Route du Rhum: Fabrice Amedeo abandons ship after explosion
Skipper Fabrice Amedeo has been forced to abandon his Imoca Nexans – Art et Fenêtres during the Route du Rhum solo transatlantic race, after an explosion on board the vessel caused it to sink.
Amedeo is safe and well, after being rescued by a freighter, which is taking him to the Azores. Speaking from the freighter shortly after the incident on Monday afternoon (14 November 2022), Amedeo revealed that the explosion triggered a fire, and that the vessel sank off the Portuguese coast “within 30 minutes” as he watched from a life raft.
“All my dreams went down with my boat,” he says.
Alerted by the race management of the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe, the Portuguese maritime rescue services contacted vessels present in the area of the accident. The nearby freighter M/V Maersk Brida diverted to rescue the French sailor. Amedeo will disembark today at Ponta Delgada on the south coast of the island of São Miguel, in the Azores archipelago.
Amedeo, a 42-year-old former journalist turned ocean racer, says he was having a great race until Sunday morning, when he realised his ballast had exploded on a wave and he had “several hundred litres” of water in the boat. At this point, the batteries became affected by the water and failed, causing a complete blackout on board. By Sunday afternoon, smoke started to appear on board.
Reporting from the freighter on Monday afternoon, Amedeo recalls the rest of the tale in his own words:
“Shortly after 12:30pm on Sunday, there was more smoke on board. Followed by an explosion. I grope my way back into the cabin and manage to retrieve my TPS. My grab bag (survival bag) had remained in the cockpit. I am going back to get my wedding ring. I hit the fire extinguisher, but nothing happens. The smoke is not white like yesterday but yellow. The cockpit warps and yellows. Seawater spray sounds like the sound of water hitting a saucepan. I understand that I will have to evacuate. I warn my team of a possible evacuation. When I hang up, I am then at the back of the boat ready to trigger my survival: a torrent of flame comes out of the cabin and the coach roof. I am caught in the middle of the flames. I can’t even open my eyes. I manage to push the life raft into the water and jump.
“Normally the end that holds the liferaft to the boat is supposed to let go. It doesn’t let go. The boat, which I had time to steer but which is still going forwards pushed by rough seas, pulls it and it fills with water. I manage to get on board without letting go. I think that’s where it all happened and things turned the corner to work out right. I say to myself, ‘if you want to live you have a few seconds to find the knife and cut.’ The IMOCA pulls me back towards it. The waves bring me dangerously close to it. I finally find the knife and cut. My raft is drifting downwind of the boat which is fully on fire. It takes 30 minutes to sink. I spoke to the boat and thanked it. We were going to go round the world together in two years’ time.
“Then, you have to get organised. The satellite phone did not like the water in the raft and doesn’t work.
“I say to myself, ‘nobody knows that the boat has sunk and that you are in your raft, if you activate the beacon on the IMOCA that you were able to take with you and you trigger the one on the liferaft, they will have the information’. That’s what I do. I can’t find a baler on board. A Tupperware box containing batteries will save me. I empty the raft. I begin the wait. I stand behind the raft so that it does not overturn. The sea is very, very big. I take stock of the equipment on board and prepare for what’s next. I gather the flares. I put the VHF around my neck. I spend three to four hours in this raft. I am surprisingly calm. The raft regularly fills with water from the lightly breaking waves. I understand all this but feel safe. I know, however, that nothing is over.
Amedeo made a Mayday call every 30 minutes until eventually rescued by the freighter and around 20 crew.
“Once I am on board the freighter that the fear and adrenaline surge,” he says. “My legs are shaking. It’s crazy this animal capacity that humans have to manage a survival situation. Then it hits home. Death did not want me today, or rather life did not want me to leave it. I’m devastated but the happiest of men because tonight my wife and daughters aren’t going to bed crying.
“This adventure in no way alters my passion for my job and for the ocean. I would like to thank my team, the race management of the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe, and the rescue teams, who worked to ensure that this rescue operation took place in the best possible conditions.
“I also think of my partners. I thank them for their trust. I will bounce back. We will bounce back.”