Rescuer Le Cam relishes 'miracle' of Vendee Globe finish

Les Sables-d'Olonne (France) (AFP) –


Yannick Bestaven may have won the ninth edition of the solo round-the-world Vendee Globe this week but there can be little doubt that Jean Le Cam, who finished in what he called the "jerk's" of fourth, is the people's champion.

The oldest skipper in the race at 61 and competing in his fifth Vendee, Le Cam said it was a "miracle" he completed the race.

He not only rescued fellow competitor Kevin Escoffier in high seas in the south Atlantic but had to put up with his boat, officially called Yes We Cam! but unofficially Hubert, falling apart at the seams.

"I have experienced a lot of difficult things in my life but this time I think it was really unbearable but you learn that you can still stand unbearable things," he said at the press conference after he arrived at Les Sables d'Olonnes on Thursday.

"It is incredible how human beings can manage to do things when you tell yourself 'it is impossible' and the fact I am here today is really a miracle. It is just incredible.

"I have not had much luck in my life but this time, it played out for me."

Le Cam, who finished second in the 2004-05 edition of the race before capsizing during the subsequent Vendee, was actually the eighth skipper to cross the finish line in 81 days, five hours, 59 minutes and 55 seconds.

But the 16hrs 15mins compensation he was awarded for going off course to rescue Escoffier raised him to fourth overall -- a remarkable achievement for an elderly Hubert which was not equipped with the foils that assisted the top three.

"You finish second you don't win but fourth you are not even on the podium," says Le Cam who is as unforgiving as the rugged, granite coastline of his native Finistere.

"But I thought I was eighth and so fourth, it is OK, the position of 'the jerk'. But I replaced another potential jerk who could have been fourth so that shows how generous I am."

- Rescue -

The rescue of Escoffier off the Cape of Good Hope in early December after his boat PRB "folded in two" -- a sharp reminder of Le Cam's own near-disaster when he had to be rescued by Vincent Riou -- was quickly followed by structural damage to his own boat that would shred his nerves for the rest of the race.

"When your capsize, you capsize. You are on a boat, you capsize and 18 hours later Vincent comes to get you. That is it. It is only 19 hours. It is not one month and a half, every day, every hour.

"When Kevin disembarked on to the (French navy frigate) Nivoise there was a big front and I went to the bow and inside the hull, the boat was delaminating.

"The hull moved about five centimetres and you tell yourself that it is going to blow open any moment. I repaired it once and it cracked again. So I repaired it again.

"Every hour of every day you tell yourself 'it's vital that it doesn't get knocked'. But Hubert got me home and I helped Hubert to do that. That's why I said it was very difficult.

"When you are stressed from morning to night to know if you are going to finish or not, there isn't a lot of pleasure in that."

Having already achieved the highs and lows of this extraordinary race that sees the competitors sail around 52,000 kilometres across the world's toughest oceans, Le Cam would have been forgiven for taking up the challenge of a fifth Vendee. But the hunger remains.

"All things are relative in reality," says Le Cam.

"For example when you are in the south and you are cold and you have all these problems but then you have flat seas. That's the dream.

"It is about things which are unreachable in daily life. You need to know what is bad to know what is good. You need to know unhappiness to know what is love.

"These are questions I truly ask myself because it was real for me. It is the extremes."

Understandably, the 61-year-old, has no plans yet to launch a new campaign for the tenth edition in 2023.

"If it was tomorrow it would be 'no'. I don’t know.

"I'm happy to have arrived. My life will continue, it will change, something else will happen."