SYDNEY, Australia - The captain of a cruise ship spoke Monday, January 21, of the dramatic rescue of a French sailor adrift for days in mountainous seas and the cheers from passengers when he was hauled safely on board.
After three days on a life raft in the Southern Ocean, 63-year-old yachtsman Alain Delord was saved by the Antarctic adventure vessel Orion 500 nautical miles southwest of Hobart late Sunday, January 20.
Mike Taylor said the vessel's 100 passengers on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Macquarie Island had at first been "massively disappointed" to be diverted.
"But there was a cheer you could hear right over the ship when we pulled him in through the door," Captain Taylor told ABC radio.
He said his ship was about 680 miles south of Delord when contacted by Australia's Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra.
"It took us a full 53 hours to get from where we were to him," the Briton said.
Taylor spoke of huge swells and strong winds that made for conditions as extreme as any he had experienced and said that without the help of the RCC and aerial detection Orion would never have found the sailor.
"It was unbelievable how difficult he was to see," Taylor said, describing how the orange raft would bob up atop a mighty wave and then disappear again.
Delord, who set off in early October, abandoned his yacht Tchouk Tchouk Nougat on Friday, January 18, after the mast smashed and the hull was damaged too far from land for a helicopter to reach him.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) air-dropped Delord food, water, communications equipment and a safety suit on Saturday and had stayed in regular contact with him.
Amid fears he would have to spend a third night at sea, Orion reached him before sunset.
Captain Taylor told ABC Delord was in better shape than might have been expected.
"He's very happy to be here, I can tell you that.
"I only saw him last night when he was under the doctor's care. He was a little bit subdued. I guess he's been in fear of his life for two or three days so probably the adrenalin has now left his system so he's like a limp rag.
"But he was in surprisingly good condition ... 63-years-old, three months on a yacht, three days in a raft.
"He was able to stand and he was able to to clear the canopy on his raft to help us with the rescue so he's in good shape."
Orion expedition leader Don McIntyre said in a Facebook statement that a wave flooded part of the ship when crews initially opened a side door.
"We shut the side door fast... then the captain repositioned and gave the OK to open again.
"I was amazed to see the raft just 20 meters from us, sitting in calm water in the lee of the ship with Alain waving," he said.
McIntyre gave the go-ahead for a Zodiac vessel to drop into the water and intercept the life raft.
"The Zodiac ripped past, they grabbed him and pulled Alain into the Zodiac. Then Steve, the driver, quickly brought the bow of the Zodiac to the side gate, all the while water lapping at the entrance and some coming below," he said.
"I passed the hauling line over and we attached it to Alain's harness and hauled him into the side of the ship."
The Orion, now en route for Hobart, Tasmania, was 11 days into an 18-day cruise when diverted.
Delord, an experienced solo yachtsman, was reportedly following the route of the Vendee Globe round-the-world ocean race.
The Australian navy famously rescued Frenchman Thierry Dubois and Briton Tony Bullimore after several days adrift in the Southern Ocean during the 1996/97 edition of the Vendee Globe. - Rappler.com