French sailor Escoffier rescued by rival during Vendée Globe yacht race

Jean Le Cam picks up Kevin Escoffier, safe and sound, on December 1, 2020.
Jean Le Cam picks up Kevin Escoffier, safe and sound, on December 1, 2020. © @KevinEscoffier (Twitter)

The French Vendee Globe skipper recovering after a dramatic rescue by a rival competitor 600 nautical miles 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 organisers received a message from Le Cam informing them of the successful rescue at around 0100 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 metres with water temperatures of 10 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) 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 organisers 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 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 organisers to go to Escoffier's aid, the veteran yachtsman reaching the approximate zone of the distress beacon at 5:00 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 manoeuvre. 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 okay'. 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.

Maintenance issues with 'flying' boats

The three other competitors invited by the organisation to deviate to reinforce the search 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.

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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