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Extreme sailor: Crashing in Atlantic was 'great adventure'

By Susannah Palk for CNN
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Shipwrecked mid-race
  • Route du Rhum is one of the most popular and extreme solo sailing races
  • Transatlantic race goes from France to Guadeloupe in the West Indies
  • "This was an adventure, not a misadventure," says sailor who crashed during journey

(CNN) -- Halfway through one of the world's most challenging solo sailing races, veteran skipper Sidney Gavignet found himself shipwrecked and stranded in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

But instead of panicking, the 42-year-old Frenchman stayed cool under pressure -- and even managed to document his ordeal on film.

Although the incident ended his dreams of racing the Route du Rhum, a transatlantic race that attracts some of the world's most professional sailors, Gavignet says the experience was worth it.

It was a "great adventure," he said. "The history of this race has always been dramatic," he told CNN.

"It's a single-handed race, so of course it can be dangerous. If you fall off the boat nobody will come back to pick you up."

Opportunities to take part in the challenging race don't come that often. The Route du Rhum, which starts in Brittany in northwestern France and ends in the archipelago of Guadeloupe in the West Indies, takes place only every four years.

The history of this race has always been dramatic.
--French sailor Sidney Gavignet
  • Guadeloupe
  • France
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Sailing

This year's event attracted 85 competitors, with nine skippers, including Gavignet, participating in the elite "ultimate class" category for yachts 18 meters and over.

But four days into the race and despite good weather conditions, disaster stuck Gavignet's 32-meter yacht earlier this month.

"I was sailing between 18 and 22 knots, so the speed was pretty fast, but nothing unusual for such a big boat," Gavignet recalled.

"Everything was fine until I saw a big crack in the front crossbeam linking the main hull and the float. It just broke in two pieces," he said.

Within seconds, Gavignet's yacht was tipped on its side. The mast hit the water, where it remained until it finally snapped under the pressure of the boat, rendering it all but useless.

"I never had any fear," he said. "I was just worried when the boat went upright in the water because I wasn't totally sure if it was going to keep going."

Four hours after the initial crack, Gavignet's first Route du Rhum ended as he climbed aboard a Greek cargo ship that would carry him to safety.

Fellow Frenchman Franck Cammas went on to win the "ultimate class" category of the event, finishing the course in nine days, three hours, 14 minutes and 47 seconds.

Concerns about the extreme nature of the Route du Rhum, which started in 1978, have been raised in recent years. In 2002, bad weather and severe storms kept more than half of the yachts from finishing.

Gavignet admits the Route du Rhum is challenging, perhaps even risky, but he says, it's not dangerous.

He told CNN: "The importance is safety and I have to say the safety training on this race was very, very useful and very important.

"That's probably one reason why I was so calm during the incident, because I was well prepared."

He's resolute to join the race again, if given the opportunity.

Gavignet said: "For me this was an adventure, not a misadventure, and I felt lucky to be at the start of this race. I simply feel like a lucky person."