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Escoffier’s Vendée Globe Rescue

A collective sigh of relief went across the Vendee Globe fleet with news that PRB skipper Kevin Escoffier had been finally rescued by competitor Jean Le Cam after a harrowing search and rescue effort in conditions nothing short of heroic.

December 1, 2020
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Kevin Escoffier

Race photo production Vendee Globe 2020

Kevin Escoffier, 40, was an early-race favorite of the Vendée Globe, given his round-the-world experience and the proven reliability of his earlier-generation IMOCA 60 PRB. He was third in the race rankings on November 30 when his boat cracked in half. Kevin Escoffier/PRB/VG2020

According to Vendee Globe officials, Kevin Escoffier had to abandon his IMOCA 60 PRB following damage in afternoon of November 30 afternoon. He took to his life raft some 840 nautical miles southwest of Cape Town. He was third in the rankings at the time.

The rescue mission was coordinated from Les Sables d’Olonne by Vendée Globe Race Direction in collaboration with CROSS Griz Nez and MRCC South Africa. The President of PRB, Jean-Jacques Laurent was at the Race HQ with race director Jacques Caraës and the race direction team assisting through the entire process.

In a press statement, Vendée Globe race director Jacques Caraës explained the effort in detail: “We sent Jean back to a position received by the CROSS Gris Nez, the position sent by the onboard EPIRB distress beacon. Météo France’s drift simulation also delivered a trace. Jean set off at 00h15 UT (1h15 French time) on our request to reach this point at reduced speed. He found no one at the given location. He then resumed its journey southeast for three quarters for between 45 minutes and an hour. As he was making headway at 1.5 knots in a 20 to 25 knot wind under very reduced sail (3 reefs in the mainsail and no engine), he disappeared from the screen when suddenly we heard him talk. We no longer saw anyone. Then, a few minutes after 1:06 UT or 2:06 French time (time at which he had precisely to retrieve Kevin on board), Jean went back down to the chart table and then we saw Kevin arrive behind his back in a survival suit. They both appeared fit seconds before the video cut. He is fine. Everyone is well. They are recovering\!”

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Today, Escoffier described his ordeal in an interview with the PRB press service, from the interior of Le Cam’s yacht.

“It’s surreal what happened,” Escoffier says. “The boat pulled back on itself. I heard a crack but, honestly, you didn’t need the noise to understand. I looked at the bow, it was at 90 degrees. Within seconds, there was water everywhere. The stern of the boat was underwater and the bow pointed skyward. The boat broke in two, forward of the mast bulkhead. I assure you, I am not exaggerating anything… there was an angle of 90 degrees between the back and the front of the boat.

“I didn’t have time to do anything. I was just able to send a message to my team; ‘I’m sinking. This is not a joke. MAYDAY.’

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“I got out of the boat, I put on the TPS \[survival suit] as best I could. I saw smoke, the electronics burning. Everything was extinguished. The only instinct I had was to grab the phone to send this message and take the GST which I never switch on. I wanted to take the grab bag, but I couldn’t because the water was rising. I took the bib \[life raft] at the back. The front bib was not accessible, it was already three meters below the water. The water was in the cockpit up to the door.

“I would have liked to have stayed a little longer on board but I could see that everything was going very quickly and then I took a breaking wave and went into the water with the raft. At that time, I was not at all reassured…You are in a raft with 35 knots of wind. No, it is not reassuring. I was only reassured when I saw Jean. But the problem was how to get on board with him. We said two to three words to each other… He was forced to move away a little then afterwards, I saw that he was staying in the zone. I stayed in the raft until the early hours.

“I didn’t know if the weather was going to soften enough to allow a maneuver. He was 2 meters from me, he sent me the \[life ring] with a link but it was hard to stop the boat. Finally, I managed to grab a tube, a bar to get on board. There was still sea, about 3.50 meters. It is a test in these conditions to board a 60-foot boat, all the more when you are constrained in your movements by the TPS. Honestly, luckily, I’m in good physical shape because I can assure you that it’s not easy.”

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Escoffier’s abandonment follows the devastating news of Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss, retiring the race with rudder damage sustained after a prolonged effort to fortify a compromised section of the hull a week earlier.

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