Gilles Buekenhout © Arnaud Pilpré / #RDR2022

Gilles Buekenhout © Arnaud Pilpré / #RDR2022

RDR, capsized Belgian skipper tells his tale following capsize


26/11/2022 - 17:18

Belgian solo skipper and long-time race leader Gilles Buekenhout, may have likely already won the Rhum Multi class based on his previous pace, but he capsized suddenly two days ago and was rescued by a cargo ship. He arrived into Pointe-à-Pitre last night where there was an emotional reunion with his family and friends.

The 60-year-old skipper of the 12m trimaran Jess - whose name was changed from Jessica Rabbit because of the French superstition that any rabbit connection to a boat brings bad luck – Buekenhout recounted the story of his capsize and rescue. 

"The whole rescue experience and rescue by the freighter is quite extraordinary. It is not like you practice on the survival courses, the reality is something else. When you have to swim 50 meters in water to recover the lifebuoy that has been thrown from the boat, it is not the same. But I made it and I'm happy to be here and to be in a good mood for the finishes into Pointe-a-Pitre."

I saw a precipice in front of me

"I was in fairly normal sailing mode I was not pushing hard or going too fast. I was inside and had just shaved and was preparing my fenders for the finish. Suddenly I felt that the boat accelerating to 18-19 knots. There was a squall that had been quite far away and I didn't worry too much. I got myself on the helm, I cut the pilot as I know I can react better in the gusts. But in, like, three seconds the boat was tipped totally upright, lifted from the back. I saw this precipice in front of me. In two seconds I dumped mainsail car. I realized it was screwed up. I fell into the water from about 10 meters high, flat on my back. I sank down to about 1.5m and when I came back up the boat was flat, upside down."

I think it's the survival instinct

"I got back on the boat and then the adventures of this capsize followed: the call for rescue, setting up the beacon. I called my router and above all thing, very important, I closed myself into the boat. I did what I could. I really could not believe what had happened. The sea was not very big. But then such are the risks with multihulls. I thank the people on the cargo ship (Interunity) which got diverted. I managed to save my TPS (survival suit), my phone and the flashlight, thanks to which I could be spotted in the night. I had some good reflexes. You might think I had dark thoughts, but no! I think it's the survival instinct. I tried to react as best I could. But here I am, and I am very happy to be here among you! For me it was just a formality to get to the finish. I was not pushing the boat at all. It was bad luck, or the sea wanted to keep me. You can imagine anything, but you have to stay positive in life."

Gilles Buekenhout © Antoine Dujoncquoy
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