Spanish sailor Javier Sanso was 85 days and 26,000 nautical miles into his non-stop solo sail around the world in the Vendée Globe when he lost his keel and capsized last Sunday. He was about five days from finishing the race in Les Sables d’Olonne, France.
“It all happened so quickly,” Sanso said in a statement after a dramatic air rescue from his life raft. “I was sailing upwind in around 20 knots from the northeast and had just sent a report to the race HQ giving my position and how all the energy systems were working well. Suddenly, when on deck and about to let out a reef, there was a sudden bang that made the boat shake, and the boat heeled over suddenly, which threw me in the water before I could react. From the water I saw how the boat continued to heel over fast and then roll.”
Click play to view footage from the rescue.
Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre Madrid received notice that two EPIRBs had activated from Sanso’s Open 60, Acciona 100% EcoPowered. Meanwhile, Sanso was able to swim to the transom, inflate his life raft and climb in.
“I remained in the raft all afternoon and well into the evening,” he said. “I made the most of the daylight hours to try and dry out my clothes a bit. Due to the strong swell, [I] was unable to tie on to the boat [and] quickly started to drift away from her.”
Sanso had been in the raft for about six hours when he spotted a C-296 reconnaissance aircraft. Signaling with a hand flare, he was relieved that help was on the way. Seven hours later he heard the sound of engines and saw a helicopter maneuvering near the boat.
“The night was dark, and for a moment I doubted that they had sighted me,” Sanso said. “After lighting my last flare, the helicopter headed toward me, a rescue swimmer jumped into the water and I put in a harness for hoisting. In the helicopter, a doctor examined me and found that I was in good physical condition.”
Race officials hope to recover the sailboat to determine why the yacht lost its keel.
A day after Sanso’s capsize, French sailor Jean-Pierre Dick completed the Vendée Globe with no keel, which he had lost 2,650 miles from the finish. He placed fourth with an elapsed time of 86 days, 3 hours, 3 minutes, 40 seconds.
Frenchman François Gabart, the race winner, set a course record with a time of 78 days, 2 hours, 16 minutes, 40 seconds.