The 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race had started the second of nine legs on November 19, taking the 7-boat fleet on a 5,220 nm course from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. But on November 29, the race narrative took a dramatic turn when Team Vestas Wind went aground on a reef in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
What followed was the rescue of the crew from the Cargados Carajos Shoals, the salvage of the boat, its ensuing re-build, and ultimately the team’s first sail on May 30 in time to compete in the final two legs of the race. But there was also an investigation into the cause, and while there were several contributing factors, navigator Wouter Verbraak shouldered the bulk of the blame.
Released from the team on January 23, Wouter used the time since the accident to write the book, Beyond The Break: Lessons from a life in high performance teams. Wouter tells the story of the accident from the center of the storm, providing the emotional context from a man who made a major error. But Wouter also uses the opportunity to share his experiences in the sport, and the lessons gained. The book, which provides a fascinating look into the world of elite racing, is now available at Amazon.com.
Here’s an excerpt from the book following the accident:
Dark feelings are starting to rise. I get angry at myself. How could we not have seen the reef? Why did I not zoom in more? I know the electronic charts can have problems with showing details at a larger scale, but missing a complete atoll with reefs and islands?
Exhausted, I sit down on the tubes of the liferaft that we dragged up the beach. It all comes out now. A maelstrom of thoughts keeps going through my head. How did we not see this? What now? How do the others feel? What do the others think of me? With my hands in my head, I feel my eyes well up. I feel like curling up into a ball.
I just want to get out of here, and be home with Kristine and Nicklas (wife and son). Away from all this. All the hard work of the last months, gone. All the sacrifices that we as a family have made for me to do well in the race, chase my dreams, are now done in vain.
I sit there for I don’t know how long. When I look up, I see that the sun is touching the horizon. With the emotions let out, I am able to think a bit clearer. I have hit rock bottom. I am on the rocks. How to move forward from this? There is only one way. I need to gather the courage to stick my hand up. Admit that I made a mistake. Apologize to the team. Don’t be a coward. Step up.
Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck caught up with Wouter for this update…..
Is it hard now to be a spectator to the Volvo Ocean Race?
I have probably been the race’s biggest fan ever since I was 13 and I am currently at the stopover in Holland and really enjoying being part of the audience to this wonderful spectacle, though of course, I would have liked it even more if I had been on board.
How did the accident personally affect you?
I was overwhelmed by all the support I have received and I really appreciate all the great friends and colleagues I have even more now. I also see that there are aspects we can do better in Ocean Racing and I am working hard to share the lessons I have learned. Hopefully a lot of this comes through in the book.
What have you been doing since the accident?
After a period of rest and reflection, and writing a lot – I found that my passion for racing is as strong as it has ever been, I have returned to doing exactly that. I have been sailing class 40s, Open 60s and trimarans with great enjoyment.
Why did you write the book?
Amongst one of the many messages of support after the grounding, I received one from a top executive in the airline industry that really resonated with me and inspired me to write.“In a crisis situations, the leader must stand up and set the tone. He should work along the thought process of We made some mistakes which we intend to share with others so that this situation is not repeated. Greatness is not gained by trying to avoid mistakes by not doing anything, but to learn and improve.”
Have you recovered from this accident?
I would say so. When friends and colleagues make jokes, I am able to join them in laughing. However, the goal remains to share the story to avoid this from happening again, so it is certainly not forgotten.
What has been this accident taught you?
There are many lessons to be learned, many of which are addressed in the Volvo Report and changes are happening to charts, rules etc which is really good to see. On a personal note, I have amongst other things, learned that if you put your hand up, you will get a lot of support and you will be able to move on and improve as you are learning from what went wrong.
Additional information about Wouter Verbraak can be found at his website: www.wvsailing.co.uk
Photos below taken shortly after the grounding