Shipwrecked alone in the middle of the Ocean: three extreme round-the-world recoveries (plus one)


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This morning all the sailors following the Vendée Globe, and not only them, were only waiting for news from the Roaring Forty. That of Kevin Escoffier ‘s recovery after his Imoca PRB had sunk yesterday (read the full story here ). He was found by Jean Le Cam with a rescue conducted in over 20 knots and 5-meter high waves. A truly challenging rescue that kept thousands and thousands of people in suspense. It is no coincidence that solo round-the-world sailing is considered an extreme experience, a kind of sailing Everest. Especially with racing boats pushed to maximum speed in all conditions.

And certainly not the first time during the Vendée Globe, an extreme rescue takes place. Here are three episodes that have gone down in history, plus one. The last one has nothing to do with solo round-the-world sailing, but it can be considered the most sensational crew rescue ever.

1996 Pete Goss saves Raphaël Dinelli

It is now almost 25 years since the rescue of Raphaël Dinelli, who was capsized in a gale. It was December 25, 1996, in the Southern Ocean and 70 knots of wind are blowing. Pete Goss, ahead of Dinelli, receives a chilling communication from Philippe Jeantot, race director: “Turn back, windward against a gale blowing up to 70 knots, look for Dinelli, in an area where no reconnaissance plane can perform a ‘rescue operation.

In short, the other sailor’s life is all in his hands. A grueling upwind race begins in extreme conditions and with the need to hurry to find the boat, Algimouss, scuffed to which Dinelli had tied himself. Two days of bated breath pass, at sea and ashore, then, on December 27 at 1 a.m. the telex from Pete Goss: “Hi Philippe, I just got the most wonderful Christmas present, Raphaël is on board, he is not hypothermic, we are very tired. Love, Pete.”

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1998 – Giovanni Soldini rescues Isabelle Autissier

It was Feb. 16, 1999, and aboard the Open 60 Fila, Soldini was engaged in the third leg of the Around Alone, the solo round-the-world race from Auckland, New Zealand, to Punta del Este, Uruguay. While he was indulging in comfortable glides on the slack, his two direct opponents, Frenchmen Marc Thiercelin and Isabelle Autissier, were sailing three degrees of latitude further south. But Soldini was suddenly overwhelmed by an avalanche of messages alerting him to the distress call issued by the French sailor whose PRB had capsized due to an overhang caused by an autopilot error and could no longer right the boat. The rescue of Isabelle Autissier is still considered one of the happiest chapters in the history of seamanship and ocean racing, because Giovanni Soldini found it, inside his capsized boat, at 55° south latitude and 125° west longitude, that is, in the middle of nowhere, 2400 miles from the New Zealand coast and 1800 miles from South America. To warn her of his presence he will have to pull a hammer on the keel.

This will also give rise to one of Gianni Agnelli’s most famous and successful lines, “He is the only man in the world capable of finding a woman even in the middle of the Ocean.”

Soldini with Isabelle Autissier after the rescue at Around Alone 1998-99

2004 – Vincent Riou saves Jean Le Cam

Between January 6 and 7, 2005, Jean Le Cam is sailing 200 miles west of Cape Horn. He is on board VM Matériaux in 3rd position when he bumps into something. Lost bulb and scuffed boat with semi-submerged stern. Outside the temperature is prohibitive. Extreme cold and very little chance of survival. Le Cam takes shelter in the bow with survival wetsuit and some warm clothes, but he does not have much time. First to come to him is Vincent Riou with PRB (it was not the PRB stasse of Escoffier’s wreck n.d.r.), then in fourth position. He manages to recover it in a risky maneuver that will then lead to PRB’s dismasting shortly thereafter.

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What is the most sensational rescue in history?

Ernest Shackleton is among history’s greatest explorers. Three times, in vain, he challenged the South Pole. It was 1916 when his ship was crushed by ice and unable to move. The men spent the long austral winter aboard the ship, but on October 27 the Endurance was abandoned and a month later was completely destroyed by ice pressure. Shackleton moves the crew onto the ice shelf to an emergency camp called “Ocean Camp” where they remain until Dec. 29, when they move, hauling in tow three lifeboats, to a slab of ice shelf they call “Patience (patience, in English) Camp.” Never was the name more apt. Then it became a matter of life and death. Shackleton did not give up: sailing eight hundred miles on a seven-meter lifeboat in Antarctica, he managed to save all 27 members of his crew. Read the full article about that mind-blowing trip here.


Gregorio Ferrari

These are some of the extraordinary rescues in Vendée Globe history, and the last one is by far one of the most incredible sea stories ever, that mix of courage and a dash of recklessness that can sometimes even save lives.

Have we forgotten any stories? Let us know with a comment!


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