Thu, Jan 08, 2009 - Page 20 News List

French yachtsman rescued off Cape Horn by rival racer

BLOOMBERG AND AFP , PARIS

Jean Le Cam, a French yachtsman whose boat capsized off Cape Horn in the Vendee Globe solo round-the-world competition, was rescued on Tuesday evening by fellow racer Vincent Riou.

Le Cam, 49, climbed from the overturned hull of his 60-foot (18m) sailing yacht VM Materiaux wearing his survival suit and was retrieved from 5˚C water by Riou, the race organization said on its Web site.

“It’s an incredible story that has a happy end,” Vendee Globe safety consultant Alain Gautier said in a statement.

Le Cam’s boat was first spotted on Tuesday morning floating upside down about 320km east of Cape Horn, missing its keel bulb, after capsizing during the night.

The Vendee Globe is the only single-handed, non-stop around-the-world sailing competition, according to the organization. Including Le Cam, 17 of the 30 competitors in the current edition have abandoned the race with injuries and equipment failures.

Riou, winner of the previous Vendee Globe and sailing PRB, circled the overturned VM Materiaux repeatedly to retrieve Le Cam, and was successful on the fourth attempt, the race organization said. He reported the rescue to the organization at 7:10pm Paris time, the Vendee Globe said.

However, the daring rescue operation has left Riou with a damaged boat which could end his bid to close the gap to leader Michel Desjoyeaux. Riou’s boat suffered damage to an outrigger after hitting the overturned keel fin of Le Cam’s craft.

Le Cam appeared to be unhurt, as Riou reported both skippers worked on deck to stabilize PRB’s mast, the Vendee Globe organizers said.

Race director Denis Horeau said both skippers were safe and sound, though PRB had been slightly damaged in the daring rescue.

Riou, who beat Le Cam to victory in the 2004-2005 edition, said that he had a very relieved fellow competitor on board with him.

“Jean Le Cam is doing well,” Riou said. “He is happy to be here, even if he has just spent perhaps not the happiest 24 hours of his life as a sailor. We are both happy to be here, especially as a few hours ago nothing was certain.”

Despite the Vendee Globe being a solo race in which no technical assistance is allowed, race rules dictate that two people can occupy a boat although only one can be involved in its actual running.

The time which Riou spent helping Le Cam will also be discounted, in accordance with the rules, meaning he can theoretically continue the race.

However, the damage incurred to Riou’s outrigger during the rescue — according to organizers it collided with Le Cam’s upturned keel — has left him with a potential handicap, and having to repair the damage on his own.

It is expected that Riou will evaluate the extent of the damage before making any decision on whether or not to continue the race.

Le Cam’s scrape with disaster began in the early hours of Tuesday morning when he reported “big problems” on board his craft, before communications were abruptly cut off.

He was located by a Chilean maritime rescue airplane, and a Chilean ship hit the sea in a bid to reach the stricken 49-year-old Frenchman, who finished second in the race, behind Riou, four years ago.

Having rounded Cape Horn on Monday, by Tuesday night he had a lead of 100 nautical miles (approximately 180km) on fellow Frenchman Roland Jourdain, aboard Veolia.

Only 13 boats are now left in the race as the turbulent Southern Ocean had taken a heavy toll on competitors necessitating notably a rescue of another French sailor, Yann Elies, by the Australian navy.

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