Imagine "The Blair Witch Project" meets "Titanic."
Just after sunset and two months into the prestigious Volvo World Cup (a nine-month, around-the-world yacht competition), the Danish-backed team Vestas Wind crashed into reef at the Cargados Carajos Shoals going 19 knots per hour.
And an onboard camera captured the whole thing.
Reporter Brian Carlin was onboard, standing in his underwear below deck f at the time. "Within 10 seconds or so, there was all this crashing and grinding, and at that point I knew shit was really hitting the fan," he recalled.
The crew's navigator, Wouter Verbraak, hadn't zoomed in enough on the charts and led the $6 million yacht into a mine field of reef in the Indian Ocean. They were about 240 miles off the coast of Mauritius when the twin stern rudders snapped and a gaping hole in the hull filled with seawater.
The nine-man crew tried to stay with the ship all night, but rough waves forced them to evacuate in a life raft an hour before sunrise. Skipper Chris Nicholson said it was "the number one toughest decision of my life."
The crew was in touch with race officials and the nearby American yacht, Alvimedica, with radios and satellite phones, but they floated in darkness, through shark- and barracuda-infested waters, until a local coast guard boat managed to pick them up in the morning. It took them to Ile du Sud, a nearby deserted island popular among shark-watching tourists, where they waited for another boat to take them to Mauritius -- in all, a four day ordeal.
On Tuesday, Volvo Ocean Race announced that a panel will investigate the incident to find out why Team Vestas Wind crashed and review the effectiveness of its emergency management procedures to "benefit the whole sailing world and not only the race." The findings will be released by March 15, the statement said.
Team Vestas Wind is currently trying to get back in the race, even though they would probably have to build an entirely new boat in order to do so.
“It is Vestas’ clear ambition to get Team Vestas Wind out sailing again," said the sailing team’s CEO Morten Albæk, during a press call in Abu Dhabi. “We’ll do everything within our means to make that happen."
It's a valiant effort. In addition to reef, racing yachtsmen face other dangers such as whales that sleep near the ocean's surface, flying Blue Nose jellyfish, rogue waves, tropical storms and floating shipping containers that have fallen off cargo ships.