Peter Crowther, 50, had just two minutes to escape from his 28-year-old boat, Galway Blazer of Dart. He then spent more than six hours being thrown around in a tiny liferaft in 20-foot waves before the Swedish container ship Atlantic Compass picked him up. He will be taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Crowther, a pony-tailed publican from Stoke Gabriel, near Dartmouth, was competing in his fifth Singlehanded Transatlantic Race from Plymouth to Newport, Rhode Island.
"The boat slid down a big wave and then there was an almighty bang and the water started pouring in," he said. "I could see straight away there was no point in doing anything but getting out."
In separate incidents, the Frenchman Francis Joyon, leading the race and on track to smash the 10-day record, capsized, and the favourite to win the monohull class, his compatriot Yves Parler, was dismasted.
Joyon was picked up by a fishing boat when his 60-foot trimaran, Banque Populaire, capsized in a "freak gust" less than 24 hours from the finish, and on course to beat the record of 10 days, nine hours and 15 minutes set by Loick Peyron in 1988.
Peyron is now second to Paul Vatine in Haute Normandie and both could still break the record, as the monohulls are still led by Italy's Giovanni Soldini in the 50-footer Telecom Italia after Yves Parlier's radically- designed 60-footer, Aquitaine Innovations, was dismasted in some of the stormy weather the fleet has been enduring.