At 0800 UTC this morning, the Vendée Globe race directors were alerted by Kito de Pavant’s technical team about serious damage aboard his boat Bastide Otio.

French skipper Kito de Pavant had a violent collision with an unidentified floating object this morning while sailing at 16 knots under mainsail with two reefs in very heavy seas.

The smash damaged the keel on Bastide Otio and led to a significant ingress of water, which fortunately has been limited to the engine compartment. Due to the urgency of the situation, De Pavant has no choice, but to ask to be rescued. The sailor is currently north of the Crozet Islands in difficult seas and winds.

The Marion-Dufresne, a French supply vessel for the islands in the Southern Ocean, is steaming towards De Pavant to offer assistance. It is due to reach the zone early this evening.

Speaking by telephone, Kito de Pavant declared: ‘I hit something hard with the keel. It was a violent shock and the boat came to a standstill. The rear bearings of the keel were ripped off and the keel is hanging under the boat kept in place simply by the keel ram, which is in the process of cutting through the hull…

‘The keel housing has been destroyed and there is  a huge ingress of water there, but for the moment, it is limited to the engine compartment. I currently have forty knots of wind and 5-6m high waves. The boat is stopped. I brought down the mainsail so that she is heeling less. The situation has been stabilised for the moment.

‘I have my survival kit alongside me. Someone is going to have to come and get me. I am trying to contact the Marion Dufresne to ask them to come here.’

Kito de Pavant. Credit: Vendee Globe

Kito de Pavant. Credit: Vendee Globe

The Vendée Globe race directors immediately alerted the MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Center) Gris Nez to inform them of the damage and to organise the rescue.

De Pavant is in 10th position in the fleet, some 16,092 nautical miles from the finish.

The 120m long research and supply vessel Marion Dufresne was reported to be around 110 nautical miles away at the time of this morning’s incident.

It is expected to arrive on scene during the early part of this evening with a plan to evacuate the skipper by rigid inflatable boat when daylight occurs around 0200hrs UTC.

Alain Gautier, the Vendée Globe safety director, said: ‘We’re hoping they will arrive at around 1700 UTC, but by then it will be dark there, so it is down to the commanding officer of the ship to decide what sort of operation to carry out. They are likely to want to wait until day breaks at around 0100 UTC to launch a RIB to recover Kito. It will all depend on the conditions. We can imagine that the Marion Dufresne will position herself windward of Kito to try to calm down the seas. But she’s not that big a boat, so we don’t know if that will be enough to ensure a safe operation. Sunrise is at around 0130 UTC, but they may wait a while for the weather to ease. Already the winds will not be as strong during the night. Our goal is to get Kito aboard the Marion Dufresne. It will be up to Kito’s team to deal with the boat, but that’s not going to be easy in that zone. Meanwhile he has called us when he finds the time. After the shock this morning and the obvious disappointment, we can see that he is more in control of the situation now.’

De Pavant, 55 years old had battled through more than 48 hours of strong winds and big seas and was racing with a double reefed main making around 16kts in 40kts of wind and 4-6m seas.

The popular skipper has been forced to retire from two previous Vendée Globe races, in 2008-9 when he was dismasted 18 hours after the start and in 2012-13 when he retired into Cascais after a collision with a trawler.

In the previous editions, De Pavant’s target was to win the Vendée Globe or at least to finish on the podium but prior to the start of this race he had stated several times that his primary objective this time was to achieve a finish.

He had been sailing a mature, solid race since the start, taking no risks. ‘He had been sailing intelligently so far and this was his third Vendée Globe, so he really deserved a finish,’ a shocked Yann Eliès told the Vendée LIVE programme when the news was broken live to the French skipper, who is in sixth place, and who himself had to be helicopter rescued after sustaining a fractured leg in December 2008 when south of Australia.

About the race

Aerial shot of Vendee Globe yacht Hugo Boss, skippered by Alex Thomson, off the Kerguelen Islands. Credit: Marine Nationale/Nefertiti/Vendee Globe

Aerial shot of Vendee Globe yacht Hugo Boss, skippered by Alex Thomson, off the Kerguelen Islands. Credit: Marine Nationale/Nefertiti/Vendee Globe

The gruelling non-stop solo race around the world, without assistance, known as ‘the Everest of sailing,’ takes place every four years.

The eighth edition, which started on 6 November 2016 from Les Sables d’Olonne, France, had 29 IMOCA 60s on the starting line, of which five have so far been forced to abandon the race, due to a dismasting, yacht breakages and damage caused from hitting unidentified floating objects.

Just 71 of the 138 starters since the race’s inception, back in 1989, have successfully completed the race, and three have lost their lives along the way.

British contender Alex Thomson, who is currently is second place behind French skipper Armel Le Cléac’h, is determined to be the first British skipper to win the Vendée Globe. The race, which covers more than 23,000 miles, could take up to 80 days.

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