Sailing: Stamm rescued by tanker as Atlantic storms batter race

There was drama in the Transat race yesterday as the tanker Emma was diverted to rescue Bernard Stamm from his upturned yacht about 360 miles south of Newfoundland.

There was drama in the Transat race yesterday as the tanker Emma was diverted to rescue Bernard Stamm from his upturned yacht about 360 miles south of Newfoundland.

The Swiss sailor was picked up from his vessel in seas only just beginning to calm after storm-force winds. Rescuers were alerted when the ocean racer activated his distress beacon early in the morning.

Aboard the Emma, Stamm said: "I had tried to reduce the speed of the yacht when it was doing 20 knots and had been surfing at 27 knots and the keel was moving rapidly. About 10 seconds after that the keel broke and the yacht went on to its side.

"I knew I was in trouble and after that the yacht capsized and I was finished. It was full of water and I was just praying to get out. I turned on the emergency switch and then took to the life raft and tied it to the stern and I knew I had food and water."

He said the broken keel had been: "a conception that cannot work at high speed."

A second dismasting ended the chances of Vincent Riou, a potential race winner, though a world record was in sight for a man who is already a round-the-world winner. Meanwhile, British boats moved into first and second places in the original - and hardest - singlehanded transatlantic race, run this year over a 2,800-mile course from Plymouth to Boston.

Stamm, who in 2001 set the west-to-east transatlantic record in the same boat, Armor Lux, had already felt the tell-tale vibrations when his 60-foot yacht - which was in the lead but hammering through 40-knot winds and big seas - lost its keel. Once overturned, Stamm set off his emergency signal and contacted the Marine Rescue Coordination Centre.

A Royal Canadian Air Force Hercules from Greenwood, Nova Scotia, made visual and audio contact with Stamm, and arranged the diversion of the commercial ship, supported by the European Fisheries protection vessel Jean Charicot.

"It is really difficult to guess what might have happened, but it is obvious he lost a large part of his ballast package," said the British designer Merfyn Owen. The hull was designed to take exactly the loads which were being exerted by the gales and the bumpy seas "so something else must have gone wrong," added Owen. Stamm's survival suit would have helped maintain his body temperature.

Things were also going wrong for Riou, who was dismasted after driving PRB into second place behind Stamm and ahead of Britain's Mike Golding in Ecover and the Kiwi Mike Sanderson in Pindar. Riou had slipped to third when he lost his mast and boom about 500 miles south of Newfoundland.

Golding held a slender lead and had to cope with his own problems. As soon as the race started he lost the hydraulic power which switches the keel from side to side. He has since been pumping it into position by hand. He then temporarily lost the use of his autopilots yesterday morning. But approaching 1,100 miles to the finish Golding had a lead of just seven miles over Sanderson and will need both guile and physical stamina if he is to overcome the vagaries of the weather.

Nearly 700 miles ahead of him, Michel Desjoyeaux, who won the Vendée Globe singlehanded round-the-world race in 2000-2001, but has since switched to multihull racing, was approaching the 400-mile barrier in Géant having seen his lead cut to 50 miles by Thomas Coville in Sodebo. Both should finish today and cut over 24 hours off the record of nine days, 23hr, 21min set in 2000 by Francis Joyon, the man who recently set a new record for sailing the 90 trimaran Idec solo around the world.

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