THE VENDÉE globe, a three-month around-the-world race for solo yachtsmen, is long enough without any side trips. But as they approached the midway point last week, two competitors put aside any hope of winning to take a detour—for a very good reason.
This is an article from the Dec. 29, 2008 issue
Last Thursday, French sailor Yann Eliés, 34, was thrown to the deck of his 60-foot Generali while changing sails 750 miles southwest of Perth. He was able to crawl below deck and call the race doctor in France, who diagnosed a fractured femur. That began a harrowing 48 hours in which Eliés lay in agony, marooned in rough seas.
Enter Marc Guillemot and Sam Davies, two competitors who immediately set sail for Eliés when they were notified he was in trouble. Neither is a stranger to the dangers of the sea. On Davies's first round-the-world attempt, in 1998, she and the other 15 women on her boat were stranded in the South Pacific 2,000 miles from land when 40-foot waves and 55-mph winds destroyed their mast. (They jury-rigged a new one and made it to Chile.) And Guillemot, 49, broke two legs at sea in 1985 when his catamaran capsized.
Guillemot reached Eliés the next day, but the rough seas made it too dangerous for them to get close together. All he could do was offer a friendly voice—and water, which he tossed to Eliés—until help arrived. "I'm just trying to talk to him to reassure him," Guillemot said as he waited. "The subject doesn't matter. It's the head that looks after the rest of the body. That will help him while he awaits the arrival of the rescue team."
Davies, 34, a Brit who was in 11th place, had problems of her own. The day before Eliés's accident, she banged her elbow on a winch so hard that the pain made her black out. But when race director Denis Horeau called her to tell her about Eliés, she refocused her attention. "I can't describe my feelings of horror when the reality of what Denis was saying to me over the telephone hit home," she wrote on her blog. "[H]aving so recently been hurt alone on my boat, I can understand what Yann must be going through." Her Roxy was en route when she got the news that the Australian frigate HMAS Arunta had rescued Eliés. After losing nearly two days she and Guillemot finally returned to the race—and got some rest. Wrote Davies, "I had a lovely deep sleep, whilst Roxy sailed herself proudly though the mist like The Black Pearl in the Pirates of the Caribbean."