CYCA celebrating the 70th edition in 2014
From NYTimes by Christopher Clarey
It is not just the wind and the waves that can play nasty tricks on an ocean-racing yacht.
There is also what lies beneath.
latest reminder of this fact came earlier this month when the Volvo
Ocean Race entry Team Vestas Wind struck something in a remote stretch
of the Indian Ocean northeast of Mauritius.
assumed at that point we had hit a container or a whale, and in about
10 seconds or so there was all this crashing and grinding,” said Brian
Carlin, the crew’s on-board reporter.
fact, while moving at about 20 knots the boat had run aground on a
reef, allegedly as a result of a navigational error.
The incident left a
stranded, significantly damaged $6 million yacht and a crew of nine
badly shaken but ultimately very fortunate sailors who had to abandon
ship and await rescue.
The crew of Team Vestas Wind with their boat
after it ran into a coral reef near Mauritius in early December.
whales and giant sunfish to oil drums and plastic debris, numerous
possible hazards to the big ocean racers’ chances and safety abound
beneath the surface of the sea.
Brian Carlin/Team Vestas Wind/Volvo Ocean Race, via Getty Images
Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, which begins in Sydney Harbor as usual
on Dec. 26, will not travel through any part of the planet that is
nearly so isolated as that.
race is in its 70th year, and the knowledge and the charts of its route
But there are hazards below the surface all the same.
2012, a Reichel Pugh 51 named Secret Men’s Business hit what was
believed to be a whale.
The boat went from 20 knots to a dead stop in an
instant and it was flung on its side, with the mast nearly touching the
The bottom section of the rudder was sheared off, although the
crew did find a way to finish the race.
other types of vessels are also involved in whale or shark collisions,
according the International Whaling Commission.
In fact, according to
the commission’s data, the highest number of collisions come from
Overall, the commission reported, a quarter of
all recorded collisions lead to the death of the whale, and many result
the Hobart race, Slow-moving ocean sunfish, with an average adult
weight of about 1,000 kilograms, or 2,200 pounds, are another problem.
Although they spend much of their lives at considerable depth, the
sunfish sometimes bask near the surface, where they can be hard to spot
from a fast-moving ocean racer.
Richards, the skipper of the supermaxi Wild Oats XI, said the boat had
three separate collisions with sunfish in 2005, one of the years in
which it took Hobart line honors.
Other sailors have been forced to retire their yachts from the race after such collisions.
sunfish are a large threat because they don’t move, and they are so
huge that they always pose a risk,” said Sean Langman, a veteran
“With the climactic changes, we don’t seem to be
seeing as many as we used to, but they are still a threat.”
Langman added that a collision with a shark during the 1999 race sheered off a rudder.
Unlike with sunfish, he said that climate change appeared to have increased the threat posed by whales.
though we’re approaching our summer and most of the sea life has
migrated south, there were so many whales around Australia when I
brought the boat from Tasmania last month,” he said.
“So now other than
the sunfish and the sharks, you also have the added risk of whales.”
A severe storm disrupts the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and destroys several yachts.
Oxley, an Australian marine biologist and navigator, has been a regular
participant in the Hobart and is now the navigator for the Volvo Ocean
Race team Alvimedica.
Before the race began in October in Spain, he
sounded a cautionary note that proved prescient about coral reefs that
are “quite poorly charted.”
can’t really speak to what actually happened on board Vestas, but for
us, obviously this is a part of the ocean where there’s only been one
previous race, and so there is no history to refer to,” he said in a
telephone interview from Abu Dhabi last week.
“So in that respect, while
of course it is charted, it’s uncharted territory for a yacht race. We
were making sure we were going to avoid the shoals successfully when we
got the call that Vestas had actually hit it. It’s a terrible thing.
They were very lucky to get away without loss of life.”
Oxley, who has taken part in the last three Volvo Races and whose first
circumnavigation was in 2001, emphasized that the hazards now often are
found much closer to and are a result of civilization.
the Volvo Ocean Race spent the majority of time racing in very isolated
places, with albatrosses and icebergs,” he said.
“Now many of the areas
we’re going into, we are dealing with a lot more fishing nets and
flotsam from the human population. On the last leg, 44-gallon drums were
floating in the ocean — the standard gas drum that you find anywhere in
the world, but when you get out there, an industrial-sized drum, half
full of oil, can do massive damage to your boat.”
Near the coast of Oman, meanwhile, drift nets were a main concern.
you happen to be unlucky enough to encounter the middle of a net
without warning, then avoiding it may be impossible and apart from the
damage they can cause, you can easily get tangled up and have to send a
person into the water to clear yourself,” Oxley said.
“We ran into two
on this last leg and luckily for us the diameter of the rope on the
headline was small enough that the velocity and momentum of the boat
broke it. However, understandably, the fisherman in his small boat is
not happy about his net.”
do our very best to avoid them,” he added, “but at this scale of
fishing, the boats — and I use that term lightly — are very small and do
not show up on radar. They also do not tend to display navigation
lights. The first indication of them is a little hurricane lamp or torch
that comes on and starts flashing wildly, and we have no indication
from that light which direction we need to head to avoid the invisible
Follow seven international teams as they race 38,739 nautical miles
around the world in the 12th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.
being the foremost offshore sailing competition, the race reminds us
about the vastness of our Oceans and what it means to be a modern day
of the tools Oxley and Alvimedica have deployed is a night-vision scope
that allows them to look ahead and avoid obstacles.
But there is
clearly an element of luck involved.
2003, the French sailor Olivier de Kersauson and his crew, who were
participating in the round-the-world Jules Verne Trophy, said that a
giant squid had affixed itself to their yacht, bringing it to a halt in
the open ocean before the creature then released it.
Perpetual Loyal, Wild Oats XI and Comanche - SOLAS Big Boat Challenge 2014
whether we’re sailing big multihulls or these supermaxis going
incredibly fast speeds, you just go sort of on faith that the odds are
in your favor, and sleep with your feet facing forward,” said Peter
Isler, an American who is the navigator for the supermaxi Rio 100 in
you are racing to Hawaii or across the Irish Sea or down in the Bass
Strait, you are just going for it,” he added.
“It’s not like in the
Southern Ocean, where you are watching for icebergs on radar. There are
some things you can’t avoid in the ocean, and you just pray that you do.
It may not be the greatest thing to talk about for our sport, but the
sad truth is boats do run into stuff. In the last five years, we’ve hit a
couple of whales and a shark. It’s sad. These boats go so fast and
don’t make any noise. But the things you worry about the most are big,
means things like partially submerged containers that have fallen off
Or things like floating railroad ties or beams.
Or things like a
coral reef in the Indian Ocean in the middle of the night.
- GQ : The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: 10 things you need to know