As incredible as it might seem, Team Vestas Wind has announced plans to rebuild its VO65 yacht – severely damaged when it ploughed on to a submerged reef in the Indian Ocean on Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi – and to re-enter the current Volvo Ocean Race when it reaches Europe later this year.
Vestas skipper Chris Nicholson was first to break the news of a planned return when he made a short but emotional speech at the Leg 3 prizegiving dinner in Abu Dhabi. After thanking the other teams and the race organisers for the level of support offered to his crew in their time of need, the Australian skipper’s voice broke as he closed his address with the words “We’ll be back. We will rebuild our boat just like we will rebuild our hopes and dreams,” before marching quickly from the stage to a standing ovation from the audience.
A Vestas press conference the following day confirmed the decision had been made to rebuild the boat which Nicholson and shore crew manager Neil Cox had helped a specialist salvage crew to recover from the island shortly prior to Christmas. The team is planning to return to racing by the June 7 start of Leg 8 from Lisbon to Lorient.
That we are even talking about a return to the race for a yacht that hit the bricks at 19 knot (35kpm) is remarkable in itself – as remarkable as the fact that not one of the crew suffered any sort of serious injury. That they can even contemplate a return to racing is in predominantly down to the fact that, rather than wait to be evacuated from their desert island, the Vestas castaways chose to wade through shark infested waters ferrying off the stricken yacht any thing of value or that could potentially pollute the reef or the marine environment.
The salvage operation the yacht’s steel keel fin to be cut away using oxyacetylene torches before the hull could be floated free to a nearby lagoon where it was lifted on to a Maersk Line ship bound for Malaysia. It will now be shipped to the Persico Yard in Bergamo, Italy – where the hull was originally constructed – where I am told on good authority sits the partly constructed hull of the unrequired eighth VO65.
“We got the boat off the reef in better condition than we thought possible,” Nicholson said. “There are large portions of the deck that can be reused – 70 to 80 per cent – and a lot of other components within the structure.”
Whether the repaired/reconstructed yacht can be considered one-design given the extensive damage in the crash and the forthcoming repair is open for debate – as is the question as to whether it makes any sense for a team to return to a race around the world with just one leg completed and two legs to go. Without doubt it’s a good story for the media and for the Vestas and VOR PR machines to spin into a gritty comeback from disaster, but for those of us trying to attract new fans to the sport it’s just another hard-to-explain yacht racing anomaly akin to an America’s Cup catamarans racing around the course alone in San Francisco.