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Sailors rescued after abandoning grounded sloop

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ALICANTE, Spain (AP) Team Vestas Wind skipper Chris Nicholson said it was ''the No. 1 toughest decision of my life'' to order his crew to abandon their 65-foot sloop in the dark after it was grounded on a remote Indian Ocean reef during the Volvo Ocean Race.

Nicholson spoke with Sunday from the remote island of Ile du Sud, where the nine-man crew was transported by a local coast guard after the accident off Mauritius.

''It's the most beautiful night I've ever seen. And last night was one of the worst nights that I have ever seen,'' Nicholson said. ''We're kind of literally shipwrecked It's a unique experience going through it.''

The Danish-backed sloop was doing about 19 knots when it hit the reef Saturday, yet there were no injuries, Nicholson said. He said he was amazed the boat survived the impact without breaking up immediately.

The 45-year-old Australian said he had planned to keep the crew on board until daybreak. The crew had practiced a drill for abandoning the boat 15 to 20 times, `'never with the intention of having to do it,'' he said.

But the ''massive pounding'' of the waves eventually led Nicholson to decide he had no option but to abandon ship.

He and his crew waded across the reef in knee-deep water before finding a dry spot where they waited for a coast guard boat to take them to the small island.

The skipper said he was impressed with his crew's spirit during the ordeal.

''We made a mistake, which led to what happened last night, but I've been blown away by the way the guys dealt with the situation, trying to make things as right as possible today,'' he said. ''They make me so proud.''

Nicholson didn't say what led the boat running aground.

He and shore crew chief Neil Cox will assess the chances of salvaging the boat.

''We have a pretty unique group of people to get as good an outcome as possible,'' he said.

The accident happened on the second leg, from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi.