“ I was not sailing particularly fast and I tried to avoid it but it was too late”
A French yachtsman competing in The Transat bakerly solo transatlantic race from Plymouth to New York, was forced to abandone the race today after his boat crashed into a container ship.
Maxime Sorel on board the yacht VandB was among the leaders in the 10-strong Class40 fleet, as the boats raced downwind in the northern Bay of Biscay about 90 nautical miles west of Lorient, when he reported a collision.
It is thought the boat suffered damage to its bowsprit, forcing Sorel to head to the French port La Trinite sur Mer in Brittany. Sorel is safe and uninjured and the boat’s mast is stable but he is very disappointed to have to retire
The collision happened in broad daylight and good visibility this morning, in an area of busy commercial shipping off the French Brittany coast.
Sorel said he was keeping watch as VandB sailed under spinnaker but he did not see the cargo ship. “I was not sailing particularly fast and I tried to avoid it but it was too late,” said the French skipper as he limped toward the French coast.
He said he had two options when he realised a collision was inevitable. Either hit the ship lengthways which risked bringing VandB’s mast down or hit the ship at an angle, helping to confine the damage to the bowsprit. “I’m stressed seeing all these freighters around me,” he added. “I have this image in my head and when I see one, I get stressed about it.”
Sorel is hoping to reach port tomorrow morning. Prior to his accident, his was one of 25 yachts in four classes racing across the Atlantic from Plymouth to New York. The fastest boats – the three giant trimarans of the Ultime class – are expected to finish in six days time.
Just a few hours before the incident Sorel had been in good spirits as he talked about his progress in the satellite phone. He said he had seen 35 knots of wind overnight but conditions were moderating. He joked that he was following the same course as he had taken in the Route du Rhum in 2014 – a predominantly downwind race – as he surfed before a fresh northerly wind.
“The sea has calmed down a bit compared with the beginning of night,” he said. “All is well on board at this time but I have a couple of hours ahead when conditions will not be easy but then it should settle again. I haven’t eaten too much but I have been drinking lots and managed to get some rest.”
Later he reflected on the cruel hand that fate played not long after that call. “I’m disappointed,” he said. “You called me this morning to tell me that I was leading the Class40s and now you call to talk to me about why I am giving up. It’s disappointing to have to retire like this. The boat is heading to La Trinite to see what repairs need to be done and there is work to do, so the race is over for me.”