November 6, 2018 / 6:31 PM / 8 days ago

Vendee winner Le Cleac'h capsizes during transatlantic race

FILE PHOTO: French skipper Armel Le Cleac'h reacts after he won the solo round-the-world Vendee Globe sailing race, in the waters off Les Sables d'Olonne on France's Atlantic coast January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - French sailor Armel Le Cleac’h has capsized in his maxi trimaran about 340 miles north-east of the Azores while battling a fierce Atlantic storm in the solo transatlantic Route du Rhum race.

Le Cleac’h, who won the single-handed Vendee Globe round-the-world race in 2017, managed to trigger his distress beacon after one his catamaran’s floats snapped off in gusts of more than 35 knots and five-meter waves, race organizers said.

The Frenchman’s shore team reported that he is safe inside his damaged boat, they added in a statement on Tuesday.

“It is too far away for a helicopter to go to the site, but we know ... that a plane is flying over to check out the situation. Armel is OK and is getting ready to be evacuated,” Race Director Jacques Caraes said.

The storm has taken its toll on the skippers in the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, with half the six starters in the ULTIME class now out of the race, which began off the Brittany port of Saint Malo on Sunday.

While most of the 123 boats are continuing the 3,542-mile course toward Point-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe, nearly 50 are either seeking shelter along the French and Spanish coasts or heading back toward France with technical issues.

Reporting by Alexander Smith,; Editing by Ed Osmond

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