French solo sailor rescued in Southern Ocean

A French lone sailor adrift for days in a life raft on huge Southern Ocean swells after his yacht sank was recovered on Sunday by the crew of an Antarctic cruise ship that had raced to his rescue.

Alain Delord was attempting to sail solo and without assistance around the world when his yacht, Tchouk Tchouk Nougat, was damaged in rough weather off southern Australia's Tasmania island on Friday.

The Frenchman was forced to abandon ship and had been adrift in a life raft on the Southern Ocean since then.

An Antarctic cruise ship carrying 100 passengers was diverted about 1,800km to his assistance. It battled worsening weather to reach him before sunset, amid fears he would have to spend a third night at sea.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the Orion managed to find Delord and pluck him to safety, in an alert issued just after 9:30 pm local time (1030 GMT).

"I'm very pleased to confirm the solo sailor, who had been in a life raft in the Southern Ocean for the past three days, has been recovered by the cruise ship Orion and AMSA believes he is being taken to Hobart," a spokeswoman said.

There were "scant" early details of the rescue but AMSA said Delord had been recovered "safely and without injury".

"He is currently receiving medical attention and early indications are that he is healthy," the authority said. "Weather conditions were better than expected and there was plenty of light in the area."

A Fairfax newspaper reporter on board the Orion said Delord had been recovered by a Zodiac inflatable dinghy. He looked "awake and relatively well" as he boarded the ship by a side door to cheers and whistles from those on board.

"He is very tired and being attended to by the ship's doctor," said Ian Vella, manager of the ship's hotel.

"He is very hungry, so he is going to have something to eat and a glass of red wine for his dinner."

Orion tour leader Don McIntyre said it had been an incredibly quick operation.

"(The Zodiac crew) rocketed across the water, grabbed Alain and brought him onto the Zodiac," McIntyre told Fairfax.

"They then rocketed back to us, we brought him up and it was over that quick.

"It pretty much all worked to plan, and we are very excited to have him on board now. It's a great feeling."

The crew expected strong winds and waves of between three and seven metres (10-23 feet), and were preparing to approach the raft directly and winch Delord up if they were unable to launch the Zodiac.

The Orion was 11 days into an 18-day passenger cruise of the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic when it was drafted into the rescue. It was the only ship within 100 nautical miles to respond to AMSA's distress call.

AMSA dropped Delord food, water, communications equipment and a safety suit on Saturday and had stayed in regular contact with him up to the rescue.

The experienced yachtsman has been at sea since October last year and was reportedly following the route of the Vendee Globe round-the-world ocean race.

Frenchman Thierry Dubois and Briton Tony Bullimore were famously rescued by the Australian navy after several days adrift in the Southern Ocean during the 1996/97 edition of the Vendee Globe.

 

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