The skipper of SIRMA, Christophe Bouvet, rescued from the water after two hours Early last night on Friday 19 September at around 20:00 hours, Cap Istanbul Race Management was alerted by Matthieu Girolet, skipper of Entreprendre Lafont Presse, that there didn’t seem to be any sign of life aboard the boat SIRMA.
Christian Gout and his men immediately tried to contact Christophe Bouvet but to no avail. A rescue party was rapidly put together and the closest competitors were diverted. Little by little the whole fleet was searching for Christophe.
This solidarity paid off in the end since Christophe Bouvet was recovered two hours later by Paul Meilhat.
Stage 2 Cagliari (Sardinia) / Marzamémi (Sicily) has been rendered null and void and its start moved forward to later in the day. The time of the next start will be set at 14:00 hours following the competitors briefing. Christophe Bouvet, fell overboard in a particularly violent squall, and was fished out a little more than two hours later by Paul Meilhat, one of the race competitors who was diverted to go in search of him. The rescue came about thanks to a fine chain of solidarity. 'Race Management from Entreprendre Laffont Presse',
The voice of Mathieu Girolet has real note of concern in it. The fleet, which was hurtling along nicely under spinnaker, was suddenly hit by a nasty squall with peaks of over 45 knots of wind. Mathieu had just passed alongside SIRMA, Christophe Bouvet’s boat.
The yacht was all over the place and there was no sign of life aboard.
Immediately Christian Goût tried to contact Christophe, without response… Even though nobody wanted to say it, there wasn’t a second to lose. The closest boats were immediately diverted towards the position of Christophe’s boat.
Jeanne Grégoire, Gildas Mahé, Mathieu Girolet, Paul Meilhat headed towards the position of Sirma, identified by its VHF. The emergency services were alerted and the Cagliari coastguards began to set a distress plan in motion. The fleet became one
Faced with the gravity of the situation, the racers spontaneously decided, one after the other, to retire from the race and make headway under motor towards Christophe’s position. Mathieu Girolet who was first to get there confirmed the news; the boat was drifting with all sails aloft and nobody on deck.
Night fell and everyone converged on the zone. Whilst the first boats in the area began their search upwind of Sirma’s position, race management arrived on site. Philippe Chapel boarded the catamaran’s tender and climbed aboard Christophe’s boat. There was nobody there.
Gérald Véniard, boosted by his perfect control of the navigation tools, took the initiative:
we can reconstitute the memory of Christophe’s course on Sirma’s tracker. With advice from Gildas Mahé who had remained close by, Philippe Chapel was then quickly able to give the estimated position of Christophe’s fall to the whole fleet via VHF. The wait is interminable. In their new roles as rescuers the competitors travel the length and breadth of the zone, turning on their lights in the ink black night.
At the request of race management, several distress flairs are fired to light up the zone and indicate to Christophe that there is a search underway. Despite their concern, the racers stay calm. The minutes tick by.
It’s already been two hours since the search began when Paul Meilhat announces on the VHF that he has just picked up Christophe Bouvet. Christophe is fine and completely lucid. With the race having been rendered null and void, they won’t set off again just yet. The competitors return to Cagliari . . . The meeting of the fleet promises to be a good one. Tomorrow is another day. Interview de Christian Gout, race director, goes over the facts:
'At around 2000 hrs, we received a VHF call from the skipper Matthieu Girolet announcing that he had just passed the boat SIRMA which was broached in the water, spinnaker feathered and nobody on deck. At that point, there was a strong wind due to a stormy squall. We immediately called the skipper of SIRMA, Christophe Bouvet, on the VHF.
Without response from him there were two possibilities: either he was aboard incapable of answering our call, or he had gone overboard. Aboard the Race Management boat, we immediately diverted our course despite the bad weather, in a bid to make towards the boat, whose position we had thanks to its VHF Icom.
At the same time we asked three competitors, who were located within a 3 mile (6 km) radius of it, to do the same. At night in the breeze, they immediately acknowledged their presence and set about turning back, into the wind.
We positioned ourselves upwind of the boat’s estimated position at the moment of the accident as a boat drifts quicker than a man in the water. We had to be fast as the survival time of a man overboard is short.
Less than two hours later, Paul Meilhat, one of the diverted competitors, found Christophe who was floating despite his foulies. Despite big seas he managed to pull him aboard prior to transferring him to an Italian Guardia launch which was patrolling with us.
It was fortunate that the accident occurred in the Mediterranean where the water is warm. In the Atlantic it would have been a different story. Everyone did their job, and reacted well without panicking. It was a good experience as Christophe is with us today. We’ll have to take lessons from this whilst it’s fresh in our minds. Christophe is in shock but in good health. He’s tough.
The race has been rendered null and void. The 29 competitors in the Cap Istanbul are alongside in Cagliari. We have a briefing at 1300 hours today. According to the psychological state of the competitors and also the material because, in their urgency, some sails were ripped, we will make a decision about the new date of the departure for Marzamemi in due course'.
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