French sailor makes desperate Pacific Ocean leap onto Shell vessel

A Shell Oil icebreaker gained two passengers in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday. French sailor Manu Wattecamps-Etienne dove onto the icebreaker in 20-foot seas Tuesday, about 12 hours after sending out a distress signal. He made the desperate jump–with his cat–about 350 miles southeast of Alaska’s Dutch Harbor.

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Coast Guard video of the rescue shows the 30-foot sailboat bobbing like a cork next to the 270-foot Tor Viking II. The Frenchman clings like a koala to the rigging at the bow of his boat as it whips him around in nearly 50 mile-per-hour winds.

With a big backpack on and his cat stuffed inside his jacket, Wattecamps-Etienne times the waves just right. He dives over the rail of the icebreaker, landing headfirst with his feet flopping up in the air.

Wattecamps-Etienne was sailing south after crossing the Northwest Passage in the Arctic Ocean this summer. His boat, La Chimere, passed through Nome about a month ago.

The Tor Viking, a bumblebee-striped icebreaker tug, is part of Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet.

It was escorting Shell’s Polar Pioneer rig to Washington state after Shell gave up on its hunt for oil in the Arctic Ocean in September.

Tuesday morning, the Shell ships heard the Coast Guard’s broadcast call for help from any vessels near the struggling sailboat. The Coast Guard also sent a C-130 plane from Kodiak and the cutter Munro from Dutch Harbor to assist the mariner.

“He reported that he had no rudder or rigging and was taking on heavy seas,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Lauren Steenson in Kodiak said.

Steenson said the crew of the Tor Viking had to do some challenging maneuvering to get close to the tiny sailboat in the rough seas.

“The man was holding on to the rigging at the very front of his sailboat and almost fell, which was kind of scary,” she said. “But when one of the big waves came and pushed him toward the boat, he kind of made a leap of faith onto the Tor Viking and made it.”

On Facebook, Wattecamps-Etienne said he’s now en route to Seattle on board the Tor Viking. lists the Tor Viking’s destination as Port Angeles, Washington, where Shell has said the Polar Pioneer is going. Shell spokeswoman Meg Baldino did not respond to interview requests for this story.

“I am sad to tell you that La Chimere is lost,” Wattecamps-Etienne told his Facebook friends.

He said his whole life was on his sailboat. Without it, he said he feels useless and without purpose, like a soccer player who’s just lost a leg.

Translated from the original Facebook post in French:

Last night, I was battered by a wave, boat upside down. The boat finally righted itself, full of water, everything on the deck was destroyed, none of the instruments worked and the water kept getting in despite the pump which turns… I abandoned my boat this morning after several more capsizes, followed by a physically demanding rescue. From now on, I am a captain without a ship. I lost everything, all my life was on my boat. Worse than that, I am starting from below zero since I still have to pay off Euros for a boat that is no more… I feel like a soccer player who just lost a leg: useless and without purpose. I will have to wait years and years before being able to walk on the deck of my own boat.


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