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    Amazing rescue in the Med

    September 22, 2008

    Twenty-nine solo sailors were about eight hours into the second leg of the Figaro Cap Instanbul Race when word arrived at race headquarters that one skipper had apparently fallen overboard. The incident occurred last Friday in the Mediterranean south of Sardinia. Chistophe Bouvet’s Figaro Beneteau II 33-footer Sirma had been spotted by another competitor with sails flogging and no one on deck. A race escort boat rushed to the scene and confirmed that Bouvet, a 39-year-old French sailor, was not onboard. The discovery was made about 8 p.m. and nobody knew how long before that he had gone in, nor how far the boat had sailed itself.

    Christophe Bouvet (right) and his saviour, Paul Meihat.

    Bouvet’s Sirma, as it was found by competitor Mathieu Girolet (right).

    Using Sirma’s own navigation system, race officials plotted the boat’s track and called the nearest racers to divert and help with the search. Within a short time, every one of the other 28 boats voluntarily stopped racing and sailed over to help. But by now it was nighttime and the wind was still blowing 20-25 knots. The chances of finding someone in those conditions, who had no light, no personal beacon and no lifejacket, were slim at best.

    Incredibly, about 10 p.m., racer Paul Meihat radioed that he had pulled Bouvet aboard his TS Regate Creteil Val de Varne, and that Bouvet was cold but okay. Bouvet was transferred to an Italian Guardia launch and taken ashore, where he was found to be shaky but otherwise okay. He told of going on deck to shorten sail for expected stronger winds when a 45-knot gust caused Sirma to broach. Bouvet went overboard but managed to hang onto a line. However, when the boat righted herself and the spinnaker filled, the line was ripped from his hands. That was about 6 p.m., two hours before his boat was spotted. So he was treading water for about four hours total. He says he tried to shed as much clothing as he could, and that he was “attacked by jellyfish” while he awaited rescue. He was also heartened to see flares, which the race committee had requested boats light off specifically so Christophe would know that a search was on for him.

    Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, Bouvet has become a safety convert. At various press conferences over the weekend, he touted the praises of safety gear and awareness. As well, both racers and race organizers were reflecting on ways to strengthen safety aboard. Bouvet also noted that he was lucky to have been sailing near the front of the fleet, since the boat that first spotted his was coming up from behind. “I dare not think about what would have happened if I’d been one of the backrunners,” he said.

    Shortly after the rescue, the 330-mile second leg from Cagliari, Sardinia, to Marzamemi, Sicily, was cancelled. It was restarted yesterday. But Bouvet was not among them. He was aboard a race committee boat that escorted them out. He hopes to symbolically finish the race by sailing the last leg — 110 miles from Gallipoli to Istanbul — with the fleet. “I think my sponsor will understand,” he said.

    This is the third running of the Cap Istanbul Race, a five-leg, 1,670-mile race across the Mediterranean from Nice, France, to Istanbul, Turkey.  Link to race website.

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