Drama on high seas as Briton battles to save stricken rival

Vendée Globe competitor called to assist Frenchman trapped in boat with broken leg
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A British yachtswoman was in a race against time last night as she battled the high seas, gales and icebergs of the Southern Ocean to come to the aid of a fellow competitor in the world's toughest yacht race.

Sam Davies changed course after she learned that a French sailor, Yann Eliés, had suffered a fractured thighbone when he crashed into the foredeck of his 60ft-boat after it slammed into a large wave 800 miles off the southern Australian coastline.

Organisers of the Vendée Globe round-the-world race asked Ms Davies, a 33-year-old Cambridge engineering graduate who herself blacked out with pain from smashing her elbow on a winch yesterday, and Frenchman Marc Guillemot, to divert to offer Mr Eliés "psychological assistance".

Speaking yesterday as she edged within 400 miles of Mr Eliés, Ms Davies said: "I am ready for anything in my bid to assist Yann. He's my number one objective now. I will stay there as long as it takes the emergency services to arrive and ensure he is not on his own."

A race spokeswoman, Véronique Teurlay, said the sailors were playing a vital part. "It is one of the most important things in a situation like this that someone is alongside him and that he feels like someone is close by. He is in an enormous amount of pain and his spirits are quite poor," she said. An Australian navy hospital boat, an Adelaide-class frigate, was due to leave Perth last night but will take at least two days to reach the injured mariner who was in too much pain even to move the two metres from his bunk across his cockpit to reach a three-day supply of morphine to quell the pain of his broken left femur. Race organisers said that he was beyond the range of helicopters and feared that poor weather in the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean could still hamper efforts to take him off the boat.

The two competitors have been told not to try to board the eighth-placed Frenchman's yacht, which is hove-to and greatly slowed, with seven-metre waves and 15-20 knot winds creating a dangerous seascape.

Mr Eliés is an experienced sailor who is one of the few to have been on the winning crew of the Jules Verne Trophy twice. Mr Guillemot was due to reach his compatriot from his southerly position last night while Ms Davies is hoping to come alongside later today.

Vincent Riou and Armel Le Cléac'h also offered their services but the weather was too bad for them to get there in time.

Mr Eliés was flung on to the deck as he worked on a sail while leaning on the pulpit at the bow of his yacht Generali yesterday morning. He was forced to crawl back into his cabin to make contact with Dr Jean-Yves Chauve, the race doctor in France, via satelite phone. The doctor diagnosed the fracture after Mr Eliés described the angle of his leg to his knee and advised the sailor to eat and drink normally.

Ms Davies's high-tech Open 60 yacht Roxy was lying in 10th place nearly 1,000 miles behind the leader Michel Desjoyeaux on day 39 of the three-month non-stop circumnavigation known as the Everest of the Seas. The Vendée takes the fleet around the three great capes — the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn — marking the southern tips of Africa, Australia and America. It normally claims an attrition rate of nearly half of all competitiors and Mr Eliés is the 10th to be forced out in this year's event.