The French navigator whose yacht capsized in the extreme South Pacific during the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race was rescued Tuesday night by his friend, a fellow competitor, after he was trapped inside the hull of his upturned boat in heavy seas for 16 hours
Jean Le Cam, 49, was helped to escape by Vincent Riou, who, with a third competitor, Frenchman Armel Le Cléac'h, had diverted to help him after hearing his distress call. Le Cam's 60-foot boat VM Matériaux capsized after losing its keel 200 miles west off Cape Horn. A rescue operation by the Chilean Navy and emergency services, which had dispatched a tug with divers and a helicopter, had been launched from Punta Arenas but would not have arrived before early Wednesday morning. A tanker had also been standing by to assist. Riou, on board his yacht PRB, was able to get alongside the wreck and could hear his friend's shouts, though in heavy seas and with winds at 25 knots it took over three hours for Le Cam to climb out of his vessel, whose emergency hatch was submerged, and get aboard the other boat, which itself sustained damage in the rescue. A race spokesman said: "Jean Le Cam has been rescued safe and sound. A full-scale rescue operation was in place ... but in the end it was Vincent Riou who recovered [his] fellow skipper and friend. Riou circled repeatedly to retrieve the skipper from the water and on the fourth attempt he successfully rescued Le Cam. "Le Cam appears to be unhurt as Riou reported that both skippers worked on deck to stabilise PRB's mast." The yachtsman sent a distress call from his boat at 12.26 am Monday as he prepared to navigate around the southern tip of South America. About nine hours later a Chilean spotter plane said it had found the yacht. Philippe de Villiers, the race president, said Le Cam had been speaking to another sailor by phone when there was a sudden loud noise and he said: "My boat is capsizing." His phone went dead shortly after midnight and a distress beacon was activated at 1.40am. At the time of his disappearance, Le Cam was third in the 26,000-mile race, which started last November. He came second when the quadrennial race was last run, in 2005.