Australian skipper Chris Nicholson has described his nine-man Team Vestas Wind crew’s shipwrecked escape as amazing – but says he accepts full responsibility for the collision which left them stranded in the Indian Ocean.
The 45-year-old New South Welshman spoke after his crew safely landed in Mauritius on Wednesday night – after a horror three days which began when their sloop was grounded after running into reef while competing in Volvo Ocean Race.
Nicholson, competing in his fourth edition of the nine-month race, said he was flooded with mixed emotions after stepping off the small fishing boat which carried them back to civilisation.
“I’m really disappointed of course (but) on the other hand, we have to realise how fortunate we are for everyone to be here in one piece, and to be healthy,” he told volvooceanrace深圳桑拿论坛会所,.
“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.”
Their 65-foot boat had smashed into the coral rock at 19 knots – the equivalent of 35 kilometres an hour – before spinning 180 degrees and crashing to a halt, grounded on the reef.
They remained on the reef until the small hours of Sunday morning, before abandoning the $A10 million boat in pitch darkness and wading in knee deep water to a dry position on the reef, led by Nicholson.
A small boat from the local coastguard then took them early on Sunday to a small islet, Ile du Sud, which is known as a favourite with shark-watching holiday-makers.
Their blue vessel, caught underneath breaking waves, is badly damaged, but the crew, who could have left on Tuesday, decided to remain for an extra 24 hours to complete a clean-up operation around the area.
Nicholson was praised by his crew for his leadership in troubling circumstances.
“I must say that the team worked really well together, especially Nico, the skipper, who led the whole situation in a very professional way,” said Danish sailor Peter Wibroe, whose white shirt was stained yellow by sand, sweat and sea salt.
“We all felt extremely safe despite the situation. We were conscious about what was going on and we all had our responsibilities.
“We worked really well as a team, and that’s why we’re all here today.”
The team’s main sponsors, Vestas said they were now focused on returning to the race which will continue until the end of June 2015.