Loïc Lepage, now awaiting rescue some 600 miles SE of Perth WA
GR Day 111: MAYDAY rescue update alert on Loic Lepage
At 18:27 UTC on Saturday 20th Oct. the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre at Canberra (JRCC Aus.) picked up a distress beacon alert from French solo skipper Loïc Lepage. They had already been alerted by GGR organisers that his yacht Laaland had been dismasted and was taking in water some 600 miles SW of Perth, Western Australia, and took on responsibility for coordinating a rescue mission.
JRCC issued an immediate MAYDAY relay to all shipping and at 20:30 UTC, a Challenger aircraft was despatched from Perth with a droppable pump onboard to assess the situation and photograph the disabled yacht. The plane arrived on scene at 23:09 UTC and raised communications with Lepage via VHF radio. Loïc advised that he was conducting repairs to his engine and did not require the pump or any other supplies to be dropped. He also stated that water ingress was at a rate of approximately 160 litres per hour but that the onboard pumps were keeping up. The aircraft reported that the mast did not appear to be attached to the vessel, and that no other significant external damage was visible.
Throughout this period, JRCC Aus. continued to seek assistance from merchant shipping, while GGR Organisers sort to communicated with other sailing vessels in the region. Due to the severe conditions, two merchant ships advised that they were unable to assist for safety reasons.
At 00:28 UTC, an RAAF P8 search and rescue plane was tasked to overfly the area and later a civilian aircraft was relocated from Sydney to Perth to provide back-up. The Maritime Services vessel Stoker has also been placed on stand-by.
At 01:22 UTC Francis Tolan, the skipper of the S/V Alizes II, a Beneteau Ocean 43 participating in the Long Route solo circumnavigation, positioned some 300 miles NW of Laaland’s position, offered his assistance. Then at 03:14 UTC, the bulk carrier Shiosai, which had been heading west across the Great Australian Bight, also agreed to assist, and altered course towards the distress position.
At 05:07 UTC, GGR Organisers spoke to Lepage via satphone. The Frenchman advised that water ingress remained at the same rate, that the onboard pumps were keeping up, and that he was not in imminent danger of sinking. He also reported that the yacht’s engine, which had suffered some damage from water ingress into the boat, would not start, and that a jury rig had still to be set-up. Laaland continued to drift in the approximate position 38° 50.33’ S 104°15.27E, and that Loïc was seeking rescue and transfer off his vessel.
Lepage has since repaired his engine and been advised to motor in a northerly direction to shorten the distance between him and the rescue vessels. JRCC Aus. intends to utilise the MV Shiosaiand SV Alizes II as surface rescue assets and to keep Stoker on stand-by until Mon 22 Oct when a decision will be made based on a re-assessment of weather conditions and progress of Shiosai and Alizes II overnight.
In addition, an RAAF P8 search and rescue plane will fly direct from Learmonth to the distress position with an ETA of 00:30 UTC Monday. Two other planes have also been tasked to provide air overwatch as required from now until the completion of the operation.