Helicopter rescue as Autissier abandons yacht

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The Independent Online
SAILING An Australian navy helicopter winched Isabelle Autissier, the French sailor, to safety yesterday after she spent more than four days stranded in her stricken yacht in the Southern Ocean. Autissier, 38, who was competing in the BOC Round the Worldrace, was rescued 750 nautical miles southwest of Adelaide.

David Gray, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesman, said Autissier was in good health after her ordeal. She was lifted off by winch from her stricken 60-ft yacht, Ecureuil Poitou Charentes II, by the crew of the Sea Hawk helicopter and then transferred to the deck of the HMAS Darwin just after 7am.

"I am in good shape, but a little tired," Autissier said from the ship. "For me, personally, it is not too grave. It was certainly harsh to lose my yacht, but realistically there was no other solution. This is the first time I have had to leave my boat, but I will race again."

Autissier is expected to arrive in Adelaide on Monday afternoon. She had wallowed in the storm-lashed ocean since her yacht lost its makeshift mast on Wednesday. A large hole also was smashed in its cabin roof, flooding a rear compartment and knocking out the steering equipment.

Gray said Autissier's yacht would continue to drift towards Tasmania while assessments are made by insurers and race officials on the viability of a salvage operation. He said the yacht was not currently in shipping lanes.

Autissier had been sailing under a makeshift jury-rig after losing her original mast a week out of Cape Town on the second leg of the single-handed race, which ends in Sydney. She was forced to sail to Kerguelen Island, about halfway between South Africaand Australia, to fit a new mast, losing about 10 days. She was leading the race before she was dismasted.

"It was very difficult," she said. "I spent the last three years thinking and preparing for the BOC. After the first leg, everything was so wonderful for me. I had a big lead. But I have done the BOC before. I know what can happen."

Christophe Auguin, of France, the defending champion, won the second leg of the race when he arrived in Sydney 10 days ago. Seven other competitors have since completed the leg with Alan Nebauer, of Australia, arriving on New Year's Eve and taking third place in Class Two.