Hours after being rescued from his liferaft by Jean Le Cam, Vendée Globe skipper Kevin Escoffier recalls the terrifying moments when his boat broke inside a wave and started taking on water
Could you describe what happened?
It’s still hard for me to believe it; to believe that I broke the boat inside the wave at 90 degrees. I should have taken a picture for people to believe me. Just after the wave, the bow was pointing at 90 degrees from the stern of the boat, and all the water was coming forward. The water level inside grew very fast and I had a very short time to decide what to do.
So you got into the liferaft immediately?
After, well then I’ve been thinking about getting on the liferaft and if I should have waited. But it’s done, it’s done. Should I have been trying to stay a bit longer on the boat? It might have been better for people to find me but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to stay the night on the boat. Because the water that was already going above the deck, was too dangerous. I was better in the liferaft.
And what exactly did you have with you in terms of EPIRB and personal locator beacons?
I’ve got this routine from crew racing, when I always have a personal locator beacon with me in the pocket of my wet weather trousers. Since I had very little time, I put on my survival suit above my wet weather trousers. So I found it back inside the liferaft and I also had the EPIRB which I wanted to take with me and put on the back of the boat. It was at this moment that I was washed off by a wave, as I was trying to put everything on the deck of the boat instead of it being submerged by all the water in the boat.
And so what happened to the EPIRB?
If you keep an EPIRB inside sometimes with the carbon around it doesn’t work. We had this issue with Banque Populaire on the last Route du Rhum (the Ultime broke up and Armel Le Cléac’h had to abandon). So I wanted to put it outside of the boat for it to be able to work well. And I took as well the liferaft which was under the water, because the water was above the cockpit floor level. I wanted to be able to use it quickly if necessary, to have the liferaft and the EPIRB outside. At this moment I was washed off, and so I didn’t have a decision any more. I was inside the liferaft.
And what was it like after that, waiting for rescue, were you confident you would be found?
I was looking outside very often, and I was very happy to see Jean and after that, when Jean turned around we saw it was impossible to move from the liferaft to the boat at that moment because the sea conditions were so bad, the sea state was pretty bad with something like 5 or 5.5m of waves with a lot of angles on the waves, and 30/32 knots of wind. I don’t know if we decided that, because we were only able to say 2 or 3 words. But for me in my head the idea I had was to stay in the liferaft for the weather to improve, the waves to become smaller, the wind to decrease and then make the move from the liferaft to the boat.
And then what was your feelings going into the night, were you getting concerned?
For me I was going to stay the whole night in the liferaft, that was what I was thinking. It was okay for me. It was safer to switch from one to the other with less wind and waves. I spent the night quite well, I mean I wasn’t comfortable, but in my head it was better. I was sure that the day after someone would be coming, and then I’d be able to get from the liferaft to the boat.
So what happened when Jean arrived?
I had a bit of trouble sleeping during the night. I had been eating a bit and drinking the water I had onboard. Close to the morning I heard a sail flapping so I got out, had my head out of the liferaft and I saw it wasn’t dark anymore because of the moon. Even with no sun we were able to see very well and I saw Jean just above me, at 100/200m away.
I asked him, “Now, we’re doing it now?”
He said “Yes, yes let’s do it now. I will come against you.”
He wanted to have his boat parallel to the liferaft but he was a bit too fast and it was 5m away. He threw me a line with a buoy at the end which I caught, and both of us pulled it to get the liferaft as close as possible to his boat. When I was close enough I jumped and caught the back of the boat.
What was the first thing Jean said?
He said, “Are you on board, are you on board Kevin?” He was very happy.
I said, “Yes I am on. I’m sorry to disturb your race Jean.”
We had a big hug and he said: “Oh don’t worry it’s not a big deal Kevin. Last time it was me disturbing PRB’s race!”
It was a tough night, obviously, but I’ve been quite impressed by how stable the liferaft is, what with the sea state being so bad. I still have in my head the picture of my boat with the nose pointing up. It’s just like a bad dream, with your boat broken in two and all the water going everywhere on all my stuff, it’s hard to believe it.
You obviously know what a great seaman Jean Le Cam is but you do know that we have often seen his supply of good red wine on board Yes We Cam!?
I have to check for the wine on board – he hasn’t given me any yet so I think he wants to save it for the end of the trip. I’m not sure where he’s hiding his stuff!
Speaking to Jacques Caraës, Race Director…
I want to thank Jacques again – I’ve seen you already this morning but I was a bit tired, thanks again for the great work you’ve done and for my sponsor – I’ve seen the smile of Jean-Jacques Laurent. He has plenty of reasons not to be happy; he has lost a boat, we are done with the race, but I’m so happy to have this kind of partner and to be racing with them, and with people as good as Jean Le Cam and as good as Jacque Caraës who has been a great sailor as well, I think it’s great to have people in this position (like Jacques) who have been great sailors and who have had these kind of issues and troubles at sea, and understand how it works.
Interview by the Vendee Live Show
- Read more about the dramatic rescue here
- The Vendee Globe is the world’s toughest sailing race. The 21,638-mile race set sail from Les Sables d’Olonne on November 8 with 33 boats, four of them with British skippers, including Yachting World columnist Pip Hare and Hugo Boss poster-boy Alex Thomson, who has since retired.