20 Dec 2008

Injured yachtsman awaits rescue

10:06 pm on 20 December 2008

Conditions are worsening in the Southern Ocean where an injured French sailor is awaiting rescue.

Yann Elies, 34, who was competing in the Vendee Globe yacht race, broke his thighbone when a massive wave slammed into his boat as he was changing a sail about 800 nautical miles south of Australia.

Mr Elies managed to drag himself into the cabin and activate the yacht's autopilot, but was unable to reach his medical kit.

An Australian naval vessel, HMAS Arunta and the Royal Flying Doctor Service expect to reach the sailor on Saturday evening.

The Frenchman, who was in eighth place, will now be transferred to the navy frigate and taken to Australia for medical treatment.

Fellow competitors rush to help

Another competitor in the round-the-world race, fellow Frenchman Marc Guillemot, changed course to offer assistance to Mr Elies.

Despite large waves, Mr Guillemot managed to sail his boat close enough to to throw a bag containing water and painkillers on board.

"I was able to speak to him and that was very comforting for him," he told France's RTL radio.

The logistics manager for the Generali team, Erwan Steff, said Mr Elies was able to eat and drink and has managed to take some painkillers.

"As soon as he did that, about half an hour later he was able to sleep better, and since then his morale has been on the up."

British yachtswoman on way

Briton Samantha Davies also abandoned her race attempt and is expected to reach her rival in the early hours of Sunday.

"Right now I don't care about the race, all I care about is Yann getting back to safety," she said.

Ms Davies says she has been injured while yachting before, and remembers how lonely and helpless she felt.

Race organisers asked the two competitors to divert to offer Mr Elies psychological support. They will receive time credits for making the diversion.

"It's only when you see that for real that you realise how, how much of a Russian roulette it is out here," Ms Davies said .

Thirty yachts began the race, held every four years, from the French Atlantic port of Les Sables d'Olonne on 9 November, but 12 have now withdrawn.

Foncia skipper Michel Desjoyeaux is in the lead as the racers approach the southern Pacific Ocean.