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Maxi Banque Populaire capsizes off Morocco - now under tow

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 15 Apr 17:16 PDT 16 April 2018
Maxi Banque Populaire IX. Skipper, Armal Le Cleac'h. © Easy Ride / BPCE

Following the capsize of the maxi trimaran Bank Populaire IX on Saturday night off the coast of Morocco, the crew was airlifted off the boat by the Moroccan Navy, and the boat is now under two to Casablanca.

Banque Populaire is an Ultim class trimaran 32 metres long (105ft) with 23 Metres beam (75ft) and a 38metre mast (125ft).

She capsized in 18-20kts of wind and moderate seas off the coast of Casablanca on Saturday night.

Vendee Globe winner, Armel Le Cléac'h, along with crew member, Pierre Emmanuel Hérissé and cameraman, was taken off later in the day and arrived by helicopter at Casablanca, where the French Consulate has supported them.

Members of the shore team - two divers and three members of the technical team - arrived at the upturned boat on Sunday aboard. After several hours of operations and recovery of damaged equipment, the tug began the tow of the trimaran toward Casablanca.

Ronan Lucas, the Director of the Team Bank Populaire reports on social media that they have recovered some pieces of the mast which was broken in the incident and were trapped under the boat.

He said that conditions in the capsize area were good allowing the team to work well.

The tow has been able to start but will take time. The crew and the members of the team are trying to preserve as much of the trimaran as possible during the tow to Casablanca, he reported. The wind conditions are still relatively good, but the team has to be extremely careful.

Skipper Armel Le Cléac'h details circumstances of the incident (translated and edited from French): "We started since Tuesday in Lorient, we did a big run along the Portugal coast. As part of our practice, we picked up a crossing point in the North West of the Canary Islands. We did our return to Cadiz to go pick up the crew for the rest of the program.

"The wind and sea conditions were 18/20 knots of wind at the time of the incident.

"The sea was choppy because the wind had been blowing for quite some time on the west coast of Portugal.

"Down to the Canaries, we had strong winds up to 40-45 knots. We were on a tight edge, a reef in the main and the small jib. I did the routings, and over the hours the wind was predicted to soften. The conditions were stable, I had checked, and there were no signs of a storm ahead. Pierre-Emmanuel (the Technical Director of the Team Banque Populaire) and our media-man were inside; I was in my cabin from previous manoeuvres.

"I was lying down for five minutes on the to begin a nap. The boat began to rise very quickly as a result of an increase in wind. I had no time to exit. I eased the mainsail, but it was not enough. Everything happened very fast; the boat tipped on the side. I was upside down in the water that had flooded the cabin. Pierre-Emmanuel called me to see if I was there. We managed to hear each other between the two hulls. I managed to get out of there into the central hull, safe with the others.

"I immediately made an effort to ensure that nobody got hurt. I very quickly triggered the distress to alert authorities.

"We located the safety equipment and put it on our survival suits. I contacted Ronan Lucas (the Director of the Team Banque Populaire) by the cell phone that was in the grab bag to tell him that we were all on board, and especially that we had no injuries.

"Two hours later, a cargo ship arrived in the area, and we spoke with them.

"It was night, we couldn't get out of the boat immediately.

"Finally, a Navy helicopter was able to take off from Casablanca at lunchtime to pick us up. On arrival of the helicopter, one after the other, we boarded the helicopter, and we landed at the military port of Casablanca.

"We were welcomed by the Moroccan Navy and were able to eat and do some health checks. We thank them for all as well as the crew of the helicopter. We have then been supported by the Consulate of France."

"The conditions at sea were manageable. We had sailed before in conditions that were much stronger and demanding. Everything changed in a few seconds. In my opinion, the capsize was linked to a sudden gust of wind.

"At the time we left the boat, three hulls and crossbeams/arms were intact. However, the mast was is broken into several pieces.

"We are now racing and are now trying to get to the boat in the shortest time. All our efforts are now focussed to recover and be at the start of the Route du Rhum in November."

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