"The boat pitchpoled...There was a huge feeling of shock...the rescue was epic."
The 13th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre now has 35 crews left racing following the abandonment today (Thursday) of Halvard Mabire and Britain’s Miranda Merron on their Class40 Campagne de France and the capsizing last night of the Multi50 Drekan Groupe.
Eric Defert and Christopher Pratt, the two French sailors trapped on the overturned Drekan Groupe overnight, are safe and sound after being rescued by the crew of the Dutch cargo ship, Beautriton, this morning. They are now heading for Georgetown, USA, instead of the finish line in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.
It was a sobering fifth day of this bi-annual double-handed Route du café, tracing the historic coffee trade route from Le Havre. The hectic pace set by the leaders, the chaotic sea and the violent squalls are making enormous demands on the boats and the sailors.
In happier circumstances, the headline surprise of the morning would have been Sodebo Ultim' taking the lead from Maxi Edmond de Rothschild in the Ultime class at the front of the fleet. Thomas Coville and Jean-Luc Nélias’s decision to position themselves further west paid in stunning fashion as they turned a 70-mile deficit into a 60 mile lead. Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel were forced to gybe last night and are sailing in Sodebo Ultim’s wake. Ominously, the newly-launched Maxi Edmond de Rothschild had already eaten back 10 miles of that advantage yesterday afternoon, averaging 28 knots to their rivals 20.
In the Imoca, the favourite, St Michel-Virbac, was maintaining its lead, but even more impressive was the incredible SMA, who are still somehow in second just 30 miles behind in an old boat without foils. In the Multi 50 the fight is getting ever fiercer between Arkema and FenêtréA-Mix Buffet, who have opened up a gap of 150 miles on the rest.
In the Class40, the Anglo-Spanish duo of Phil Sharp and Pablo Santurde (Imerys Clean Energy) has been setting a speed that has been punishing his French rivals in newer boats and matching the older boats at the back of the Imoca 60 fleet. Only V and B have matched them and are 30 miles behind, making a spectacular comeback after having to slow and laminate a cracked forward bulkhead yesterday.
Capsize and rescue
Eric Defert, skipper of Drekan Groupe, contacted by phone on the Beautriton cargo ship:
“We were sailing downwind under one reef with the little gennaker. We were going to roll up the little gennaker. I was below and Chris (Christopher Pratt) was on deck. I was preparing to go out, to take in another reef. The boat pitchpoled, (plunging forward and flipping over). It was blowing hard, we were under a squall in a pitch-black night, but we were being very cautious. Chris just got inside. I was below, so that's ok, but when you're on deck it's less easy. There was a huge feeling of shock. You blame yourself; there are no words. Our rescuers arrived in the area at half past midnight. They circled around us all night; they did a great job. The rescue was epic because there was a lot of sea and wind. Their boat only had a small 15hp engine. They came to save us, and we found out that one of them was having a birthday. So, maybe his gift was saving two lives.”