French yachtsman rescued by Australian navy

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The Independent Online

Stricken French yachtsman Yann Eliès was yesterday lifted off his yacht Generali by the Royal Australian Navy after breaking his thigh deep in the Southern Ocean during the Vendée Globe singlehanded round the world race, a 27,000-mile, 24/7, 90-day marathon.

Standing by during the mercy mission, one of many carried out by the Australian Navy and which have included other racing yachts, had been fellow-competitor Marc Guillemot, offering encouragement and moral support.

Also asked to alter course was Britain's Sam Davies, but she was still four hours away as she was stood down by race control in Paris and resumed her racing course.

The frigate HMAS Arunta also had a civilian doctor on board from its home port in Perth, Western Australia, who was ready to perform any necessary immediate surgery in the frigate's fully equipped sanatorium.

The frigate launched a large rigid inflatable support boat with five people on board into a sea made worse by gale force winds. Two boarded the yacht to put Eliès into a full spinal splint before transferring him to the warship. He had been able to take painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and drink water plus eat a little food. he will be transferred to a military hospital.

The yacht, Generali, was then be left to sail slowly north-east under its own devices as two support crew from the Generali team, Jean-Baptiste Epron and Philippe Laot, were flying down from France to charter a seagoing vessel, track the position of the yacht every 10 minutes and, having located it, then sail it first to Australia.

The sailing centre of Fremantle is becoming a hospital hub for shipping home war-wounded Open 60s in the Vendee with Mike Golding's Ecover, Loick Peyron's Gitana 80 and Dominique Wavre's Temenos already claiming places in the queue.

There is often an outcry by politicians in Australia seeking to make capital out of what they claim is unnecessary taxpayer expense, but the Australian military authorities and civilian rescue organisations have said that cases like this offer perfect training exercises at less cost than those which they have, in any case, to organise.

And they bring international kudos. The most famous in the UK was the rescue of Tony Bullimore five days after his yacht lost its keel and capsized, trapping him below.

Other rescues have included Britain's Pete Goss turning round to pick up Frenchman Raphael Dinelli from his upturned yacht, which inspired the French government to make him a member of the Légion d'Honneur.

As leader Michel Desjoyeaux, the winner in 2000, charges into the Pacific on his way to Cape Horn, the fleet has been reduced from an original 30 to an effective 18. Samantha Davies, who was also asked to divert as a precautionary measure, is top Briton at an adjusted ninth. She and Guillemot, one place ahead of her, will both be considered for time compensation.

Behind Davies, Brian Thompson, over 1,250 miles behind Desjoyeaux, will move up to 10th and Dee Caffari to 11th, a further 500 miles behind Thompson. Steve White in his 10-year old boat will be 13th and Jonny Malbon, in his brand new boat, 2,700 miles behind Desjoyeaux, is in 14th.

First to last is separated by 3,800 miles. First to last in the Volvo Ocean race was only 200 miles as the third leg from south-west India to Singapore saw the eight boats heading through the Straits of Malacca and lining for an end-game which should see Torben Grael and his Ericsson 4 crew bank a third consecutive leg win.

Just 27 miles covered the next five with Grael's team mate Anders Lewander threatening to make it a one/two in Ericsson 3 as Spain's Telefonica Blue, skippered by Bouwe Bekking, and the American entry Puma, with Kenny Read at the helm, were neck and neck to prevent any Swedish domination. Battling for fifth and sixth were Telefonica Black and the Irish/Chinese entry Green Dragon, skippered by Britain's double Olympic medallist Ian Walker, still struggling for pace.

Bringing up the rear, behind a Team Russia struggling for money, was Delta Lloyd, hampered by damage which has put out of use of the port keel ram.