On 15 March: Thiercelin wraps up arduous Leg 3 journey with a second-place finish in Class I

French competitor Marc Thiercelin completed a long, difficult Leg 3 voyage on 15 March when he sailed into Punta shortly past 3 a.m. local time (0619 GMT). The final miles were as problematic as the thousands that preceded them; Thiercelin was becalmed some 50 miles to the finish line, then confronted by rising headwinds when the breeze finally filled. After a hard beat in a 25-knot northerly through most of the evening, Thiercelin threw in a final tack and crossed the line to put an end to his dramatic journey. With one leg remaining, his time for the race’s third stage – 37d 07h 19m 57s – puts him in second place in Class I behind Giovanni Soldini, and third overall behind Class II skipper J.P. Mouligne.

Thiercelin was leading the race on 25 February when he was dismasted north of the Falkland Islands. “I was on the telephone talking to the media when I heard a crack,” he said in a mid-morning news conference at the Yacht Club Punta del Este. “My mast made a big hole through the deck and the navigation station. I was lucky that my head was not cut off in the incident.” Thiercelin said it was the motion of the seaway, not strong winds, that caused the spar failure. He also said he experimented with different jury rigs before he was able to erect a successful one in a 20-hour operation that left him completely drained. “I am a small guy and it was much more difficult than I imagined,” he said. “I spent four hours sleeping after that because I was completely exhausted.”

Once his emergency mast was up, he sailed to Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands where he stepped a new aluminum stick for the voyage to Punta. “I want to thank my sponsor SOMEWHERE because they stood behind me with the new mast,” he said. “I also want to thank the Royal Air Force because they were a big help to me as well. I want to finish this race for three reasons: For sportsmanship, for my sponsor – you don’t have a chance every day to be involved in a round-the-world yacht race. And I don’t like to leave things in the middle. I want to finish it off.” Thiercelin said the new mast performed admirably on the thousand-mile stretch to the finish line: “I was very surprised by its performance. I hit 28 knots of boat speed. But I also encountered a lot of calm seas.”

Earlier in the leg, Thiercelin was roughly 120 miles ahead of Isabelle Autissier when she came to grief in the Southern Ocean. “I was very tired when I found out about Isabelle’s situation,” he said. “When I came on deck to check everything to see if it was okay, the gooseneck [the fitting that holds the mainsail boom to the mast] was completely loose from the mast. The boom was swinging free over the side without the gooseneck. I was worried that I could not go back [to help her but] the conditions for turning around were completely impossible. I understand the discussions that have been made about turning my boat back but it was a complete risk for me… I knew that Isabelle knew what to do and I was confident that she could handle the emergency situation. I am very happy that Giovanni was able to rescue Isabelle.” Thiercelin eventually called in a small harbor after rounding Cape Horn to effect repairs to the damaged gooseneck.

Asked about the controversy surrounding Autissier’s rescue, Thiercelin said, “I prefer to speak to Isabelle and Giovanni before I talk about that. I was very exhausted and…the media used my condition to make a story. I will tell Isabelle and Giovanni my story myself.” He also said he was looking forward to Leg 4: “In Auckland there were four boats in my class and now there are only two. I want to continue pushing these boats for the good of the race. I want to win the last leg so that I will have won one leg of this Around Alone race.”