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Isabelle Autissier retires from racing

Jan 1, 2003

Around Alone sailor Isabelle Autissier scarcely had the chance to recover her land legs after coming ashore in Punta del Este, Uruguay, before announcing that she would be retiring from competitive ocean racing. Autissier was the subject of a high-profile rescue by fellow racer Giovanni Soldini in February when her 60-foot Class I boat PRB capsized in the Southern Ocean, leaving her stranded in the overturned hull.

All Around Alone yachts are required to be equipped with self-righting capability. PRB's keel, though reportedly fully canted to one side, failed to right the vessel. Jean Pierre Mouligné's Cray Valley, which has a fixed keel, is equipped with flotation bags on the stern that would theoretically right the vessel in a capsize.

Soldini, leading the fleet in his 60-footer Fila, diverted from his course to a position 200 miles away where Autissier's EPIRB signal had been reported. Not finding the vessel at the reported position, Soldini then sailed a course based on Autissier's projected drift and eventually found the overturned hull, with no sign of Autissier, about two miles away. He tossed a hammer at the hull, and soon her head appeared from the stern's escape hatch. Minutes later, the two were underway again for Cape Horn, more than 3,000 miles away.

The pair arrived safely two weeks later, apparently having preferred each other's company to the monotony of sailing alone. Soldini won leg 3 with a time of 25 days, nine hours, 55 minutes. At the end of leg 2, Cape Town to Auckland, Autissier was overall race leader.

Mouligné, aboard the 50-foot Cray Valley, won the leg, as he had Legs 1 and 2, in the 50-foot Class II. If he wins Leg 4, which is slated to depart Punta del Este for Charleston, S.C., on April 15, he will be one of only two sailors in the race's history to win all four legs. Phillippe Jeantot accomplished this during the first race almost 20 years ago.

This was the second such incident for Autissier. In the last Around Alone/BOC (1993-94) Autissier was plucked from her dismasted yacht by Australian officials in a mid-ocean rescue.