Video footage of YW's trials with Guy Cotten’s TPS – the survival suit which can keep solo sailors alive

Since Guy Cotten introduced their TPS (Thermal Protection Survival) suit in the early 90’s they claim to have the increased survival rate of offshore solo skippers. On the Vendee Globe alone the likes of Raphael Dinelli, Thierry Dubois, Jean le Cam and Alex Thomson have all been kept alive in freezing waters while awaiting rescue, hence the reason why 17 out of the 20 skippers in this past edition were carrying TPS suits.

As you can tell from the flattering pictures, I got hold of one and tested it out on a cold windy day on the south coast of Devon. The point was not to see if or for how long I might survive (I did, thank you for asking), but to experience how practical the suit is to wear – despite its ‘Telly Tubby’ looks, the titanium neoprene suit is designed to make it as manoeuvrable as possible for the sailor so they can still work on deck or scramble into a liferaft etc. Here’s my impressions:

The full report is in our April issue out now.

Below are a few incidents and footage involving solo racers over the years who have a TPS suit to thank for helping them survive perilous situations.

– Vendee Globe 1996/97
¬- Thierry Dubois spent a day on his overturned boat in 50 to 55 knots, before jumping into 32-35º water and a further three days in a liferaft, yet was rescued with only mild hypothermia. He reported that he was never cold (apart from his feet) and wore polar underwear and waterproof socks under his TPS. He later thanked the Australian rescue authorities, the satellite beacons, his liferaft and his survival suit.
– Raphael Dinelli spent two days on the deck of his boat that was slowly sinking, in a freak storm with 60-knots of wind. A liferaft was dropped and Pete Goss later picked him up.

– Velux 5 Oceans Race 2006
Alex Thomson abandons Hugo Boss after keel failure 1,000 miles from land, to board his liferaft, before joining Mike Golding on Ecover, using the TPS as a transfer suit.

– Vendee Globe 2008/9
Jean Le Cam hit a UFO near Cape Horn aboard VM Materiaux, sheering the bulb off the keel and capsizing the boat. VG’s Dr Jean-Yves Chauve explained how “in water, hypothermia is 30 times more intense than in the air” and how in normal clothing, Jean Le Cam would have been hypothermic “in 1 hour”. After 18 hours trapped in the overturned hull wearing his TPS however, Jean Le Cam hears a voice coming from the outside, takes a gamble and dives out to be rescued by Vincent Riou on PRB.

– Route du Rhum 2010
Sydney Gavignet gets into trouble aboard his 105ft trimaran Oman Air Majan, when she starts to break up mid-ocean and he has to evacuate to a ship wearing his TPS.

– Transat Jacques Vabre 2009
The deckhouse is ripped away from BT by a wave in 40 knots of wind. After hours of waiting for assistance in a boat full of cold water Sebastien Josse and Jean-Francois Cuzon aboard BT get rescued by helicopter.

– 2006 Route de Rhum 2006
British skipper Ross Hobson’s 45ft trimaran pitchpoled between the Azores and Bermuda in 70 knots. Hobson holed up in the escape hatch, changed out of his oilskins and into the TPS and quickly warmed up thanks to its thermal characteristics – he was rescued by ship eight hours later. “I’ve used it several times since sailing in heavy seas – it’s the ultimate offshore suit” Hobson testifies.

– Jester Challenge 2006
Eric Andlauer was the first man into Newport racing on his Figaro, and confirms the pro of being able to wear the TPS before it’s really needed. “I got overtired and went mad, deciding that the keel was getting loose (not a good situation 1,000nm offshore),” he recalled. “So I spent the night in my TPS just in case. In the morning I stopped the boat and swam in my suit to check the keel.”