Two French sailors attempting to cross the Atlantic from Fort Lauderdale to France in the 33-foot trimaran Acapella were pitch-poled in heavy seas off Sable Island on April 5, prompting a large-scale search and rescue operation by Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard vessels and aircraft. The two men, François Forestier and Claude Bistoquet, were discovered alive and well inside Acapella’s overturned hull.
The vessel ran into a storm about 350 miles southeast of Halifax and was apparently tripped in steep, breaking seas generated by 30- to 40-knot northwest winds that opposed the northeasterly flowing Gulf Stream. “It was a classic scenario of having strong northerly winds that build these huge square waves in the Gulf Stream,” said Adam Erland, a SAR coordinator in Halifax.
The men were reportedly below in the tri’s center hull when it flipped but were unhurt. Once upside down, the hulls proved a stable platform for the men to await rescue. After activating their 406 EPIRB, the men waited 30 hours, wearing only tee-shirts and shorts, on the hull before help arrived in the form of a U.S. helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod and a Panamanian merchant ship.
The helicopter was operating at the outermost threshold and required a refueling stop at the Pan Canadian Oil Co. rig Rowan Gorilla III near Sable Island. Once on scene two rescue swimmers assisted in lifting the men into the hovering H-60 Jayhawk helicopter, which then required another fuel stop at the oil rig on the return trip. The men were flown to Shearwater, Nova Scotia, and released, according to Erland. Acapella, which recently received a seven-year refit and was returning to France after the Route du Rhum Race, was left adrift.