In the roaring forties, in the cold waters of the South Atlantic, with waves exceeding five meters in height, constant winds of 22 knots and gusts above thirty knots; the Vendée Globe fleet was racing east into the ever-harsh Southern Indian Ocean.
A large group of IMOCAS, half the fleet, hunt down the expertly skippered leader “Apivia” Charlie Dalin. A hand-to-hand fight commanded by Thomas Ruyan aboard the «LinkedOut» – he sails only with the starboard hydrofoil as he has to cut the port one – after the island of Gouhg, followed by Jean Le Cam and a fierce Kevin Escoffier who during on the weekend I was hitting the gas.
At 2:46 p.m. on Monday (November 30, 2020) Escoffier, who was sailing in third position, fired the rescue beacon requesting “help” (mayday) as well as sending a message to his ground team before leaving the ship. With the request for rescue at the regatta monitoring center, led by Jacques Caraës, the coordination protocol between the CROSS rescue centers of Gris-Nez in France and the MRCC in Cape Town (South Africa) and the team of land of the PRB.
Jean Le Cam was the closest participant to the position of the «PRB», which was diverted towards the last known position of Escoffier at 40 ° 55´ South / 9 ° 18´ East; calculating that it would arrive around 5:00 p.m. At the time of performing the maneuver to rescue him, Le Cam was sailing with two curls on the mainsail and aided by the engine, which had had the seal removed, he loses visual contact in the middle of a sea with waves exceeding five meters and getting dark; I continued looking for him, but could no longer locate Escoffier’s life raft and could not pick up the AIS signal due to the strong sea.
Jacques Caraës diverted three more participants to reinforce the search for Escoffier in the middle of the night, luckily full moon bay, Boris Herrmann (SeaExplorer – Yacht de Monaco), Yannick Bestaven (Maître CoQ IV) and Sébastien Simon (ARKEA PAPREC) -all with three curls on the mainsail and motor released. Meanwhile, Le Cam continues to inform the rescue operation about the weather conditions: sea, wind and currents.
The «PRB» shore team reports that Escoffier’s personal beacon (AIS MOB) continues to transmit and that on board the raft it has flares to indicate its position.
The search has paid off and at 02:18 this morning (December 1, 2020) Jean Le Cam was able to rescue Kevin Escoffier alive. During the entire rescue operation, the president of PRB, Jean-Jacques Laurent, was informed minute by minute. The great joy occurred when through the video camera they could see Escoffier with Jean: “He’s on board with Jean!” We just saw it “; the hours that have passed since the last message sent by Escofier when he left his ship have been endless for all those involved in the Vendée Globe.
Jacques Caraës, the race director said: “We had sent Jean back to a position received by CROSS Gris Nez, a position sent by the distress beacon aboard EPIRB. The drift simulation from Météo France also matched this trace. Jean departed at 12:15 GMT (1:15 French time) on our order to reach this point at reduced speed. He found no one in the right place. Then he resumed his search to the southeast for three-quarters of an hour, an hour.
While moving at 1.5 knots in a 20-25 knot wind under a very tight canopy (3 curls on the mainsail and no engine), he disappeared from the screen and we heard him speak. We no longer saw anyone. Then a few minutes after 1:06 UT, or 2:06 French time (time by which he must have accurately retrieved Kevin on board), Jean returned to the chart table, then we saw Kevin come up behind him in a survival suit. A few seconds appeared, they both fit together before the video cut. It’s okay. Everybody is fine. They are recovering! ”.
At 08:00 today, Kevin Escoffier recounted that it had happened in the South Atlantic aboard the «PRB» -fifth IMOCA sponsored by the French company PRB, designed by VPLP and Verdier, built in 2009 on the mold of the Safran and which was skippered by Vincent Riou until 2018, the same year in which they installed “hydrofoils” – and in a matter of seconds the boat broke in two.
“… The boat backed up on itself in a wave sailing at 27 knots of speed. I heard a creak, but honestly, it didn’t take the noise to understand it. I looked at the bow, it was 90 °. Within seconds, there was water everywhere. The stern of the ship was under water and the bow pointed skyward. The ship split in two ahead of the mast bulkhead. In a way he backed off. I’m telling you I’m not exaggerating … there was a 90 ° angle between the stern and the bow of the boat.
I didn’t have time to do anything. I was only able to send a message to my team, “I’m going under. This is not a joke. HELP”.
“I got out of the boat, put on the survival suit as best I could. Everything was fading. The only reflex I had was to pick up the phone to send this message and the survival suit. I wanted to get the survival tote bag but not I could because the water was rushing in.
… The water filled the interior up to the cabin door. I fired the life raft and got into it already in the water. At that moment, I didn’t calm down at all … You’re on a raft with 35 knots of wind. No, that is not reassuring. I only calmed down when I saw Jean. But the problem was how to approach it.
We said 2-3 words to each other. It was Verdun on the water. He was forced to move away a bit and then I saw that he was staying in the area. I stayed on the raft until the wee hours of the morning.
He didn’t know if the weather was going to improve enough to allow a maneuver. He was two meters from me, he sent me a line, but it was difficult to stop the boat. I finally managed to grab a tube, a bar to get on board. There was still sea, about 3.50 meters. Getting into a 60 ‘is challenging in these conditions, especially when GST restricts your movements. Honestly, luckily I am in good physical shape because I assure you that it is not easy.
When I found Jean aboard, we hugged each other. He said: “Fuck you, you’re on board! It was hot! And I said” I screwed up your regatta, you were doing a great regatta “. He replied:” Okay, last time I was the one who ruined Vincent’s regatta. “
At the moment, I have no idea what to do next. We will see with the race management. I slept well for two hours, rested, ate. I did everything I could for the boat. I had reinforced it, I did everything, I don’t regret what I did ”.
At 12:00 today Le Cam and Escoffier sail together on the IMOCA «Yes We Cam!» when they are 400 miles southwest of Cape Town and heading 75 °. At the moment it is not known what they will do, if Le Cam approached the coast of South Africa to have a helicopter pick up Escoffier, if they will make a landing in the Kerguellen Islands or if they will do the rest of the Vendée Globe Together.