'Safe and sound'

Source: AFP Published: 2020/12/2 16:48:42

Rescued Vendee Globe skipper tells of wave folding boat 'in four seconds'

French skipper Kevin Escoffier controls his Imoca 60 monohull PRB on the eve of the start of the Vendee Globe round-the-world monohull solo sailing race in Les Sables-d'Olonne, France on November 7. Photo: AFP


The French Vendee Globe skipper recovering after a dramatic rescue by a rival competitor 600 nautical miles (1,111.2 kilometers) off the Cape of Good Hope on Tuesday has spoken of how a giant wave folded his boat in two "in four seconds."

Kevin Escoffier was reported "safe and sound" on board rival Jean Le Cam's boat 11 hours after sending out a distress signal.

Escoffier's first attempt at the solo round-the-world race ended abruptly when he had to abandon his PRB yacht on Monday afternoon and take refuge on a life raft.

Vendee Globe organizers received a message from Le Cam informing them of the successful rescue at around 01:00 GMT.

"A huge relief. Kevin is well onboard... safe and sound," the 61-year-old veteran French seafarer Le Cam tweeted.

Escoffier endured swells of five meters with water temperatures of 10 C before his rescue.


In third place, he had triggered his distress beacon while sailing through the Roaring 40s, a notorious stretch of water known for its breaking waves and strong winds.

"You've seen shipwreck movies? This was the same, except worse!" the stricken sailor told race organizers by video.

"In four seconds the boat was smashed up, the bow folded 90 degrees."

The 40-year-old, smiling but clearly shaken from his ordeal in the high seas, added, "It was crazy, to bend a boat in two." 

He told his team that he had no time to do anything other than fire them off a message which read, "I'm sinking. This isn't a joke. MAYDAY!"

Le Cam was one of four competitors asked by organizers to go to Escoffier's aid, the veteran yachtsman reaching the approximate zone of the distress beacon, at 5 pm local time.

"I arrived, I saw Kevin on his boat, I said to myself 'great.' I told him I'm coming back... with that sea it wasn't easy to maneuver. I returned to where I'd been... and he wasn't there!"

'Verdun at sea'

Escoffier said they exchanged "two or three words."

"It was like Verdun [WWI battle] at sea. He had to move away a little then after I saw that he was remaining in the zone. I stayed in my life raft until the early morning."

Le Cam told of how he had returned five or six times, searching for Escoffier's distress light.

"At one point, I was standing on the deck and I saw a flash, but it turned out not to be a flash but the [distress] light in a wave...

"I continued and began to see the light more and more and thought 'it's OK.' You go from a feeling of despair to one of exhilaration.

"I hurled a life belt," which Escoffier managed to grab.

"And then it was done. Happiness," said the hero of the hour.

The two men fell into each ­others' arms.

Escoffier recalled, "He said to me, 'Damn, you're onboard! That was close!' And as for me, I said, 'I've ruined your race, you were doing really well.' He replied, 'It doesn't matter, the last time it was me who spoilt Vincent's race.'"

Le Cam was alluding to his ­rescue in 2009 off Cape Horn by another Vendee competitor, Vincent Riou, when his boat had capsized.

The three other competitors invited by the organization to deviate to reinforce the research were Yannick Bestaven (Maitre Coq), Boris Herrmann (Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco) and Sebastien Simon (Arkea Paprec).

All four boats involved in the rescue operation will be able to return to the race after the ­recovery, with the hours taken deducted from their overall time in the round-the-world race.

Race director Jacques Caraes told AFP that a French frigate would probably be able to pick up Escoffier from Le Cam's boat near the Kerguelen Islands on December 7.

The 40-year-old Escoffier was sailing a new style of "foiler" or "flying boat," which lifts out of the water on a foil in high winds.

The foilers have featured strongly on the list of vessels having serious maintenance issues with Welsh skipper Alex Thomson already out of the race.

The approximately 24,000 nautical miles sailing odyssey started on November 9 at Les Sables d'Olonne with the first boat expected back at the French port sometime in mid-January.


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