Team Vestas Wind Grounding: Skipper’s Comments Draw Criticism

so I am not sure what to say but I do not give the master scathing criticism for his comments…ultimately there is a team that operates any vessel and individuals all play a role and must be individually responsible for their duties…

Team Vestas Wind Grounding: Skipper’s Comments Draw Criticism

By Mike Schuler On December 6, 2014

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):

[video]http://player.ooyala.com/iframe.html#ec=tyOXQzcjpSxHAvk5-89VXdLM6Yg0JWvl&pbid=7ce6c05a02654e06916d18228c627ab2&docUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fgcaptain.com%2Fteam-vestas-wind-grounding-skippers-comments-draw-criticism%2F%3Futm_source%3Dfeedburner%26utm_mediu m%3Dfeed%26utm_campaign%3DFeed%253A%2BGcaptain%2B% 2528gCaptain.com%2529[/video]

(sorry, you’ll have to watch in a separate window…I couldn’t figure out how to embed this one)

Latest Update: Navigator Wouter Verbraak is off the team:

On 2nd January 2015, Team Vestas Wind announced that skipper Chris Nicholson had been tasked to review the team during the month of January. The objective is to ensure the right team for the come
back to the race, which is now, for this team, of a different nature than the scheduled original route from Alicante to Gothenburg.

Chris Nicholson has completed his review, together with the lead sponsor Vestas and sub-sponsor Powerhouse, and the decision has been made that Wouter Verbraak will no longer continue as navigator of the Vestas Wind. Team Vestas Wind will be joined by a new navigator in time for the Lisbon stopover and Leg 8 start in June. Team Vestas Wind would like to thank Wouter for his service and wish him well in the future.

The remaining shore and sailing crew will continue to work as integral members of Team Vestas Wind, and will use their skills to assist Persico in the boat repair process, where possible, as well as in complementary activities that will support the Team’s return to the race , including ensuring a continuous presence in the future stopovers.

The Vestas Wind boat is now on a Maersk Line container ship en route from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Genoa, Italy where it is expected to arrive on Sunday 25th January. Once transported on a truck to Persico Marine in Bergamo, Italy, Team Vestas Wind’s shore and sailing crews will begin to assist the repair process.

In regards to the arrival of the boat, Team Vestas Wind will be hosting a press conference in Genoa on Monday 26th January. Further details will follow.

I wouldn’t try to compare him with say, a guy like Shittino…

He seems to be generally well liked and respected.

If the navigator is gone then there was clearly a reason for that. Which makes the master’s comments understandable under the circumstances

This incident was a while ago but the “lessons learned” might be interesting. The crew was “the best of the best” and highly motivated to maintain a high level of situational awareness in order to remain competitive but still managed to run a high-tech boat equipped with sophisticated navigation equipment onto a known reef.

The final report is here

Interesting discussion at Panbo here.

best we leave navigation to the professionals

I do not think that an ECS running recreational S-57 CMaps is a sophisticated navigation instrument. A navigator, which was saked by VOR, using Google Earth for passage planning does not necessarily correspond to a crew made out from the best of the best. You prove to maintain a high level of situational awareness when you Zoom In ounce a while.

google earth works great when you go somewhere like Sakhilan in Russia as you are not allowed to have the charts

I’d have to admit when watching yachties use their ECS they assume the company has resurvey the world, at least when you get the paper out it says surveyed 1892 or something

The Russian charts seem to be very difficult to get. I tried to buy one but with no success. Why was I looking for a Russian chart, to show its superiority in terms of depth contour bathymetry colors. They use 3 different tint of blue. A dark blue between 0-2 m, a medium one between 2-5 m and a light blue between 5-10 m. It gives an instant view to where it is safe to sail on a small sailboat drawing around 2 meters draft. The Russian hydrograph is probably the only one who possesses the complete folio of accurate arctic nautical charts on ze world.

The VOR independent accident report comes to the conclusion that an ECDIS is unnecessarily sophisticated for a racing yacht and the use of IHO (International Hydrographic Organization) official vector ENC (Electronic Navigation Charts) is primary use by commercial shipping and naval forces. I did not find in the report that the navigator should posses study certificates or credits from an approved maritime academy validating his knowledge in passage planning, in the proper use of electronic instruments along with a simulated electronic navigation formation, neither a completion course in the use of ECDIS, etc.

You don’t need to look for an ECDIS approved stamp that will be decline just because the PPI is not of the proper dimensions. What you need is the performance of the program especially in the submenu Alarms. ECDIS permits to build a safety box around the boat that will set the alarm to whatever settings like depth, shoals, breakers, submerged coral reef, rocks, atoll, islands, etc. That way, you won’t have to draw zones around all these obstacles to ring the alarm. Used in conjunction with IHO ENC charts and by a navigator endorsed by an ECDIS formation, you’re in business.

Complaining about the quality of private or amateur e-charts and plotters will not resolve any problem.

One of the most important contributing factors was the last minute change in track. The boats were given several days to plan the voyage but then the night before the start of the race an “exclusionary zone” that had previously established was opened to racing. The zone included the reef where the yacht went aground. Evidently Google Earth is used in the preliminary planning however the boats are not allowed internet access during the race so the last minute change caused a change in the navigation process . The last minute change in the route led to a change in the navigation process. The change in the process was a contributing factor.

The navigators lack of knowledge of the shortcomings of his tools evidently was not a factor. He is very experience and consider one of the best. Smart guy, he has a master’s degree in physics.

The fact that navigation hazards are not displayed in a way that can be easily seen at most zoom levels is definitely a contributing factor.

Unlike merchant vessel which have a hierarchy set up with redundancy so that critical task like navigation is more “robust” racing yachts crew are organized to be optimized boat speed. There is less overlap and double checking thus the system is more “brittle”

Well said Kennebec Capt
navigation is just one job, one person does it but normally with plenty of time ashore to plan it out, more time is spent finding and planning for wind and that is what usually creates course alterations on the fly.
Any yes everyone that uses a pleasureboat downloaded app needs to see a real ECDIS just to see how good an app can really be.
I just looked at a paper chart Brunei to Vietnam, the Admiraly chart doesnt even have a datum and there are lots of shallow stuff close together. ahh?
I guess its the old, “its not a shipping route so who cares”
( yes I race yachts offshore)

[QUOTE=powerabout;158818]Well said Kennebec Capt
navigation is just one job, one person does it but normally with plenty of time ashore to plan it out, more time is spent finding and planning for wind and that is what usually creates course alterations on the fly.
Any yes everyone that uses a pleasureboat downloaded app needs to see a real ECDIS just to see how good an app can really be.
I just looked at a paper chart Brunei to Vietnam, the Admiraly chart doesnt even have a datum and there are lots of shallow stuff close together. ahh?
I guess its the old, “its not a shipping route so who cares”
( yes I race yachts offshore)[/QUOTE]

Aboard ship we are simultaneously running one leg while planning for the upcoming legs. ECDIS has changed the navigation process but I think that using the ECDIS has made the publications more important not less.

When we get voyage orders in an area we have never sailed the first thing we do is quickly lay out a rough track on the ECDIS. We do this because we need rough distances for ETAs and fuel use right away. The second step is find the route or a similar one in the BA “Ocean Passages of the World” . Then we pull the applicable sailing directions and read the descriptions of the hazards etc along the route.

Once we have the info from the pubs we go back to the ECDIS and fine-tune the route. We are still using paper charts so the next step is to transfer the waypoints and track-lines to the charts which sometime leads to a little more fine-tuning. Then it’s back to the pubs for the VTS call in points regulations and so forth.

Having the schedule change definitely raises red flags, particularly last minute changes durning periods of high work-load. You are not going to start the process from scratch but are going to salvage as much of the old plan as possible due to time constraints. I think people tend to underestimate how easy it is to screw up in this situation. We try to plan when work-load is low but if we lose control of the timing we end up doing the planning during port calls or in areas of heavy traffic. It’s a risk factor but it’s not obvious what exactly is going to go wrong until it does.

I’m only half way through the report, but it seems like all the skipper and navigator on Team Vestas only used the ECS when planning their route around the shoals and it made no mention of them zooming in to actually look at where the shallow spots are. It says they looked at the small scale chart. No mention of other sources. Other teams used the charts as well as sailing directions etc. For an area considered the hardest part of the leg, you’d think they would have spent enough time and given the shoal a wide berth. Especially, given all they had to lose and he remoteness of the region. The skipper is wrong in putting blame on the navigator and made a bad call by not doing a thorough risk assessment of the danger area. These guys know charts in foreign regions can be off and could have accounted for that. Just cause they have great resumes doesn’t mean they won’t get complacent.

[QUOTE=Quimby;158840]I’m only half way through the report, but it seems like all the skipper and navigator on Team Vestas only used the ECS when planning their route around the shoals and it made no mention of them zooming in to actually look at where the shallow spots are. It says they looked at the small scale chart. No mention of other sources. Other teams used the charts as well as sailing directions etc. For an area considered the hardest part of the leg, you’d think they would have spent enough time and given the shoal a wide berth. Especially, given all they had to lose and he remoteness of the region. The skipper is wrong in putting blame on the navigator and made a bad call by not doing a thorough risk assessment of the danger area. These guys know charts in foreign regions can be off and could have accounted for that. Just cause they have great resumes doesn’t mean they won’t get complacent.[/QUOTE]

If we were discussing a commercial operation then complacency might have been a factor. But in this case we are talking about a racing crew. The fact that there were in competitive position indicates a very high degree of situational awareness with regards to handling the vessel. They wouldn’t be competitive at that level unless they were doing a lot of things right.

I understand that the navigator spends the majority of his time on weather routing, wind shifts and strategy.

There is a thread at Sailing Anarchy about the grounding; it’s very long but this page discusses human factors / systems. If you read it there a reward near the end of that page.

Also, one of the other boats made the same error. They were able to avoid only because they encountered the reef during daylight and managed to avoid it. So 2 out of 7 boats made the same error.

Complacency applies equally to all spheres of activity. In our case, the very first mandate of a skipper or a navigator is the Safety of the Crew & the Sailboat. A very high degree of situational awareness with regards to chasing winds, sails tuning and sailboat heading in opposition to a very low degree of awareness in terms of the safety of the navigation equals what we all know. Blinded by performance. Luckily, nobody died.

If they are too busy chasing wind to the detriment of the safety of the navigation, they should invest in better electronic navigation equipment backups. But the famous report concludes that it is not necessary?

For an area considered the hardest part of the leg, you’d think they would have spent enough time and given the shoal a wide berth.

Rule 18 (b)

A sailing vessel underway shall keep out of the way or give the a wide berth of:
(i) a vessel not under command,
(ii) a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre,
(iii) a vessel engaged in fishing.
(iv) atolls
(v) the stern of a power-driven vessel underway

Lots of talk about electronic charts, but the race organization passed along that they are required to take paper charts, as well. Most of us have had the home office ask long it would take us to get to X port, only to have to answer that we don’t have the charts onboard for it. As has been mentioned previously, at the beginning of this leg, there were no plans to transit this area, therefore, I’m sure they didn’t include paper charts to cover it. If it was a commercial vessel, that would have been a non-starter - we would have avoided the area if we did not have adequate charts.

Looking at the charting programs they had available, they are generally concerned with getting from point A to point B in the minimum amount of time - not safe navigation.

As the sailors involved with this race are being billed as “professional sailors,” perhaps it’s time they start being treated as such. And treated as such does not simply mean the pay or status - it means the responsibility and ability to :

  1. Keep the crew safe and secure.
  2. Get the vessel from Point A to Point B safely.
  3. Win some races.

Note where “Win some races” ranks. It’s also where “Safety of cargo” comes in on my personal list.

When I asked the race organization back in December what certifications were required of the captain or crew, there was no comment. [I]

"Christina Gaither <christina.gaither@volvooceanrace.com>
12/9/14[/I]
[I]to me, Eva, Communications [/I]
[I]
Hi Richard,[/I]
[I]
Adrena, and expedition are supplied by Volvo Ocean Race along with C-Map charts and teams can use any other software they think necessary. They are also obliged to take paper charts. [/I]

[I]Kind regards,[/I]
[I]
Christina Gaither
Media Relations Supervisor
M. +34 676 675 931
More media information on: volvooceanrace.com/presszone"[/I]

Two totally different types of C-MAP:

  1. Private Electronic Charts (PEC):

C-MAP MAX electronic charts have been a worldwide standard for years, providing cruisers, sailors and fishermen with the accurate, up-to-date chart data they need to enjoy each day on the water. Still a leading choice of navigators and chartplotter (ECS) manufacturers around the globe. Updated twice annually to provide all the latest detail and information. Compatible with dozens of chartplotters from top manufacturers. Extensive coverage of coastal waters, lakes and rivers. Local, Wide and MegaWide coverage for all charting needs and budgets.

  1. Official ENC from Hydrographic Offices:

Jeppesen ENC Service contains only official Electronic Navigational Charts (ENC), approved to meet the SOLAS carriage requirements and the ECDIS mandate. Jeppesen is an authorized distributor of ENCs from Hydrographic Offices directly, and through Regional ENC Coordinating Centers (RENCs). An approved ECDIS combined with Jeppesen ENC makes paperless navigation possible.

Make your pick between a fishermen ECS-PEC Plotter or an ECDIS-ENC … for a multi million dollars 65-foot carbon-fiber ocean racer sailboat, which will cost about $20 million for the entire 10 months race, grounding, salvage and repairs not included!

There are times when…
Racing in the Solent you need to calculate the gravel banks such that on your angle of heel you will clear them but just enough, thats the difference between winning and losing.
( hoping there is no tack in the middle)

With the ENC S-100 you won’t have to calculate the water level available anymore. It will be a real time bathymetry among others like sea floor classification, marine GIS and web-based enable for acquiring, processing, analyzing, accessing and presenting data.

Zoom In or not, makes no difference … with an ENC.

page 131

There is a good summary of the report at spinsheet. Team Vestas Wind Grounding Report: What You Need to Know

In determining why the boat ran aground, the report finds that the two contributing factors were:

  1. deficient use of electronic charts and other navigational data and a failure to identify the potential danger, and

  2. deficient cartography in presenting the navigational dangers on small and medium scale views on the electronic chart system in use.

The late formation of the crew, short prep time in Cape Town, the change in the SI, the amendment to the exclusion zone and racing area, the tropical depression, the “taxing routine” between Nicholson and Verbraak, and the lack of access to planning support after the start were all listed as secondary factors.

The biggest part of the problem comes down to passage planning. Verbraak was highly experienced and did a large amount of pre-planning during the previous stopover. TVB had a large resource of paper charts from the Camper campaign in the previous VOR, and he worked with Roger Badham, a meteorologist. However, this level of planning was less than the other boats had. “Most boats spent as many as six days working closely with the skipper and navigator in the departure port,” and one boat estimated that they spent $250,000 on a pre-departure navigation specialist. (141)

Verbraak received advice about the change to the EAEZ at roughly 9 p.m. the night before the start, plotted it on his personal laptop, and noted the Cargados Carajos Shoals were now part of the racing area. After the start, he used the Expedition software to investigate part of the shoals, but he didn’t zoom in far enough to see the “detailed large scale chart that includes a clear presentation of the reef.” (145) Mostly concerned with weather and routing, he would have been using a computer that would not give him a clear representation of the dangers of the shoals.