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.