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man on a mission

beyond the breakAs the Danish media throws some fairly nasty but mostly clueless questions around for Team Vestas Wind, the infamous navigator of the blue boat – Wouter Verbraak – has launched his all-new book about their wreck in the Indian Ocean.  

Wouter sent in this exclusive excerpt from his new book Beyond the Break for the Anarchists to peruse; we’re currently reading the full story for a review, but we can tell you right now that it is a gorgeously produced tome, including a very well-thought out selection of photos from a diverse group of VOR shooters.  Order your copy here (US) or here (NED) and have a look at a sample of the format here.

We asked Wouter why he wrote a book about something that anyone else would want to forget, and his answer introduces the excerpt.

Amongst the many comments and emails of support , I received the following advise from from a well-respected former top-executive in the Aerospace industry:

“In a crisis situations, the leader must stand up and set the tone. He should work along the thought process of We made some mistakes which we intend to share with others so that this situation is not repeated. Greatness is not gained by trying to avoid mistakes by not doing anything, but to learn and improve.”

To this end, I decided I wanted to make sure that both the story of our terrible night on the reef, the way we came through that night as a team, as well as the lessons learned should be shared. In doing so, I also wanted to take the opportunity to give an insight in my journey through professional ocean racing and share the lessons I picked up along the way.  My dream to become a ocean racing navigator started by reading a beautifully illustrated book about the Whitbread Race, in which Dutch navigator Marcel van Triest stood out by using the weather in a new way in strategy. Maybe this book might entertain and inspire that one 13 year old boy to follow his ocean racing dream? That would be amazing.

Chapter 1 – The Grounding

The sound of crashing carbon is deafening as it is amplified through the interior of the hull. I’m bolt upright in my bunk. Did we drop the rig? Did we hit a whale? I jump out of my bunk and see Salty in his underpants. The white of his eyes say it all. “There’s a rock!” I hear from on deck. I look at the little chart plotter in the navigation station. I can’t believe what I see. We are on a reef. A big wave lifts the boat up and we crash down violently.
Chris comes down and shouts. “Which way off Wouter?” “South-East, we need to get off to the SE.”

There is lots of water sloshing around in the back of the boat. We need to close the waterproof hatch I think. The boat is picked up again. I brace myself against the bulkhead and we land with another loud crash. Just getting to the water proof door is a challenge, but two smashes later, I manage to get hold of the hatch and pull it closed.

The motor is started and the noise is deafening as the guys on deck try to get off. Zooming in on the electronic charts on the laptop, I can see that we make no progress. We are being thrown backwards further onto the reef. “Reef? How can there be a reef?” We are in the middle of the ocean? How can we not have seen this?” No time for this, we need to get out of this. We need to call for help.

On deck I can hear the grinders going. “We are going to try and lift the boat over on the keel to get off.” I hear Chris say. The engine is revving wildly again as we try to cant the keel. No movement. We are stuck.

“Hello this is Race Control.” It is Dan. Thank God it is Dan. A familiar voice. Dan was with us at the Safety at Sea training in Newcastle. I have gotten to know him well over the last months. “Dan, it is Wouter from Vestas. We hit a reef.” Facts, facts, facts goes through my head. Only communicate facts. “Both rudders and the daggerboard are broken and there is water in the aft compartment. We closed the water tight hatch. We are unable to get off the reef.”
My heart is pounding. I need to take deep breaths, keep calm. A reef? How can there be a reef? Think.

The others in the fleet are miles away, and we need to get immediate assistance to get off. Where are we? Zooming in further all I can see is the green colour of a drying reef and some tiny islands. Who would be here? We are in the middle of nowhere. We have to give it a try. Mayday call. We need to make a Mayday call. Think again. MIPNANO. MIPNANO. That is it. I write the letters vertically down on the note pad. Mayday, Identification, Position, Nature of incident, Assistance required, Number of people on board, Over. I silently say my Thank you’s to the instructor at the VHF training.

I grab the VHF microphone. We get lifted up again. Hold on tight. Another crash and the cracking of carbon. This is not good. We are in serious trouble. Keep calm. Deep breath. Remember: Mayday Call, then Mayday message.
“Mayday Mayday Mayday, this is sailing yacht Vestas Wind, Vestas Wind, Vestas Wind.” OK, done. Another deep breath, now the Mayday message. Follow the letters. MIPNANO. “Mayday, this is Vestas Wind, SE part of reef on Cargados Carajos Shoals, grounded, 9 people on board, need immediate assistance , Over.”

I let go of the button. That was terrible. Absolutely terrible. I stumbled over my words and mixed up the message completely. Terrible. Will anybody answer? Please, please, let somebody answer.  I only once made a Mayday call before, and then there was no answer at all. Silence.

Focus. Deep breath. Try again. “Mayday Mayday Mayday, this is sailing yacht Vestas Wind, Vestas Wind, Vestas Wind. Mayday, this is sailing yacht Vestas Wind, we are on the SE part of reef on the Cargados Carajos Shoals in position  16 41.9 S 059 31.8 E, we are heavily grounded, we need immediate assistance to get towed off, 9 people on board, Over.” Will there be any answer this time?

“Sailing vessel Vestas Wind, this is fishing vessel Elisa.” A reply! We got a reply! A fishing boat surely is big enough to come and help us, tow us off, get us from this horrible reef. Get us safe.

I can feel my shoulders drop in relief, but that feeling evaporates as quickly as it arrived. The fishing boat says they can’t come until the morning. It is too dangerous. Not until the morning? It is pitch black. What is the time? More important what is the local time? When is sunrise? A few button pushes on the chart plotter show sunrise at 01:30 UTC. What is the time now? 15:43 UTC…That is long…twenty four minus fifteen is nine plus one is ten. Ten hours? Ten hours until they can come? Ten hours being smashed around on the rocks?

The boat is never going to hold.