An hour and a half before dawn last Monday, Coastguardsmen at the Shinnecock Station received an overseas telephone call from France alerting them to an emergency 30 miles out to sea where a 100-foot long ship had capsized in a storm and was floating upside with a man aboard inside. The caller gave the coordinates. A crew was put aboard the cutter Tiger Shark, which then headed to the scene arriving just as the sun rose.
The ship was a brand new trimaran, bright red, partially damaged and with the name IDEC upside down on the side. It clearly was something that must have cost tens of millions of dollars to build.
The Coast Guard hailed the man they had been told was on board, and, shortly, he appeared, a sailor in a black wetsuit climbing out a safety hatch from the underside of the center hull. He waved at the Coast Guard that he was uninjured. He was asked if he would like to be taken aboard the cutter, and he said no he would not. He’d like to stay where he was.
The man was a 55-year-old French yachtsman named Francis Joyon, and the night before he had, after a week of waiting for what he hoped would be the proper weather conditions, left the Gateway Marina in Brooklyn determined to break the world record for sailing across the Atlantic solo. He would arrive in Cornwall, England, he hoped, sometime before the five days, 19 hours and 30 minutes record that had been set three years earlier by a rival.
It hadn’t worked out.
Joyon explained why he wanted to stay with the boat.
“I’ve spent so many years with this boat,” he said. “If no one’s on it, I won’t know what will happen.”
Joyon said he’d ordered a tug. The Coast Guard said they’d wait with him until it arrived to make sure he was all right. Joyon went back down into his upside down cabin. The Coast Guard set up nearby. They waited 32 hours, occasionally talking to the sailor by phone to make sure he was still all right. He had plenty of supplies in there he said. He had packed for a seven-day trip.
At 10 a.m. the next day, the tug arrived, Joyon caught the line and tied the two together, boarded the tug and watched as the workers made fast the line to the trimaran and then began the tow. They towed it back to Montauk Harbor’s Viking Dock, and then the next day righted it and sent it on its way under its own sail power to Newport, Rhode Island for repairs. Joyon said on leaving that he was disappointed but he would be back to try again.
Later that day, Joyon made a post on a weblog called TheDailySail.com about his aborted adventure.
“I had managed to sail about 90 miles in very irregular and highly unstable wind,” he wrote, “shifting in direction and fluctuating between 10 and 30 knots. I went through some very intense squalls, marked by violent gusts, but it was when I thought I was leaving this area that I received a massive gust that catapulted the boat on its side.
“It happened in a second. It was so brutal that it blew me out of the cockpit and I found myself underneath the nets (that connect the two pontoons to the central hull). The weight of the boat was on top of me. Every two seconds, there was another boom of thunder and lightning. I couldn’t see where I was going it was so dark. I just swam out and, luckily, I came out from underneath and climbed on to the side.”
Entering the safety hatch, he crawled across the ceiling of the cabin until he found his satellite phone, then radioed for help—to France—which is where it had been set up to radio to—which then called the Coast Guard in Shinnecock. The French also arranged for the tug and salvage crew.