In an interview with Sam Davies the French skipper explains how his 100ft trimaran Oman Air Majan broke up

After a long night for the Oman Air Majan team, they are pleased to report that skipper Sidney Gavignet is now safely onboard the bulk carrier Kavo Alexander. The incident which occurred at 16:35 CET yesterday (3 November) was dealt with swiftly by the shore team, race management, rescue teams and crew of the Kavo Alexander who ensured Sidney’s rescue within four hours or his first call. (Read previous story here.)

Kavo Alexander is en route to Turkey, and it is not confirmed if Sidney will be dropped off in Gibraltar or Malta with an approximate ETA between the 6 and 9 November respectively. The Oman Air Majan technical team drove through the night from the base in Lorient to Paris to board a flight to the Azores early this morning (4 November). They are due to arrive in Horta this afternoon. A boat is on standby and ready to leave with the team to take them to Oman Air Majan, which is still being tracked by the team, and is approximately 250 miles north east of the Azores.

The technical team are monitoring the weather, conditions are good and the forecast looks set to improve over the next 24-36 hours. It will take approx 24-hours for the technical team to reach Oman Air Majan by boat, during that time they will be preparing a plan to recover as much of the boat as possible. At this time the team believe that all parts of the boat are still together and they will aim to tow Oman Air Majan back to the Azores.

Transcribe of an audio call with Sidney onboard bulk carrier Kavo Alexander 22:00 CET (3 November):

Sam Davies: Can you explain the conditions you were in and what happened?

Sidney Gavignet: I was going upwind, at 70 true wind angle and I had two reefs, and a J2. I was ready with the J3, the wind was increasing and planned to increase a little bit. But I thought it was still safe handling for the boat.

It was daylight, I was well rested, well fed. Everything was fine, I thought nothing was damaged on the boat at that time so far it was a good race on that side. After we jumped over a wave, probably a little harder than others, I heard a crack and I thought it was the daggerboard even if the top of it was higher than deck level which is quite far up*. Then I came out and looked around and I saw on the front leeward crossbeam probably 1m away from the float the crossbeam was broken. Then it went very very quick, in probably 2 to 3 seconds I was easing the traveller and the float came out of the crossbeam I think it was still linked at that time with the aft crossbeam. But because the front was not linked to the float the boat capsized almost, the mast was horizontal and platform vertical.

I was pretty disorientated at that time but the damage was done so my first concern was to find my survival suit, liferaft and grab bag, which I found very quickly. I then realized in fact there was no massive panic as I had a feeling very quickly that the boat would stay afloat, and was safe in the boat. Which was my first concern in the beginning. I put the survival suit on and I called Race Director Jean Maurel. I didn’t reach him so left a message and then I called Seb Chernier from Oman Sail to explain the situation, I told him I would put the eprib on.

(*The daggerboard was not fully down. Sidney judges the level of the board by comparing the top of the board with the deck level.)

SD: What was your immediate reaction when this happened?

SG: When your boat breaks you realise it’s very serious, but about my life no, I reacted quickly to look for my survival suit. The safety de-brief we had before leaving in St.Malo was fresh in my mind so that was an important de-brief. I don’t think I was scared for my life. I was in some sort of control and I didn’t have any fear. My first concern was that the boat was totally broken and I needed to find a way to tell the family without making them too scared. They realised quickly it was safe, so that was a good thing.

SD: It is pretty hard to help the boat in that situation, did you attempt to try amd secure anything on the boat?

SG: I thought about it, but at the beginning I didn’t want to go out of the companion way too much, because there were cables moving around the exit, and the shrouds were just in front of the doors I thought it was a bit dangerous and I wanted to look at situation a little more before going outside. I was thinking about cutting the rig to let go of the mast, which was probably a good solution because I don’t think it is composite sandwich and would therefore sink. The problem is that you need to cut many, many cables and some were attached to the free float (which was separate from the float), that was pretty difficult because on the leeward side you have the broken mast and float so I think it was too dangerous to try that.

SD: Can you describe the next part of the rescue?

SG: Not long after a call to Jean Maurel race director, who said he would call the COSS (French organization for safety at sea), they called my iridium phone which was still working. After a few tries I managed to give them a position. Not long after I had a call from the Portuguese rescue organization who asked if I was ready to leave the boat. My first answer was yes, but after they asked me the question I was a bit concerned. I said yes, but then I thought is this really the right thing to do? I thought about it a bit more, I think it was the correct decision as there was nothing more I could on the boat. Before leaving to make sure we could track the boat (Oman Air Majan) I activated a spare tracker and an Argos beacon which is also giving a signal for the boat at the moment. I had to take the rescue beacon off the boat to make sure that the world knows the rescue operation is complete.

SD: What happens next?

SG: The boat is coming from Canada and going to Turkey, they don’t know if we will stop in Gibraltar or Malta in order for them to re-fuel. We are doing 13 knots towards Gibraltar at the moment. But for them it’s a risky situation and the people were great, they risked their life for me, especially when we had to climb in the small rescue boat when they came to pick me up. I’m not feeling very proud to have put them in that situation and I would like to thank them for all their help. Here on the ship I am very welcome but I can see that life continues for them.

SD: Can you briefly described the state of Oman Air Majan when you left her?

SG: Just before I left the boat the platform was vertical and the mast horizontal. Not long after that the mast was still in one piece but not long after the mast broke. As the mast broke the platform came back almost horizontal between 15-20 degrees. In fact it came back completely horizontal just between the port float and main hull, and the reason for that is that starboard float came totally loose, it was still partially attached by the aft cross beam, and then it finally broke. I thought it was a good thing but in fact I don’t think it is because that float came underneath the starboard crossbeam and I think now it is a free float which is hitting the main hull so I don’t know which one will resist but I don’t think it is good that the two pieces are hitting each other, and the mast is still attached of course.

When do think you will arrive?

SG: It is not very clear. They have an ETA of the sixth but I think you can probably see we’re doing 13 knots and we are north of the Azores so you can probably calculate that. For me they still do their watch system and I didn’t have time to speak much with them. I try to be as discreet as possible to make the captain and those people accept me.

SD: How are you, were you injured?

SG: No, not at all. I have no injury from the crash. How do I feel? I don’t know, I feel very weird.

David Graham, CEO of Oman Sail, commented: “Sidney Gavignet is a strong man, a hugely focused racer, a man of the sea who had a phenomenal start to the Route du Rhum 2010. I’m astonished at how well Sidney dealt with this scenario, he did everything right which meant we didn’t have to ask another competitor to divert. Dressed in his survival suit, mast wrecked, starboard float disconnected from the front of the boat, potentially sinking he asked me formally for permission to abandon ship.

Like Formula 1 it is a mechanical sport, Sidney was totally focused in racing mode. We have no idea what caused the failure, our capable team are on the way to the boat as we speak, and we hope that they will be able to recover the boat. Yes, of course we’re hugely disappointed about the breakage. Oman Sail and Oman Air worked incredibly hard with this part of the project, however Sidney is unhurt and safe and this is what really matters. We are inspiring the Omani nation to sail and with that come inherent risks – ones we will also make in the future.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Oman Air our fully supportive sponsor, Jean Maurel the race director and his team at Pen Duick for thier assistance. The captain of KAVO Alexander and his crew, my extremely capable response team, and of course Sidney for his phenomenal performance.”