is partners on a C&C 36 which he cruises throughout the Northwest. He's married to the amazing Abby and is father to Ian and Gabe.

9 thoughts on “Vestas 11th Hour Racing Collision Results in Fisherman Fatality

  • January 20, 2018 at 10:03 am
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    Hmmmh, the question here is if the vessel had the needed lights on. Possibly it was not seen in AIS, because the navigators would have recognized the vessel. However AIS is no must. Sure it is difficult to identify the lights of small boats in front of this light rich city in the back when you run in a competition and with high speed and at night and other circumstances. If you have no sight, one must drop speed. Difficult in such a all or nothing competition.

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    • January 20, 2018 at 10:57 am
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      They were 30 miles out so I’m not sure there was a background light problem. Hopefully at some point we’ll know the whole story and be able to learn some lessons. At the very least we’re all reminded that you can’t be too careful out there. Seamanship is part of sailing and racing, and even with all the carbon fiber, electronics and planing speeds, that does not change – for any of us.

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  • January 20, 2018 at 1:26 pm
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    Fishing boats often turn off their lights to hide from rival fishermen. That said, VOR65 is not a small boat and would have been visible to the fishermen. While with limited manouvreability when engaged in fishing getting out of the way is not the only option to avoid a collision – a simple call on VHF (which IS mandatory, unlike AIS) or a flare could have saved the day. In a nutshell unless there is evidence to the contrary the fishing boat has not demonstrated any seamanship. Additionally 20-25 knots is not an unusual speed at sea even if not racing. This is often the cruising speed of big ships. Therefore the argument for “reckless” driving does not seem to be well substantiated. VOR boats are so closely monitored so it would be surprising not to have footage of the accident. Let’s hope the truth will be revealed. In any case “unseamanlike” is the one thing VOR sailors can hardly be called.

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    • January 20, 2018 at 3:23 pm
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      Thanks, VG. I’m being careful not to call them unseamanlike, as I have the utmost respect for the VOR guys and gals. I’m referring to all of us when I say that this is a reminder that we always have to be vigilant, always. It’s easy to get complacent. I doubt anyone was reckless. But I think all of us have had (or witnessed) an experience where more caution was called for. I certainly can recall some wakeup calls that could have turned out a lot worse.

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      • January 21, 2018 at 8:29 am
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        It’s pretty clear from the tracker screen shot exactly where the collision took place. 21 miles from the nearest land, 23 miles from Waglan Island. Lights on shore would not have been much of a factor. But I’ve sailed in those waters, and at night. 20 knots of breeze, maybe foggy or hazy, small fishing boats often poorly lit; extremely dangerous. You can see from the damage that it probably was not a big, high sided, vessel that they hit, and the fact that it subsequently sunk; probably was a small vessel. The fishing boat would not have had AIS, and Vestas would have come onto them very quickly, not in time for either boat to react. I don’t see any indication of poor seamanship on the part of the fishing boat, and if they were sitting still, the required lights aren’t much to see anyhow. On the other hand we all know what the visibility is looking forward on a Volvo boat running 20+ knots, but would we really expect any of these racing crews to slow down to six knots, possibly a safe speed, in a race? So in my opinion it is the fault of the Organizers to put this race into these crowded waters, and I am not the first person to note that the poor visibility with heavy water constantly cascading over the deck presents an significant risk. add the designers to the factor.”

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        • January 21, 2018 at 12:38 pm
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          Thanks, Fred. For those of you unfamiliar with Fred, he’s one of the Pacific Northwest sailors “out there” in the cruising world. He lived aboard and raced Puget Sound for many years, then he and wife Judy left in the mid ’90s with their Serendipity 43 Wings and have be cruising ever since. I often come across his writing in magazines and online. Having made his own landfalls all over the world, and raced in many crowded places, Fred’s speculation and opinion is to be respected. Learn more about Fred and Judy here.

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  • January 26, 2018 at 9:29 pm
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    While slowing right down seems a reasonable solution after a horrible accident such as this , it seems the reality of actually expecting a team would do this is unreasonable. How far out should they “shut down”and how would they actually do it? They had been gybing though islands for a few days, one suspects there are boats of all sorts around all of those islands. On a tp 52 teaching in 20-25 knots you go 13 plus knots with just the mainsail up. I would expect a Volvo 65 would be quicker still. Putting a person or two on the bow “on watch” means there are two people sailing the boat?? The elapsed time is taken and may be used in the end to determine overall placing. It is horrible for all involved without question but I suspect it may be slightly less obvious the “correct” fix

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    • January 26, 2018 at 10:04 pm
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      Agreed, Jason. People I respect differ on what to do, if anything.

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