Shell oil vessel helps rescue a French yachtsman – and his cat

Dramatic rescues may be routine for the US Coast Guard, but on Tuesday the guard called on a Royal Dutch Shell oil-drilling support ship to rescue both a yachtsman and his cat. 

Coast Guard/AP
In this frame from video provided by the US Coast Guard, a Frenchman with his cat tucked inside his clothing, at right, stands on his sailboat before making a leap Tuesday to a waiting rescue ship, left, south of Alaska.
Emmanuel Wattecamps-Etienne/AP
Emmanuel Wattecamps-Etienne poses for a photo with his cat. Wattecamps-Etienne made a jump Oct. 20, 2015 from his sailboat to a rescue boat after it lost its rudder and rigging in high seas and gale force winds. He tucked his cat inside his coat before making the leap off the doomed sailboat.

Raging winds, sudden storms, adventure on the high seas – these may be all in a day's work for the US Coast Guard, which conducts an average of 109 sea rescues daily, according to the veteran group Military. On Tuesday, however, the Coast Guard needed some help in rescuing a sailboat that had sent out a distress signal from far out to sea.

A 30-foot sailboat left Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Oct. 13 and was headed for Vancouver, but got stuck 400 miles south of Cold Bay, Alaska, according to the Associated Press. When a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft arrived on the scene, the sailor aboard said told the Coast Guard the damage was extensive – the boat had lost its rudder and rigging, and the seas were heavy, with 20-foot waves and 46 miles-per-hour winds, according to a US Coast Guard news release. 

The name of the ship's occupant – a French male – has not yet been released but the boat was called La Chimere.

The Coast Guard cutter Munro was summoned, but it was sailing from Dutch Harbor, miles away from the stranded sailboat. The "watchstanders" – a nautical term for a sailor on lookout – on the C-130 called for backup. 

A Royal Dutch Shell ship for oil drilling was sailing nearby, heading home to Los Angeles after a summer spent drilling off the coast of Alaska. The offshore drilling attempts had been a "costly error," analysts had told Reuters, but as it turned out they may have saved the life of a nearby sailor in distress. The Polar Pioneer oil vessel answered the Coast Guard's call by sending one of its smaller support ships – the Tor Viking – to the rescue. 

Video footage captured by a Coast Guard aircraft, shows the Frenchman who was sailing the vessel perched on the sailboat's tallest pole beside the Tor Viking. His sailboat rode the waves as they crashed into the ship and he waited, apparently hoping for a good approach. He leaped from his doomed sailboat into the rescue vessel headfirst, and a Tor Viking crew member quickly came to his aid, according to the Coast Guard video. 

The US Coast Guard said the Tor Viking operated as a Good Samaritan rescue vessel, which it defines as "private vessel that renders voluntary aid without compensation to a person or vessel who is injured or in danger." 

"The assistance of the good Samaritans on this long-range distress call was vital for the success of the rescue," Bud Holden, a Coast Guard watchstander from the Alaska area said in a news release. "The crew of Tor Viking battled 20-foot seas and gale force winds to help a fellow mariner."

But as it happens, there was another life saved as well. Before making his dramatic leap, the French sailor tucked his cat beneath his jacket, Coast Guard Officer Lauren Steenson told the AP. No word has been released as to whether the man hoped some of the animal's trademark jumping ability would rub off on him, or if he was simply determined not to leave his feline companion behind. Either way, the cat did not go down with the ship.

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