Rescue operation underway for French yachtsman

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The Independent Online

A full-scale air and sea rescue operation was underway today after a distress call from French competitor Jean le Cam in the Vendée Globe solo round the world race.

The vastly experienced le Cam, who was second in 2004-05, had barely enough time to call his shore team in France before communication with his Open 60 VM Masteriaux was abruptly cut off when he was 220 miles west of Cape Horn.

He was lying third at the time and the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centres in Chile and France immediately deployed a plane from the Chilean navy and ordered the Bahamian-registered tanker Snalgol-Kassangie to divert. A helicopter was put on standby, and two other competitors, Armel le Cléac'h and the 2004 winner Vincent Riou were also asked to go to le Cam's aid.

Riou was the first of the two to arrive on the scene. He saw the upturned hull but with a flag fluttering through a skin fitting at the bow of VM Materiaux. He was then able to shout loud enough to make oral contact with le Cam inside the upturned hull.

The escape hatch at the stern was underwater the way the hull was floating, making immediate escape too hazardous. A Chilean naval tug has left Puerto Williams with a rigid inflatable boat and a team of divers and is expected to rendezvous with le Cam at 06.30GMT on Wednesday.

A plane spotted le Cam's yacht upside down, apparently having lost either its keel or keel bulb and the tanker was soon alongside 300 metres away, though the sea state in the 25 to 30-knot winds made the launch of a rescue boat and crew too hazardous.

As le Cam had set off an emergency beacon less than an hour after first making radio contact and a second beacon was activated several hours later, the race organisers in Paris interpreted this as a good sign that le Cam was still alive.

The 49-year old le Cam, from Brittany, is married with two children and has a substantial track record in singlehanded sailing, but he becomes the 17th of the original 30 starters from les Sables d'Olonne on 9 November to drop out of what is one of the most gruelling events not just in sailing but in all sport.

It means that the top non-French competitor, Britain's Sam Davies, moves up to fifth on the water. She has been given a 32-hour redress for being diverted to the aid of Yann Elies after he broke his leg and had to be rescued by the Royal Australian Navy and, though the man behind her, Marc Guillemot, receives 82 hours for standing alongside, she is probably 50 hours ahead of him.

It also means that the second woman in the race - and both are still competing - another Briton, Dee Caffari, is now eighth and, remarkably, Steve White in the 10-year old Toe in the Water (Spirit of Weymouth) is now 10th.

The two leaders, 2000 winner Michel Desjoyeaux and Roland Jourdain, have both rounded Cape Horn and are less than 7,000 miles from the finish.

In Singapore, Team Ericsson is in double trouble ahead of the inshore race on Saturday as part of the Volvo round the world race. Leader Ericsson 4, skippered by Torben Grael, had been referred to an international jury hearing on Thursday for replacing a bow section without advising the official measurers.

Stablemate Ericsson 3, which will see veteran Magnus Olsson take over as skipper for the next leg to Qingdao in place of the injured Anders Lewander, is also facing hearings about whether it sailed the proper course from Kochi, south-west India, and a right of way complaint from second overall Telefonica Blue, skippered by Bouwe Bekking.