Cheers for stranded sailor at rescue

2013-01-21 11:58

Sydney - The captain of a cruise ship spoke on Monday of the dramatic rescue of a French yachtsman adrift on a life-raft for days in mountainous seas, and the cheers from passengers when he was hauled safely on board.

After three days on the raft in the Southern Ocean, 63-year-old sailor Alain Delord was saved by the Antarctic adventure vessel MV Orion, 500 nautical miles southwest of Hobart, late on Sunday.

Captain Mike Taylor said the vessel's 100 passengers on a once-in-a-lifetime trip had at first been "massively disappointed" to be diverted.

"But there was a cheer you could hear right over the ship when we pulled him in through the door," Taylor told ABC radio.

He said the Orion was journeying from Antarctica to Macquarie Island and was 1094km south of Delord when it was contacted by Australia's Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) in Canberra.

"It took us a full 53 hours to get from where we were to him," the Briton said.

Air drops

Taylor spoke of huge swells and strong winds that made for conditions as extreme as any he had experienced and said that without the help of the RCC and aerial detection, Orion would never have found the sailor.

"It was unbelievable how difficult he was to see," Taylor said, describing how the orange raft would bob up atop a mighty wave and then disappear again.

Delord, who set off in early October, abandoned his yacht Tchouk Tchouk Nougat on Friday after the mast smashed and the hull was damaged too far from land for a helicopter to reach him.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) deployed three aircraft to airdrop Delord food, water, communications equipment and a safety suit and had stayed in regular contact with him.

Amid fears he would have to spend a third night at sea, Orion reached him before sunset.

Captain Taylor told ABC Delord was in better shape than one might have expected given his ordeal.

Lamb and wine

"He's very happy to be here, I can tell you that," he said.

"I only saw him last night when he was under the doctor's care. He was a little bit subdued. I guess he's been in fear of his life for two or three days so probably the adrenalin has now left his system so he's like a limp rag.

"But he was in surprisingly good condition... 63 years old, three months on a yacht, three days in a raft.

"He was able to stand and he was able to clear the canopy on his raft to help us with the rescue so he's in good shape."

Delord reportedly tucked into lamb shanks and a glass of red wine to celebrate.

Orion expedition leader Don McIntyre said on Facebook that a wave flooded part of the ship when crews initially opened a side door.

"We shut the side door fast... then the captain repositioned and gave the okay to open again.

Another famous rescue

"I was amazed to see the raft just 20m from us, sitting in calm water in the lee of the ship with Alain waving," he said.

McIntyre, a Tasmanian yachtsman, gave the go-ahead to lower a Zodiac inflatable vessel into the water and intercept the life raft.

"The Zodiac ripped past, they grabbed him and pulled Alain into the Zodiac. Then Steve, the driver, quickly brought the bow of the Zodiac to the side gate, all the while water lapping at the entrance and some coming below," he said.

"I passed the hauling line over and we attached it to Alain's harness and hauled him into the side of the ship."

The Orion, due to sail into Hobart, Tasmania, on Tuesday morning, was 11 days into an 18-day cruise.

Delord, an experienced solo yachtsman, was reportedly following the route of the Vendee Globe ocean race.

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.