French yachtsman's rescue 'a miracle'

2013-01-22 14:00
French sailor Alain Delord (holding rope) being hauled aboard the Orion (AFP)

French sailor Alain Delord (holding rope) being hauled aboard the Orion (AFP)

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Hobart – On Tuesday a French yachtsman described his dramatic rescue from a life-raft adrift for three days in the Southern Ocean as a "second chance at life" and a "miracle".

Alain Delord was stranded without food or water in churning seas about 500 nautical miles from southern Australia's Tasmania after his yacht was badly damaged in perilous weather during a solo round-the-world sailing attempt.

The yachtsman was eventually picked up by the Antarctic cruise ship Orion, but it took 53 hours to get to him. The ship was slowed down by strong winds and rough swells and only reached Delord before sunset on the third day.

"It's the start of a second life," the sailor told a press conference in Hobart after walking off the Orion at Macquarie Dock, uninjured except for some bruises and hands swollen from clinging to his inflatable raft.

"The chances of being here today were very small. It's a miracle because of the circumstances... luck," he said, speaking in French.

Delord, who kicked off his round-the-world attempt in October, thanked the Australian authorities for co-ordinating his rescue, saying that when he abandoned his ship on Friday for his life raft he had no food or water.

He had activated his distress beacon, but initially had no idea whether anyone had received his signal as he drifted in the remote seas, with no other means of communicating with authorities.

The Frenchman, who is in his 60’s, abandoned his yacht ‘Tchouk Tchouk Nougat’ after the mast broke and the hull sustained damage.

He said he had had confidence in his boat when setting out on his journey, but his mistake was to travel too close to the remnants of a cyclone which created the difficult conditions that snapped the mast.

Delord abandoned ship and spent the next three days adrift in an inflatable life raft until the Orion could reach him. He was too far from Australia for a helicopter to rescue him.

Rescue mission

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) deployed numerous aircraft to drop food, water, communications equipment and a safety suit to Delord and had stayed in regular contact with him as he drifted on the high seas, ensuring a French-speaking official was onboard when they could.

The Orion, carrying 100 passengers on a tour of the Antarctic, was diverted to Delord's aid and completed the dramatic rescue of the experienced sailor on Sunday night.

The skipper of the Orion said that without aerial detection he would never have been able to spot the Frenchman -despite his bright orange raft- because of the huge swells and strong winds.

“My heart was really in my mouth,” said Captain Mike Taylor, who had to wait until Delord and those on board an inflatable craft sent to rescue him were safely back on the Orion.

The vessel moored in Hobart, capital of the island state of Tasmania, early on Tuesday to a cheer from passengers thronging the deck.

Delord completed immigration formalities -made difficult by the fact that he left his passport on his abandoned yacht- onboard the Orion where he has been recuperating in a luxury cabin.

The experienced yachtsman was reportedly following the route of the Vendee Globe ocean race.

He was asked whether he would continue his adventures, despite the loss of his boat which his partner Armelle Launay-Caillaud said was uninsured. "The problem is financial," Delord replied.

The Australian navy famously rescued Frenchman Thierry Dubois and Briton Tony Bullimore after several days adrift in the Southern Ocean during the 1996/97 edition of the Vendee Globe.

- SAPA
Read more on:    australia  |  maritime
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