Solo skipper Paul Meilhat airlifted near Azores after he suffers injury during a sail change on board, while others nurse their yachts after big winds

French solo sailor Paul Meilhat has been stretchered off his IMOCA 60 yacht SMA and airlifted to hospital on the island of Terceira in the Azores after suffering a fractured pelvis and fractured rib.

Meilhat was taking part in the solo IMOCA Ocean Masters Transat from the Caribbean island of St Barth to Port La Forêt in Brittany. This is a return race for monohulls that have just done the Transat Jacques Vabre race to Brazil (the yachts were shipped up to St Barth following the finish). The seven-strong fleet was ripped into by storm force winds this weekend, with winds of 50 knots and 8m seas.



Meilhat was reported to be doing a sail change when he was thrown across the boat, injuring himself. He initially tried to seek shelter in the lee of the Azores, but was in so much pain he asked for assistance from his team. A patrol boat reached his position on yesterday and took him off by stretcher, while transferring shore crew on to the yacht.

He was then airlifted to hospital, where a doctor diagnosed the two fractures.

(The incident is reminiscent of the excruciating injury that Yann Elies suffered at the bow of his boat as it slammed into a wave in the Southern Ocean in the Vendée Globe in 2008. He was rescued by the Australian Navy.)

Other skippers have reported worrying damage. Morgan Lagravière, skipper of the new Safran, admitted that yesterday he thought his yacht’s keel had fallen off: “I heard a loud crack, the boat heeled right over with the masthead in the water,” he reported.

“I eased the sails, but the boat wouldn’t recover.” The attachment between the top of the keel and the hydraulic ram used to cant it had broken. He has secured the keel head with a lashing.

Thomas Ruyant on Le Souffle du Nord (ex-Groupe Bel) will be making a pitstop in the Azores to make repairs after movement developed in the forward bearing of the boat’s canting keel.

On board O Canada, Eric Holden has suffered autopilot failure and lost his J2 headsail, but is otherwise making solid progress on what is his first solo offshore race and Vendée Globe qualifier.

Some 58 miles due east of O Canada, Currency House Kilcullen is bringing up the rear as Irish skipper Enda O’Coineen, who has been dealing with problems that have included a broken headsail furler and two broken mainsail battens.

This race is meanwhile lending some support to those who argue that the huge new V-shaped foils on the new IMOCA 60s are an advantage. Skipper Sébastien Josse on Edmond de Rothschild has been quick enough to stay ahead of the worst of the conditions and at 1100 UTC today she had a lead of over 700 from 2nd place Fabrice Amedeo’s Newrest-Matmut, who has lost two thirds of his starboard rudder.

Josse was running in 30 knot south-westerlies, 290 miles west of La Coruna, with 540 miles left to go. His ETA at the finish line is tomorrow.

IMOCA 60 Edmond de Rothschild

IMOCA 60 Edmond de Rothschild