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Estonian's yacht distressed at sea

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PHOTO: Jacques Vapillon

Sailing enthusiast Jaanus Tamme gave his legendary yacht to a Swiss friend of his for a trip around the world. The friend found himself asking how to escape death in it.

Estonian Jaanus Tamme's treasure was dead in the water in the south Pacific, waves reaching five-six meters high, with the situation more than critical. The yacht's rudder blade – used to change direction – had snapped off. Tamme's yacht Superbigou, that had won three solo round the world regattas in the last decade, was not just uncontrollable. The break had resulted in a hull breach. Water kept flooding in.

And there was nothing Tamme could do. He had given his red and white yacht, that holds the world record for crossing the Atlantic solo in eight days and 21 hours, to a young friend from Switzerland, Alan Roura. The Swiss (23), whose thick sea-dog eyebrows and black beard make him look twice his age, took it to France from where he departed on the world's most famous round the world regatta the Vendee Globe. His adventure came close to ending on the fourth day of January when sailing towards Cape Horn. What is worse: even if a passing cargo ship or rescue helicopter could save Roura, the yacht would still go to the briny deep. Because it usually takes four or five men to repair the kind of damage Tamme's yacht had sustained – on land.

Tamme had bought the 60-foot Superbigou nearly five years earlier in cooperation with a Chinese construction businessman whom he had met courtesy of Tiit Riisalo, the newly appointed chief of the Office of the President who participated in Estonians' turn of the century round the world trip aboard the yacht Lennuk as its second mate. The two men paid nearly half a million euros for the yacht built in France in 2000. While it is a lot of money, Tamme's dream of one day participating in the Vendee Globe is one to match.

Flight over the waves

The Vendee Globe, held every four years, is not a competition participation in which can be decided on the spur of the moment. Preparation takes years and insane amounts of money. Participation is held to end up costing as much as the vessel. Considering that the faster vessels, like Frenchman Armel Le Cleach's yacht that won the Vendee regatta last week with the world record time of 74 days and three hours, cost in excess of five million euros, staying in contention for the victory requires at least ten million euros.

This stark fact in mind, Tamme would have no business in the big leagues even if he wanted to or was lucky enough to be there. He would be 25 days behind the leaders at best. So much has the technology of monohull yachts come along. The leaders are not so much sailing as flying over the waves. This year's winner broke the previous record by four days.

Even qualifying for the start is an achievement. Only 29 yachts make it to the final competition of which 11 have already withdrawn this year.

Jaanus Tamme (43), whose small sailing equipment manufacturer Ropeye's exports range from Australia to America and from Dubai to Chile, has enough sailing achievements under his belt to think about the Vendee test of human ability and endurance. He came in second in last year's solo ocean sailing series. Longer stretches of the competition lasted a week. However, he did not participate with the Superbigou but a nearly three times smaller yacht of six and a half meters.

Tamme had given Superbigou to Roura for one euro, even though the rent price of these kinds of yachts often reaches 150,000 euros a year. He surrendered the yacht even though there were other interested parties from the UK and Finland. «It is not a business for me,» Tamme says when commenting on the symbolic rent price. «It is good for the boat to be sailing.» Roura raised the half a million euros needed to partake in the Vendee himself. He used the money to modernize Superbigou's equipment.

Spartan interior

According to Tamme, the legendary Superbigou is a very good boat for one's first Vendee. «You will never win there if you don't have experience,» Tamme says. «Therefore it makes no sense to buy a superboat for your first event.» The yacht is very ascetic: a bean bag instead of a bunk, a place to light the primus stove instead of a kitchen, a bucket instead of a toilet. The only things there is an abundance of are electronics and navigation equipment.

Tamme came close to losing it all on January 4. The seemingly hopeless situation befell Roura as the youngest and therefore least experienced participant of the Vendee, despite rumors that the sailor had been born at sea. The reason he had turned to Tamme to borrow the Superbigou was that his boat had not fared well: it, too, was damaged during the Route du Ruhm competition on the Atlantic.

And now new trouble at the Vendee Globe: he had broken the rudder blade.

However, Roura is a God honest sea-dog not just in appearance. He tipped Tamme's boat over on the Pacific. While he spent the better part of the day at it, Rousa eventually managed to install a new blade and fix the hull.

Tamme believes Roura still has over two weeks of sailing ahead of him. He is in 13th place among 18 sailors still in the competition. Tamme can give it a go in four years should he decided to take part in the Vendee Globe. What could stand in his way? «Nothing,» he says. «I stand in my own way with my life.» Running a company, two kids, the younger just five years old – it is not easy to balance it all to go after your dream.

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