Sunday, 15 November 2009

TJV: Experiences on board BT

The BT yacht as seen from a Portuguese air force plane just before rescue. Image copyright Portuguese Air Force.

by Julie Royer

Sébastien Josse and Jean-François Cuzon were airlifted from the BT yacht at approx 1800GMT Friday, 13.11.09, by a Portuguese Air Force helicopter and headed for Lajes Field air base on the Azores island of Terceier. A full salvage operation is now underway to recover the boat. Friday’s harrowing story began at 1020GMT in the morning when the duo activated their EPIRB distress beacon this morning at 1020 GMT after suffering catastrophic structural damage caused by the sheer power of the waves.

The shore team finally spoke to Sébastien Josse and Jean-François Cuzon tonight at 2245 GMT: “I was afraid we'd have to spend the night on a boat that could go under at any moment,” said Jeff Cuzon before handing over to Seb. Sounding exhausted and understandably subdued, Seb relayed their daunting experience.

The BT yacht as seen from a Portuguese air force plane minutes before rescue. Image copyright Portuguese Air Force.

From Sébastien Josse:

"It was 0930 in the morning and we were near the centre of the depression, which was our best strategy to try to win the race. We were not alone in this spot, we were close with Safran, Veolia Environment and Groupe Bel. We were sailing in 35-40 knots, but sometimes up to 55-58 knots, in the night… We know we have to take care as in the last position report we see we are bit faster so I call to Jeff to reduce headsail. We had three reefs in the mainsail and maybe after one hour, we drop the staysail. I was on watch outside, Jeff inside, and we had a big ‘crack’. It was a wave, just a big wave but one big enough to break the roof.

Seb Josse on BT on Day 4 of the Transat Jacques Vabre. Image copyright BT.

"I see half of the roof completely broken with a big hole in the deck and hundreds of litres of water in the boat... there was a lot of water inside the boat. I was really scared if we take a second wave that could sink the boat because two or three waves like that we could be straight under the water. We move the keel to have a lot of heel to protect the boat from the waves and we activated the EPIRB and call the race organization to tell them we are we starting to sink.

"After that we prepare all the technical gear we need, our survival suits, VHF radio, our food and all that we need for the liferaft to live for a few days. Conditions never stop to decrease…all the day the wind never dropped under 45 knots and really big waves of 8 metre swells which was my biggest concern. After about five hours we have news from the land to know the time of rescue. First a plane came round us then a ship arrived [Ocean Explorer] and Jeff spoke to the ship by VHF. After that it was really quick we see the ship, we see the plane and after that the helicopter arrive. That was a good moment when we knew that we did not have to spend the night on the boat or in the life raft in 45 knots of wind. The heli just had 20 mins left of fuel so he stay with us for 8-10 mins to look how he can recover us and after he tell us by signal to jump in water. Jeff went first and after he was on board the helico, they did a second turn and he did the same for me, so in total 18 minutes to recover us. It is not a good feeling to lose a boat like that in the water."

On board BT on Day 4 of the Transat Jacques Vabre. Image copyright BT.

Sincerest thanks go to the Portuguese Air Force for a fantastic efficient rescue operation yesterday. A light aircraft has been sent Saturday afternoon over the yacht’s latest position to verify the boat's situation. A tugboat will leave first thing Sunday with BT shore team members Pierre-Emanuel, Charles and Rhys onboard. It will be a long and complex recovery operation – and a wet and cold one too. The forecast is not great for the next five days, and a major storm is expected to arrive Tuesday night adding to the pressure.

Transat Jacques Vabre

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