Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS) shore crew chief, Neil Cox, breathed a huge sigh of relief as his boat was successfully returned to the water this weekend for its first sail since grounding on a reef in the Indian Ocean back in November.
“It’s no longer a boat-building race,” he said, sporting the biggest smile in Lisbon. “We’re back in a boat race.”
The battle to return Vestas Wind to the Volvo Ocean Race has been one of the most absorbing stories of the entire nine-month marathon event – and one of the most remarkable in its 41-year history.
After crashing on to a reef near the Cargados Carajos Shoals on November 29 during Leg 2 and damaging huge sections of the hull, many observers expected the team to call quits there and then on the campaign.
But the Danish-based, global wind energy company Vestas, and their backers including Powerhouse, were determined to salvage what they could and then set a highly ambitious target of returning to offshore sailing’s most prestigious event for Legs 8 and 9.
That involved two huge hurdles: recovering the boat as intact as possible from the reef where it grounded, and rebuilding the shattered Volvo Ocean 65 in four months, half the time it normally takes to construct the one-design vessel.
— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) May 30, 2015
Part one of ‘Mission Nearly Impossible’ was successfully completed when the Vestas Wind made a moonlit arrival in the Portuguese capital midweek.
Cox, skipper Chris Nicholson, and the rest of the Team Vestas Wind crew had the answer they wanted in the kind of testing conditions they will face during Leg 8 from Lisbon to Lorient, France: 25 knots of breeze with the boat’s canting keel bulb almost lifted out of the water.
“It’s certainly been the hardest thing I’ve had to do. It’s a collective effort, no one person could have done it. On a personal level, I’d say it’s the biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome.”
Cox and the rest of the team have paid fulsome tribute to the workers of the Italian boatyard of Persico, who toiled night and day to return the Vestas Wind to join the other six boats on the Lisbon start line.
Next Saturday (June 6), Team Vestas Wind will join the competition once more with the Lisbon In-Port Race, before taking on the 647-nautical mile Leg 8 to Lorient the following day.
“The night of June 7 when the guys go offshore will be quite a moment,” grinned Cox, with typical Aussie under-statement.
Nine years after his boat sunk at the same stage and a competing team rescued his crew, Dutchman Bouwe Bekking emerged triumphant yesterday when Team Brunel won the transatlantic seventh leg in the Volvo Ocean Race.
His Team Brunel challengers edged out Spanish rivals MAPFRE by just 22 minutes after nine days and 11 hours at sea, having set out from Newport, Rhode Island for the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, 2,800 nautical miles away.
The result offers a slim chance that Bekking, 51, could win the race at the seventh time of asking after first contesting it in 1985-86.
Team Brunel now lie six points behind overall race leaders, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, who could only finish fifth in the stage, with two legs to sail.
The near flawless performance will also help Bekking forget the day in May 2006 when he was forced to order the abandonment of his boat, Movistar, in that year’s race after it started taking on water.
— BrunelSailing (@brunelsailing) May 27, 2015
Movistar eventually sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic never to be recovered and a rival team, ABN AMRO TWO, rescued Bekking’s shaken crew.
Bekking was understandably more focused on the here and now at dawn on Wednesday after he and his veteran Australian navigator, Andrew Cape, steered Team Brunel to their second leg triumph of this 12th edition of the 41-year-old off-shore event. They also won leg two from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi.
“We sailed a tremendous leg but just at the end when there was no wind, it was getting a bit gnarly,” Bekking said. “However, we pulled it off.”
Behind the leading two, Dongfeng Race Team (China) lost out in an even closer battle for third spot with Team Alvimedica (Turkey/ USA) by 55 seconds.
Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS) was restored to the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, nearly six months to the day when the boat ran aground, setting off a story of team-work, determination and sheer hard work to return the crew to the start line in Lisbon.
Many experienced observers of the 41-year-old race had feared there was no way back for the Danish team in the race’s 12th edition when the Vestas Wind ran aground on the Cargados Carajos shoals in the Indian Ocean during Leg 2 on November 29.
But the doubters would have underestimated the combined efforts of an expert team assembled by Vestas and race organisers, who have managed to rebuild the shattered Volvo Ocean 65 boat to the strict one-design demands of the race in four months – half the time it would normally take to build the boat.
Final preparations, including the reassembly of the keel and rig, are now underway. The team is preparing to return to the water for the first time on Saturday ahead of the long weekend of racing (June 4-7), which includes the Lisbon In-Port Race on June 6 and Leg 8 departure for Lorient, France, the following day.
“We’ve been waiting for this day to arrive for some time. It’s a testament to all involved in the rebuild to have the boat and team almost back in race mode,” said Team Vestas Wind’s Australian skipper, Chris Nicholson.
“It’s a true story of coming together to make things work, and we’re all motivated and in good shape to get back out on the water and finish what we started. These extra days’ preparations will help us become as competitive as we can be for the in-port and final legs of the Race.”
Commercial Director of Team Vestas Wind and Vice President of Global Marketing at Vestas, Mirella Vitale, added: “It’s a great achievement for Vestas and Team Vestas Wind to be where we are today.
— Sara Hastreiter (@SaraSailingUSA) December 5, 2014
“We’ve lived a different race than we originally envisioned, but we knew that our story could not end on that reef. We thank our fellow teams for their generosity and sportsmanship by providing seats for our guests on their boats while our boat was being repaired.“
Knut Frostad, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, applauded all the combined efforts that have ensured Team Vestas Wind are back in business for the final legs to Lorient and then to Gothenburg, via a pit-stop in The Hague.
“It has been an incredible display of teamwork to return Vestas Wind to the start-line despite all the many obstacles along the way,” he said.
“Seeing Chris and the guys on the start-line for Leg 8 will be one of most memorable and proudest moments I have experienced in seven years as Race CEO,” he said.
Patrick Lammers, member of the retail board RWE, parent company of sub sponsor Powerhouse, added: “In order to be able to appear at the start in Lisbon, everyone involved has given their utmost.
“This was the ultimate race in a race, where no one thought of giving up. As a sponsor, Powerhouse could not have wished for a better team and partners. With this success, they truly carried out what we stand for.”