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Reminder of dangers for solo sailors -Cap Istanbul

by Kate Jennings - Expression on 21 Sep 2008
The fleet of 29 competitors in the 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul' is quayside in Cagliari once again. The search organised to locate Christophe Bouvet, the skipper of SIRMA, fell into the water on Friday night, necessitating a postponement of the race and a return to the nearest port. A briefing between the skippers and organisers led to a reminder of the safety procedures…

There’s a fair amount of breakage amongst the Figaro Bénéteau in the 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul' fleet. A number of competitors had their feathers ruffled in the brutal squall which shook the fleet, not to mention the damage suffered during the search for Christophe Bouvet. However, material breakage is a trifling matter in light of the concern generated in the search mission.

At the briefing, the racers listened very attentively to the initial conclusions of the organisational team on safety. Race Director Christian Goût focused on some elementary gestures: wear your lifejacket when conditions become difficult, have a flashlight about your person and a whistle to guide the rescuers, activate the MOB function on the automatic pilot… All this was said in the presence of Christophe Bouvet, the escapee still amazed to be here amongst his friends.

Now the race must reassert itself because that’s the finest service we can pay Christophe, because all the racers say that this 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul' is a fantastic race and that it must remain. The start of the second leg was set for eleven o’ clock tomorrow, but a briefing bringing together the organisers and competitors will decide whether there should be an additional delay according to the repairs which still need to be made on certain boats.

Christophe’s misfortune has made a mark: the result is the heightened awareness that the risk of falling in the water is the greatest danger lying in wait for solo sailors. The racers are already reflecting on ways to strengthen safety aboard. Among the various options envisaged is one to emphasise the racers’ individual responsibility as regards passive safety devices. We know for example that, under the cover of darkness, it is quicker to spot a man in the water with sounds rather than visually. Having a powerful whistle in your trouser pocket is a simple gesture which could save lives. In the same way, Christian Goût and all the organisational team have insisted that the racers carry with them a flashlight, don’t think twice about wearing a lifejacket, programme their automatic pilot to man overboard mode which enables the boat to be stopped if this arises…

One thing for sure is that this misfortune at sea has brought this small community of racers in the Cap Istanbul even closer together. Everyone had their part to play in proceedings and added their stone to the wall which enabled Christophe to be saved, even though some will remember more than others. Paul Meilhat who pinpointed Christophe and pulled him out of the water is in his first big race on the Figaro circuit. A rookie through and through, since the start of the race he has finished the prologue in fourth place, found himself at the head of the race after the first night of the first leg, and ended up rescuing Christophe. For this young skipper, whose talent is only equalled by his modesty, it’s certainly not a banal entry into the world of Figaro sailors.

The rescue of Christophe is above all the operation of a chain of solidarity where everyone took the position required of them. It is worth noting that there were a number of sailors who wanted to participate in the rescue but knew they should stay back because others were better positioned to help: the clairvoyance of Gildas Mahé who accompanied the organisation boat alongside Christophe Bouvet’s boat, the blindingly quick thinking of Gérald Véniard who proposed a technical solution to locating the tracking of Christophe’s course, Jeanne Grégoire’s composure in effectively relaying information from race management, the lucidity of Matthieu Girolet in indicating an abnormal situation aboard SIRMA to race management. The racers and organisers alike can be proud. It was the efficiency of this small community which, total autonomously, was able to put the necessary means in place.

Reaction from Cumali Varer, President of the Organisation Committee:'What happened last night is nightmarish as much for Christophe Bouvet himself, as his family, the sailors and the organisation. We were able to bare witness to the spirit of sailors’ solidarity that evening, who did everything in their power to find Christophe. Whatever the weather, safety is paramount. In a short space of time, the situation can become a catastrophe, as we’ve seen.

It is paramount that we don’t neglect safety and that too is the role of the organisation of a race of this scale. We hope that Christophe Bouvet will recover quickly and be able to take to the sea again soon. Thank you to everyone for reacting so quickly. The race will set off again tomorrow.'

Reaction from Christophe Bouvet, skipper of SIRMA. 'Up till now I’d willingly say that only rugby could bring forth the true values of solidarity between men. Today, I know that I can add sailing to that. I am here now, because all the racers and organisers came to my aid, bar none. Furthermore, they did this with a very great level of professionalism. I won’t be taking the start of the second leg tomorrow morning, but I’d really like to be granted a special dispensation to do the last leg between Gallipoli and Istanbul. That’s why I’ve requested my boat be delivered by two préparateurs. Symbolically, for SIRMA, my Turkish sponsor, and for the relationship with the other racers, I’d really like to be there…'

Message from Françoise Marchetti, Christophe Bouvet’s partner,
'Hello,

I’m hoping that you’ll be able to pass on a message to the families of the sailors, as well as to the sailors themselves and I’m counting on you to convey this to them.

Christophe’s life was saved thanks to the perseverance and solidarity of the sailors. Thanks to their great professionalism, their intelligence in the situation, and their sentiment of humanity.

Perseverance because they didn’t give up even though they knew Christophe had been in the water for over 4 hours. Solidarity because nobody thought twice about joining together the necessary forces to save this life. Intelligence in the situation because they almost instinctively implemented some pragmatic and effective solutions to pinpoint his location. Professionalism, because they had a rational attitude, bringing together and sharing their skills. Humanity because they didn’t hesitate between continuing the race and saving the man of my life and the father to Tom. I know these are only words, some of them big, but I hope they know that I put my heart and soul into them. Eric (Drouglazet), Gérald (Veniard), Paul (Meihlat), thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Thank you too of course to all those who called me and gave me support last night and this morning. Christophe spoke of the great solidarity of sailors. For my part I can confirm that the solidarity of the families of the sailors is very much in evidence too. Rinette, Estelle, Emmanuelle, you know how much I love you for who you are and what you do, that’s for sure. Nevertheless, take a step back and look at how rare this type of situation is in relation to how much time your spouses spend at sea… reassure your children for us too.

Thank you too to Vincent, for your comforting words which relieved a little of the anguish, that little bit was already a lot. And thank you to the Race Director for his calmness.

Finally thank you above all to Christophe, who thought so hard about us to the extent that he didn’t give up… I recognize that element of you …
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