Team Vestas Wind Grounding: Skipper’s Comments Draw Criticism

Mike Schuler
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December 6, 2014

Crew manager Neil Cox (right) and skipper Chris Nicholson (left) in Mauritius, December 3, 2014. Photo: Marc Bow/Volvo Ocean Race

Some comments made by the Australian skipper of Team Vestas Wind over the grounding which led to the loss of the team’s 65-foot racing yacht during a leg of the Volvo Ocean Race are drawing some criticism online.

The comments came in an interview at the end of a new onboard video showing Team Vestas Wind’s 65-foot racing yacht slamming into a charted reef north of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean last Saturday and the subsequent abandonment and recovery of salvageable items from the vessel.

In an earlier interview, 45-year-old skipper Chris Nicholson accepted ‘ultimate responsibility’ over the accident, but said that ‘human error’ was clearly to blame.

“I’m really disappointed of course,” said Nicholson shortly after arriving safely in Mauritius on December 3rd, three days after the grounding. “On the other hand, we have to realize how fortunate we are for everyone to be here in one piece, and to be healthy. It’s pretty amazing, so there’s a lot of emotions at the moment.

“The past four days have been very challenging for all of us, and I am extremely proud of the whole crew’s professionalism, composure, and endurance.

“It’s clear that human error is responsible for the shipwreck, there’s no avoiding that. And as skipper, I take ultimate responsibility.”

Admirable comments there for sure. But what came in the later interview in the video by Sailing Magazine is what’s stirring the pot.

“As skipper you end up with ultimate responsibility, but below that is different sections of where people take individual control of those areas. One of these areas was the breakdown that let this happen.

“As the skipper, you have to… you cannot be 100% on top of every role. You have to trust the individuals. It’s no different to any organization, any business, and any other team in the world. It’s just the same. You have to place that trust in the individuals to do their role.”

To his credit, Nicholson has been praised by his team, crew and the Volvo Ocean Race for his professionalism and handling of the situation. After all, none of the nine team members onboard were injured in the accident, and that’s saying something considering the yacht was traveling at 19 knots when it struck the reef and everyone was forced to abandon ship in the middle of the night.

But what do you think… did Nicholson’s comments about what led to the grounding go over the line?

You can see the interview towards the end of the video below (5:50 mark):

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