One skipper abandons ship after his IMOCA explodes into flames, another is rescued by a fellow competitor after capsizing, and a third has their trimaran shipwrecked on the Spanish shore – the latest incidents in the Route du Rhum 2022
It has been another intense 24 hours in the Route du Rhum 2022, with two dramatic mid-ocean rescues, as well as multiple other abandonments as the 138-boat fleet continues to contend with punishing transatlantic conditions.
Most dramatic was Fabrice Amedeo’s mid-ocean rescue. Amedeo was forced to abandon his IMOCA 60 Nexans – Art et Fenêtres after it literally exploded into fire mid-ocean. He was rescued by a nearby freighter M/V Maersk Brida.
Amedeo, a former journalist turned ocean racer, gave an extraordinary description of the events leading up to his rescue:
“Sunday morning: everything is fine on board and I’m having a great race. The boat is flying hard in the squalls and the sea is heavy. Suddenly, I realise that my ballast has exploded on a wave and that I have several hundred litres of water in the boat. I stop to be safe and start to empty everything.
“At that moment, the batteries are immediately affected by the water and failed and I had a complete blackout on board. I have no more electricity: no more autopilot, no more computer, no more electronics. I decide, in consultation with my team, to proceed cautiously towards Cascais.
“Sunday afternoon: big smoke on board the boat. I use the extinguisher, I put on my TPS (survival suit). I alert the race direction who asks a competitor in IMOCA to divert to assist me if necessary. The smoke eventually stops. I decide to resume my passage to Cascais.
“I meet James Harayda, the skipper of Gentoo who had come to the area to help me. I thank him and resume my passage. I completely dry the boat and prepare myself for a difficult passage…
“Again 2h30 of siesta then 7 hours on the helm. Shortly after 1230 pm more new smoke on board. Followed by an explosion. I grope my way back into the cabin and manage to retrieve my TPS. My Grab bag (survival bag) had remained in the cockpit. I’m going back to get my wedding ring. I hit the fire extinguisher but nothing happens. The smoke is not white like yesterday but yellow. The cockpit warps and yellows. Seawater spray sounds like the sound of water hitting a saucepan. I understand that I will have to evacuate. I warn my team of a possible evacuation.
“When I hang up, I am then at the back of the boat ready to trigger my survival: a torrent of flame comes out of the cabin and the coachroof. I am caught in the middle of the flames. I can’t even open my eyes. I manage to push the life raft into the water and jump.
“Normally the end that holds the liferaft to the boat is supposed to let go. It doesn’t let go. The boat, which… is still going forwards pushed by rough seas, pulls it and it fills with water. I manage to get on board without letting go… I say to myself “if you want to live you have a few seconds to find the knife and cut”. The IMOCA pulls me back towards it. The waves bring me dangerously close to it. I finally find the knife and cut. My raft is drifting downwind of the boat which is fully on fire. It takes 30 minutes to sink. I spoke to the boat and thanked it. We were going to go round the world together in two years time.
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“Then you have to get organised. The satellite phone did not like the water in the raft and doesn’t work.
“I say to myself: ‘nobody knows that the boat has sunk and that you are in your raft, if you activate the beacon on the IMOCA that you were able to take with you and you trigger the one on the liferaft they will have the information’. That’s what I do. I can’t find a baler [sic] on board. A Tupperware box containing batteries will save me. I empty the raft. I begin the wait. I stand behind the raft so that it does not overturn.
“The sea is very, very big. I take stock of the equipment on board and prepare for what’s next. I gather the flares. I put the VHF around my neck. I spend three to four hours in this raft. I am surprisingly calm. The raft regularly fills with water from the lightly breaking waves. I understand all this but feel safe. I know, however, that nothing is over.
“Every 30 minutes, to preserve the batteries, I make a Mayday call on the VHF. I took the VHF on board thanks to Éric, my team manager, who had time to give me this advice just before I hung up. I keep the batteries of the raft for later.
“A few minutes later a voice answers me. A cargo ship which is 6 miles from my position arrives in the area. I’m reassured but don’t see how I’m going to board such a giant with this sea. I’m in constant contact on the VHF with the captain who can’t see me: the sea is big and the sun is on the water and I’m a tiny orange dot. He told me earlier: ‘You are alive because you told me: I am approximately 2 miles from your starboard side’.
“I launch a distress flare. He sees me. He loses me. I hit a second one. He sees me and arrives in the area. He tries a first approach which fails. It is very impressive to be in my inflatable raft a few metres from this steel giant. He apologises on the VHF and leaves for an approach. As it passes, the wake builds, the raft fills with loads of water. He repositions himself upwind of me, a few metres away, it’s crazy, and drifts towards me. This building calms the sea a little and sucks me in. The raft rubs against the hull from front to back. If that doesn’t work it will very quickly become complicated. The crew threw ropes at me that I couldn’t recover at all at first.
“Eventually I retrieve one near the bow of the ship. Everything is played out down to the wire. There is the thickness of that line between success and failure, survival and drama. The crew pulls me to a gangway that has been dropped. With the waves I sometimes go up to the level of the top of the steps then go down 5 metres below. This is one last test. If the liferaft goes under the stairs it will be pierced and I will be thrown into the water. I approach. A first time: I don’t feel it’s right. A second wave, I go up and hop. I jump on the stairs which I reach, then find myself in the arms of a man wearing a helmet. I climb on deck.
“I am welcomed by about 20 crew members. It’s crazy right now. They take me in their arms, congratulate me.
“Once I am on board the freighter, the fear and adrenaline surge. My legs are shaking. It’s crazy, this animal capacity that humans have to manage a survival situation. Then it hits home. Death did not want me today or rather life did not want me to leave it. I’m devastated but the happiest of men because tonight my wife and daughters aren’t going to bed crying.
“This adventure in no way alters my passion for my job and for the ocean. I would like to thank my team, the race management of the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe, the rescue teams, who worked to ensure that this rescue operation took place in the best possible conditions.
“I also think of my partners. I thank them for their trust. I will bounce back. We will bounce back.”
Route du Rhum rescue for Brieuc Maisonneuve
The previous day Jean-Pierre Dick had rescued fellow competitor Brieuc Maisonneuve after Maisonneuve’s Marsaudon catamaran (CMA île de France – 60000) capsized.
Dick, a former IMOCA skipper who was racing his Verdier-designed one-off in the Rhum Mono class, diverted course and was able to recover Maisonneuve from the hull of his upturned catamaran.
Maisonneuve’s team is now focussing on a salvage effort. The upturned multihull is halfway between La Coruña and the Azores, around 400 miles from the Spanish port.
Adrien Hardy, offshore racer who specialises in these types of rescue operations, is already working in the area on the recovery of the capsized Ocean Fifty trimaran Solidaires En Peloton – ARSEP. Skipper Thibaut Vauchel-Camus was rescued on Sunday by the rescue boat Merida.
Shipwrecked and rescued
A third skipper was rescued this morning (Tuesday 15th November) while their trimaran beached. Erwan Thibouméry had been heading for La Coruña (Spain) after suffering a series of problems with both sails and engine on his Nigel Irens-designed 50ft trimaran, Interaction, which he was sailing in the Multi Rhum class.
At 0444hrs today Thibouméry reported that he had lost manoeuvrability of the trimaran and was in difficulty off the coast of Spain. The skipper was lifted off by helicopter, while his boat drifted onto a beach in Ferreira.
So far 21 skippers have been forced to retire: 13 Class 40s, 4 IMOCAs, 2 Rhum Multi entrants and 2 in the Ocean Fifty class. They include Australian Rupert Henry overnight, whose Class40 has suffered structural damage to a forward bulkhead, and, fellow Class 40 sailor François Jambou whose A l’Aveugle – Trim Control dismasted, and Matthieu Perraut who had a collision with an underwater object, damaging the keel fairing, port rudder and caused major delamination of crash box area in the bottom of the hull.
Route du Rhum cliffhanger
Impressively, the Ultimes have suffered fewer problems with foil damage following collisions in this race.
Aboard SVR-Lazartigue, Francois Gabart had a technical issue with a board control line, but was able to repair it. “I broke the line that lifts and lowers the port foil. I slowed down for two or three hours to repair that. I hesitated but with the team we said there was still a lot of starboard tack before the finish, but I lost quite a few miles after being pleased about my position to leeward of Charles.”
“The pace is quite intense. Since the start, we’ve had upwind tacking, the first front with lots of sail changes, then upwind on the other tack, then some reaching, a second front in the Azores and some more reaching, and now we’re downwind. But that’s what you can expect in the Route du Rhum.”
He and race leader Charles Caudrelier on Maxi Edmond de Rothschild are now less than 500 miles from the finish in Guadaloupe, and expected to arrive early tomorrow morning (Wednesday 16 November).
Caudrelier currently has an 80-mile lead over Gabart, but the notoriously light and fickle winds around the island of Guadaloupe could see that advantage dissipate in the final moments.
“It’s not over before Guadeloupe! Concentration and rest are on the agenda for the day,” he commented this morning. “I don’t have enough of a lead to relax completely.
“What worries me is the bit around Guadeloupe. I’m afraid that François will ‘do a Joyon’, that he will take revenge for the last time!”, added Caudrelier, recalling how Joyon slipped past Gabart to take the win in light winds during the last night of the 2018 Route du Rhum race.
“I will get there at the wrong time, at the beginning of the night in local time. At this time of the day, the winds are not yet coming down off the land. Everything is in place to create a cliffhanger of a finish just like you like on land, but one you hate at sea as a racer”.
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