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Whale vs. Volvo 70

May 29, 2012

This video brings together two things I care about–whales and the Volvo Ocean Race–and luckily neither party was injured. The video shows the New Zealand team, CAMPER, dodging a whale at more than 20 knots.

From the Volvo Ocean Race website:

White water was breaking over the red boat’s bow as the team hurtled at speeds in excess of 20 knots when Bermúdez’s keen eye caught a grey glimpse of the mammal off the bow.

Without a second thought Bermúdez swung the wheel and dodged the whale, avoiding a collision that could have proved costly for the boat and crew.

“With reflexes like a cat he narrowly missed what could have been the equivalent of a runaway freight train colliding with a truck,” Media Crew Member Hamish Hooper said.

“We were doing just over 20 knots and all of a sudden the boat lurched to starboard, just staying in control.

“Nico (skipper Chris Nicholson) popped his head up to see Chuny looking as if he has just seen his life flash before his eyes. I think he had. It would have been seriously bad for both the whale and us.”

As sailboat technology has delivered lighter, more powerful boats that can travel across the seas at ridiculous speeds, collision with anything is increasingly a problem. And collision with a whale at those speeds is a life-threatening problem–both for the crew (which would experience the equivalent of hitting a soft wall at almost 30 miles per hour, which can easily sink a boat, cause head injuries, or pitch crew overboard) and the whale (which would experience a potentially fatal blow from either a sharp bow or keel).

Many race boats have hit whales (here and here, for example), leaving clouds of blood in the water, and usually all the focus is on whether the boat and crew is okay. No one ever really knows (or cares that much) what happens to the whale, but it is reasonable to assume sailboat racing has killed a number of whales (and so far the score is entirely in favor of the humans–no sailor that I now of has died as a result of collision with a whale, though rescues have been required when boats were destroyed).

Side note: of course, every once in a while the whales get their own licks in:

At some level sailboat racing is a pretty frivolous human endeavor, so the death of a whale is pretty hard to justify. Sadly, there does not yet seem to be any real solution to the problem of high-speed sailboats colliding with whales. So add the occasional dead whale (or shark, or sunfish, or….) to the list of things that modern sailboat racing involves.

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