Sailing: Soldini turns the saviour in heavy seas

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The Independent Online
GIOVANNI SOLDINI, the Italian who so narrowly escaped death when making a record attempt across the Atlantic last year, yesterday turned rescuer himself, sailing 200 miles in heavy winds and seas to come to the aid of a fellow competitor in distress.

It was the second time the top French solo yachtswoman Isabelle Autissier has had to be plucked from her upturned yacht, this time in the remote southern Pacific, between New Zealand and Cape Horn on the third leg of the Around Alone Race from Auckland to Punta del Este, Uruguay.

In 1994 the Australian Navy came to Autissier's aid when she was dismasted and sinking when leading the second leg of the same race from Cape Town to Sydney. Yesterday the pinpoint accuracy of her position beacon enabled Soldini to find her in the dark. In what was described by the race organisers in Charleston, South Carolina, as "a masterful, heroic act of offshore seamanship", there was an immediate echo of the way in which Britain's Pete Goss went back to take Frenchman Raphel Dinelli off his upturned yacht over Christmas in the 1996 single-handed Vendee Globe.

The causes of Autissier's latest problems were unclear last night. Only a brief message had been received from Soldini, who had been using a 25- mile range radar to close in on Autissier in the final stages. That confirmed that Autissier was safely aboard Soldini's 60ft Fila and continuing the race to the tip of South America still 1,900 miles away. There were no reports of any injury. It is believed that Autissier's yacht, PRB, in which she had been overall leader, had been abandoned.

Earlier, when Autissier activated her distress beacons, a brief message had been received saying that she had capsized. But it was not known whether she was rescued from her yacht or was already in a life raft.

Part of Autissier's good fortune was also that Soldini was close enough and able to sail fast enough to make the rescue relatively quick.

The new overall leader, Marc Thiercelin, said he was unable to turn back as mast problems would make sailing upwind dangerous. It leaves just Thiercelin and Soldini in Class I after Britain's Josh Hall also retired on this leg after being dismasted and the leg one winner, Mike Golding, never made the start of leg three after running aground less than 200 miles from the finish of leg two in Auckland.

As well as expressing hope that she would be safely rescued, the remaining Briton in the race, Mike Garside in the Class II 50-footer Magellan Alpha, said he was glad his leading trio, of which he lies second, was also close together to help each other in time of trouble. Twice previously Around Alone competitors have had to rescue each other on leg three, the Englishman Richard Broadhead picking up the Frenchman Jacques de Roux in 1982-3 and South Africa's Bertie Reed rescuing his fellow countryman John Martin in 1990-91.