Thursday, January 22nd, 2015


Nicholson’s decision to fire Wouter makes me a little sad, but it isn’t really surprising, given some of the statements Nico has made since the grounding. I don’t think he (Nico) really appreciates the extent to which he himself contributed to the accident.

What happened to Vestas Wind doesn’t prove that Wouter was a bad navigator. It proves he was a human being. Nico failed to provide the kind of oversight and supervision that is an essential, non-delegable responsibility of the skipper when it comes to basic vessel safety. By handing off all navigational responsibilities to Wouter, Nico created a single point of failure. Yes, Wouter made a bad mistake. But he was operating in circumstances that predictably produce mistakes. It was Nico’s job as skipper to be the final backstop to prevent those mistakes from costing them the boat.

Anyway, Wouter’s out, and if Vestas returns to the race for the last few legs it will be with a different navigator. He won’t be superhuman; he may or may not be a better navigator than Wouter. Hopefully his skipper will have learned from his experience on Leg 2, and will do a better job of taking care of his boat.

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Vestas Wind returning to the VOR

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Vestas Wind returning to the VOR:

Team Vestas Wind announced in Abu Dhabi today that they _will_ rejoin the race. Details are thin at this point, but there should be more information coming at a Vestas press conference after the in-port race tomorrow.

Hints from Alan Block (Mr. Clean of Sailing Anarchy), who’s in Abu Dhabi and has talked to all the principals in the last few days, seem to imply that they won’t be back any earlier than Lisbon (letting them do the last two legs) or Lorient (letting them do the last leg). Chris Nicholson will be the skipper, and will decide who will be in the crew. The “redemption” theme they’re talking about might favor the idea that the crew will be unchanged; i.e., that Wouter will return as navigator.

Which would make me very happy.

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As soon as I heard what had happened to Vestas Wind, I was…

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

As soon as I heard what had happened to Vestas Wind, I was worried about how the experience would affect Wouter Verbraak, the boat’s navigator. Here’s the first detailed public interview he’s done since the incident, with English subtitles.

It’s still not clear if the team is going to be able to rejoin the race at a later stage with a rebuilt boat, and it’s not clear if Wouter will be offered a place on the team if they do. But I hope they do, and he is.

This could have happened to anyone. Scapegoating Wouter for an error that was as much a process failure and a software failure as it was a navigator failure would be wrong.

Blaming people doesn’t solve problems. Acknowledging mistakes and learning from them solves problems.

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We finally have means of communications… – Wouter Verbraak Sailing | Facebook

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

We finally have means of communications… – Wouter Verbraak Sailing | Facebook:

Earlier tonight Wouter made a brief post on Facebook. It confirms what a lot of commenters on Sailing Anarchy and elsewhere had been speculating about the underlying causes of the grounding: fatigue, time pressure, a last-minute course alteration, and the misfeature of the boat’s electronic charting software obscuring relevant detail (including the presence of a 50-km reef) at lower zoom levels.

Something I’ve seen repeatedly over the past few days are people willing to glibly say Wouter must have been guilty of “gross negligence”. That term carries extra weight because of its use in legal proceedings, but some of those using it seem to think it’s just another way of saying “a mistake that had really bad consequences, and that I don’t believe I would ever have made myself.”

Something else I’ve noticed: commenters’ willingness to assert that appears to be negatively correlated with their level of personal experience with long-distance offshore racing navigation.

Everyone makes mistakes. Wouter’s was a really bad one, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a prudent, competent, careful navigator. It just means that even a prudent, competent, careful navigator, under precisely the wrong set of circumstances, can screw up in a big way. He failed his team. But his tools, and the system of oversight that needs to be in place to prevent unavoidable human error from spiraling into catastrophe, also failed him.

No one died. A few people got scrapes and bruises, but otherwise there were no injuries. Hopefully the lessons learned will help save other boats, and other lives, in the future.

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“Wouter is a navigator, one of the best, and firmly falls into the category of a superb yachtsman and…”

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

Wouter is a navigator, one of the best, and firmly falls into the category of a superb yachtsman and navigator. One who understands the strengths and limitations of digital tools more than most will ever do. And one of the nicest guys in the sport to boot.

Mistakes happen. Just glad they are all safe and uninjured.

Campbell Field

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Navigator Wouter Verbraak fist bumps crew member Nicolai…

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Navigator Wouter Verbraak fist bumps crew member Nicolai Sehested aboard Team Vestas Wind. Source.

Here’s what I love about this clip. Vestas is in the process of making a huge gain, such that as of the latest update (0040 UTC on October 30), they’ve gone from being in the middle of the fleet to essentially being in a three-way tie for the lead. They made that gain because of a high-risk strategic decision that must have been Wouter’s call (along with Chris Nicholson, the skipper).

As a former offshore racing navigator (not on anything like Wouter’s level, but still) I think I have a degree of insight into what was going through his head in this moment. And yeah, he’s sharing the joy with Nicolai, and complimenting his good job on the helm.

But Wouter knows, and I know (and Nicolai and the unidentified crewman filming and probably everyone else on the boat knows), awesome driving at most gets you a fraction of a knot over the competition. You want a 6-knot advantage over a 6-hour period? That takes a navigator.

Go Wouter. :-)

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Navigator Wouter Verbraak on Vestas Wind talking about their…

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Navigator Wouter Verbraak on Vestas Wind talking about their strategy entering the doldrums.

Actually, at the moment there is an option to go east, which is very rare. So I’m scratching my head and double-checking that it is actually the case, because statistically it is a very dangerous strategy to go east. So I’m about to get the next satellite picture, which will be important to verify whether the models are in line with what is actually happening, or whether we should again, like so often in this leg, throw the models in the bin and go for what we see in the satellite pictures.

Apparently they decided to take the risk, because Vestas is way out there now, 35 miles east of the nearest competitor, Mapfre, and more than 150 miles east of the current leader, ADOR. As of the 1840 update (Oct 21) the eastern route doesn’t appear to be working, but that could change based on what happens in the next 24 hours.

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