Few people on earth with even a passing interest in sailing and a portal to the interweb would have failed to see the disturbing images of the Volvo 65 racing yacht ‘Team Vestas Wind’ wrecked on a reef in the Indian Ocean. Indeed the images of the damage to the boat’s rear end have had as many hits on the internet as the images of Kim Kardashian viewed from the same aspect. This was a crash that was heard around the sailing world.
So how did this happen? How did a state of the art racing yacht, bristling with the most up to date and sophisticated communication and navigation technology of any yacht afloat, and navigated by one of the world’s most experienced offshore racing navigators run straight into a well charted reef? The web has lit up with theories since this occurred. Crew fatigue, pushing the boat too hard, the accuracy of the charts, even an absurd theory about terrorists messing with the satellites has been put forward.
Naturally the traditionalists have screamed about it being due to using chart plotters instead of paper charts, many putting forward the view that this would never have happened if the navigator was simply using a pencil and a paper chart. Well let me tell you, plenty of yachts were hitting reefs before chart plotters were invented. Even the great man Jim Cook hit one in the Endeavour in north Queensland. Of course Captain Jim did have the excuse that as he was the first person to sail along that coast, therefore there were no charts! There is never one simple reason why an incident like this occurs. It is inevitable due to a series of events, each one compounding on the next.
I myself would be the last one to start throwing rocks at the navigator of Vestas, particularly in light of having spent 4 hours aground last week at the entrance to a well charted creek here in Moreton Bay! (I however am laying the blame for that on a young lady called ‘Marcia’ who came calling the week before bringing some 400mm of rain to that creek’s catchment area and causing tons of silt to be washed down to the entrance).
We had 5 navigators on board at the time so perhaps it was like having 5 chefs sharing a kitchen – inevitably it was going to end in tears. But unlike Team Vestas Wind, we did not upload a video of the grounding to YouTube, nor were millions of people following us on the net. Our only witnesses were an old chap walking his dog on the foreshore and a guy in his canoe. There were many houses with a view of our boat but I can only hope they were all enthralled by a reality show on TV rather than the latest episode of ‘I’m a sailing instructor – get me out of here’ playing out in real life in front of their houses. But unlike the Vestas Wind incident we floated off on the rising tide, the only damage being a small scratch in the kettle when it fell off the stove and some slight bruising to our egos. Both of which will buff out.
I might add here that we were not using GPS at the time – just a paper chart, the transit lead and the channel markers that the authorities had grown there for these exact purposes (and yes we were smack on the transit and had calculated the height of tide to 3 decimal places!)
But this grounding of the Volvo boat has sent shockwaves around the world and put GPS navigation firmly in the spotlight.
Not zooming into the electronic chart far enough may well have played some part in the boat hitting the reef and I have incorporated this incident into the GPS component of Southern Cross Yachting’s RYA Coastal Skipper theory course. You can see that it is just as dangerous staring into your iPhone whether you are driving a Volvo with 4 wheels or one with a carbon mast! These days we are spending plenty of time teaching both paper and electronic navigation so if you are wanting to learn more about how to safely and confidently use your GPS chart plotter, the next 5 day intensive course is running from Monday the 9th until Friday 13th and the cost is only $925.
So come along and learn as we look at the potential reasons for the Team Vestas Wind grounding. However no questions about the Southern Cross Yachting grounding will be tolerated!
That’s all for this edition, until next time keep your eyes on the road.
Mike Job.

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