A vessel in Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic fleet detoured from its return course Tuesday to help save a French sailor, who made a dramatic leap in 20’ seas from his disabled boat as a Coast Guard air crew recorded the jump on video.
Emmanuel “Manu” Wattecamps-Etienne, 28, was carrying his cat, Pipalup, tucked inside his clothing when he made the head-first plunge from the bow of his wildly lurching boat and over the rail of the Tor Viking, a 275’x59’x19’8” icebreaking tug and anchor handling vessel owned by Norway-based Trans Viking.
The Tor Viking was part of Royal Dutch Shell’s fleet accompanying the semisubmersible drilling platform Polar Pioneer, on its way back to the Pacific Northwest after Shell ended its exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea.
The 30’ sailboat La Chimere had departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Oct. 13 and was about 400 miles south of Cold Bay, Alaska, when the Coast Guard picked up a signal from its emergency position indicating beacon (EPIRB), and launched a HC-130 Hercules long-range search aircraft to investigate.
Once on scene the air crew made VHF radio contact with Wattecamps-Etienne, who told them he had lost his rudder and rigging in 46-knot winds and seas up to 20’. The Coast Guard contacted the Polar Pioneer, which with its fleet was passing within range of assistance as the vessels made their way back to Port Angeles, Wash.
Over three to four hours the Tor Viking made its way to La Chimere, and drew up to put the sailboat along its starboard side.
“Finally the icebreaker is in sight. We cause the maneuver and the guys seem to know what they are doing. But good God this final effort will be intense,” Wattecamps-Etienne recounted on his Facebook page Wednesday night (translated from French).
The Coast Guard video shows Wattecamps-Etienne hanging on at the bow of his boat, timing the sea swell crests before making his headlong jump, and being taken in by the Tor Viking crew.
It appeared Wattecamps-Etienne and his feline crewmate will be disembarking when the Shell vessels arrive in Washington. On a GoFundMe page page created by Wattecamps-Etienne to raise money for another boat, he wrote that the duo might next be bound for warmer climes.
"Yesterday I think I heard Pipalup meow to me that she would like to visit the warm weather in South America for the winter and meet her new mother, my fiancée Barbara. You know Pip, I think that’s a great idea!"