On the 39th day of the Vendée Globe, French skipper Yann Elies, placed eighth, suffered a severe leg injury and was forced to abandon. Michel Desjoyeaux stayed in top position.
AFP - Australia dispatched a ship Friday to rescue a French yachtsman lying in agony with a broken leg on his boat and tossed by rough seas with violent winds forecast, officials said.
Skipper Yann Elies, 34, is in great pain and unable to move freely, his spokeswoman Benedicte Etienne told AFP by telephone from France, as he floats hundreds of miles off Australia.
The Australian Navy dispatched a frigate on a rescue mission from the west coast port of Fremantle before dawn on Friday with a doctor on board, but it is expected to take two or three days to reach the yachtsman.
Elies was forced to abandon the the Vendee Globe round-the-world yacht race on Thursday while in eighth place aboard Generali in the Southern Ocean about 800 nautical miles south of the Australian coast.
"He is trying to rest, but is suffering enormously. The idea is for him to gather enough energy to be able to reach his morphine medication," Etienne said.
Elies managed to drag himself into the cabin and activate the yacht's autopilot after breaking his thighbone in a fall when a huge wave slammed into the yacht as he was changing a sail.
But he has been unable to secure the 60-foot (18-metre) vessel for bad weather forecast to hit the area.
"He is preparing himself mentally to face the strong winds scheduled for tomorrow," said Etienne.
Navy chief Vice Admiral Russ Crane said the HMAS Arunta may reach the stricken sailor early on Sunday but could be delayed by bad weather and heavy seas.
"Once they arrive on scene, they will make an assessment," said Tracy Jiggins of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
"Ultimately, the goal will be to get the yachtsman off the vessel and onto the HMAS Arunta and bring him back to Australia," she told AFP.
The race organisers said another competitor, Marc Guillemot, had changed course to meet Elies early Friday morning and would remain nearby until the arrival of the Australian naval vessel.
Guillemot was there to provide moral support, the Vendee Globe organisers said on their website.
"Guillemot is circling around Elies's vessel, the water conditions are not good, but they are in permanent radio contact with each other now," said Etienne.
A third competitor, Samantha Davies, will also be joining Guillemot to offer support to Elies and is due to arrive at about the same time as the Australian rescue operation.
Davies and Guillemot will not be penalised for diverting from the race as they did so at the request of the racing organiser, said Etienne.
"On the contrary, they will get a time credit from the racing organiser, and this will be taken into consideration by the jury afterwards," she said.
This is not the first time Australian forces have rescued Vendee Globe racers. They went to the aid of Briton Tony Bullimore and Frenchman Thierry Dubois in the 1996-97 race.
The rescues drew some criticism because of the cost to the Australian taxpayer, but Crane said the navy had no hesitation in responding to the request to help Elies.
Thirty yachts began the gruelling round-the-world classic, which is held every four years, from the French Atlantic port of Les Sables d'Olonne on November 9, but 12 have now abandoned the race.
More than 633 nautical miles ahead of the injured skipper, Frenchman Michel Desjoyeaux is leading the rest of the pack on the 39th day of the race, with more than 12,000 nautical miles to go to the finish line.
Date created : 2008-12-18