Volume 14, Issue 21 ~ May 25 - May 31, 2006

Heavy Hearts for Volvo Ocean Race

Death and destruction for life at the extreme

by Kat Bennett

Finishing Leg 7 in Portsmouth, England, this week, the Volvo Ocean Racers arrived with heavy hearts. In the early morning of May 18, ABN AMRO Two radioed a man overboard distress call. Trimmer Hans Horrevoets had been washed overboard. Struggling in 16-foot seas with 30-knot winds, the crew dropped sail. After 40 grueling minutes, they recovered the unconscious sailor. Then, in Mike Sanderson’s words: “a sailor’s worst nightmare”: Hans was dead.

Under gale conditions, all the teams had changed course to assist ABN AMRO Two — with disastrous results. Movistar’s mailsail split horizontally luff to leach and was jammed aloft. As Brunel turned toward Movistar in the heavy seas, their spreaders and mast caught the mainsail, shredding it.

Rough winds forced Brasil 1 to make three attempts before they could tack. Then bang!, their spinnaker pole snapped. As Andy Meiklejohn and Stu Wilson recovered the 341⁄2-foot tube, a wave washed them across the deck. Narrowly missing Horacio Carabelli, the pole slammed into the wheel. Skipper Torben Grael ducked, but the boat was out of control with the mainsail severely damaged. On Pirates of the Caribbean, pounding waves bent the stanchions and tore the companionway.

Then word reached the boats that Hans had died. Every crew sank into silence and grief. ABN AMRO One vowed to win the race for their lost teammate. As ABN AMRO Two sailed toward Portsmouth, their dead comrade secured in a bunk, there was another SOS. This time it was Movistar.

The wild conditions had cracked Movistar’s keel. At first, the crew thought they could control the leakage, but as the water intake doubled, Bouwe Bekking made the call to abandon ship. “Carbon fibre doesn’t give any warning when it will break,” he wrote. “A boat is just a boat, you can replace it, but lives you cannot.”

ABN2 was the closest boat. Dressed in their survival suits, Movistar crew loaded life rafts with food and a few personal items. Last to leave, Bouwe had a final look and abandoned Movistar with her generator and Inmarsat Satcom C communications system running so she could be tracked.

Aboard ABN2, the Movistar crew were, according to the rules, not allowed to help sail the boat.

The HMS Mersey rendezvoused as quickly as it could. At first the seas were too rough, but on the morning of May 22, the Movistar crew was lifted off ABN2 and taken to Falmouth. Seb Josse and his crew bid farewell to their friend and teammate Hans Horrevoets as his body was transferred to the Mersey. From England, Dutch frigate HNLMS Van Galenof will bear him home to the Netherlands.

First round the scoring gate for 3.5 points and first into Portsmouth, ABN AMRO One maintains first place with 81 points. Ericsson was second across the finish line, with the Pirates 28 minutes behind them for third, putting Pirates in second place overall with 55 points total. Brasil 1 managed a close fourth, despite her damages. With everyone in survival gear, Brunel limped into fifth place steering to leeward after losing the windward wheel in another storm.

In Plymouth port, Stan Honey of ABN1 spoke about wins and losses: “We had to go on and finish this leg in first place and win the race. It is what Hans would have wanted,” he said.

The ABN AMRO media team posted excerpts from Hans’ website where he wrote, “As a child, I just had one goal in my life: sailing regattas! Yes, it can be dangerous, of course it can, but what if we didn’t sail? Life would be boring, and you could just die in a car crash.”

The slogan of the Volvo Ocean Race has been Life at the extreme in honor of the albatross. The sailor’s monument at Cape Horn honors the belief that albatrosses carry the souls of those lost at sea: “die they did not in the fierce waves … for today towards eternity, in my wings they soar, in the last crevice of the Antarctic winds.”

Express your thoughts in the Team ABN AMRO guest book: http://team.abnamro.com/web/show/id=102854.

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