Location of Orange Project capsize
 

Location of Orange Project capsize

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Steve Ravussin recounts the capsize of the Orange Project trimaran and his equally hair raising rescue

Tuesday November 7th 2006, Author: James Boyd, Location: Transoceanic
Steve Ravussin, hardcore trimaran sailor and skipper of Orange Project, has been rescued from the upturned hull of his trimaran which capsized last night, some time before 0028GMT this morning when his distress beacons were activated. At the time of the incident Orange Project was 650 miles southwest from St John, Newfoundland and 600 miles from the Azores to the ESE.

At 0600 this morning Ravussin was recovered in good health by the 47000 ton, Russian cargo liner Okhta Bridge after a rescue operation co-ordinated by the Maritime REscue Co-ordination Centre in Norfolk, VA. The ship is currently bound for the UK where it is due to dock on 13 November.

Following his collision with a submerged container and his brief visit to the Azores to fit a central rudder, Orange Project's capsize occured when her autopilot became disconnected. At the time Ravussin had just passed through to the west side of the warm front where the wind was blowing around 25-30 knots from the NNE and the sea state was short, sharp and highly confused.

Safely on board the Okhta Bridge, Ravussin recounted what had happened to Race Director and former trimaran sailor Jean Maurel. "I lived three lives today… so, I'm not doing too badly… " responded Ravussin, usually lively and enthusiast but clearly still in a state of shock.

Following his pitstop in the Azores, the competitive pressure was off but Ravussin had previously said that he wanted to finish the race. "I'd calmed the boat down, sailing with two reefs in the main and solent. I had put in the ballast [the ORMA 60 trimarans all carry around 500kg of water in an aft tank in their central hull], because the waves were short to prevent the risk of burying the bows because occasionally we would accelerate rather quickly, stopping the boat in the wave of front. I put the pilot on and went on the foredeck, to tie the gennaker to the net, when the autopilot suddenly failed and the trimaran started luffing… I ran back to the cockpit, but another pilot failure made the boat bear away violently this time. She planted her bows into the wave in front and nose-diving was unavoidable. The transoms came up and up and up.... I fell into the hoop [a beam that is the forward end of the helming cockpit] as the transoms can 16m out of the water.

The hoop Ravussin refers to is a curved front beam at the forward side of the cockpit, fitted by Lalou Roucayrol, the previous skipper of the boat when it was called Banque Populaire. As you can see from the photo above it offers little protection, but clearly was of profund value on this occasion. “I had thought the hoop was useless but I now think it practically saved my life," Ravussin continued. "When the boat pitch-poled, I hung on to it, not knowing which way it would come down. The buoyancy in the mast when it hit the water broke the capsize temporarily, but eventually it slowly turned upside down and I found myself trapped under the net [between the hulls and beams]. Fortunately I was wearing my survival suit because I have a skin conditions and I didn't want to get too wet. I’m not a strong swimmer, and I had to fight to keep my head out of the water. Luckily, twice the swell lifted the boat up so I was able to get some air, but under the netting I thought that would be my end.

Ravussin found enough strength to crawl under the beam and climb up onto the upturned boat. He then was able to turn his ARGOS and EPIRB distress beacons on, and the signal was caught by the Maritime Rescue Center Control in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. Norfolk then contacted the Route du Rhum organisers, and alerted the ships that in the area. The Okhta Bridge, which was the closest, changed course and came to the rescue. Ironically this ship belongs to Sovcomflot, Ravussin's sponsor last year in the Oops Cup. Perhaps this is a sign?

In the meantime back on board, in the middle of the night, Ravussin says he reckons the mast finally broke after around an hour. "Fortunately it had a little buoyancy so the boat didn't go over immedaitely and the capsize wasn't that abrupt." Aside from the distress transmissions from the beacons he had also established contact with Race Organiser Jean Maurel, but in an unconventional way. "I tried my Iridium phone but it was wet and nobody heard me. Thus with each time I called someone and said “hello” they didn't hear me." Despite phone's mouthpiece not working Maurel at the receiving end was able to work out quickly that this was the problem and was able to establish a system of communcation where Ravussin could acknowledge he had received a message, such as the ship being on its way, according to when he hung up.

Seeing the massive silhouette of the giant Russian ship bearing down on his spindly trimaran was certainly a scary experience for Ravussin. “The ship came within five metres of me," Ravussin continues. "I was tangled up in a mess of ropes, and I did not understand how the crew had planned to get me out of this trap. At one point they were telling me to jump into the water .They tried to throw lines at me from the bow - I was right under it, but it was 20m above the sea! So I made myself a kind of harness, and managed to catch their rope. It was connected to a hydraulic winch, and when the crew thought I was properly tied, they turned the winch on, and I was dragged up the side of hull. I took with me a large knife as if I'd got caught in with a rope retaining me to the boat, then I might have had a leg less, but that did not seem very serious to me at the time. through any ropes that might keep me tied on to the trimaran… I screamed like never before, I thought my end was near…”

Ravussin is now safe and sound, in the hands of the Russian crew. “They’re incredibly kind and thoughtful. Physically, I’m fine. Mentally, I feel as if I’ve fired all my rounds, there’s not much left…"

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