Yacht race veterans raise funds to help survivors of Gulf of Aden crossings

News Stories, 25 May 2009

© UNHCR/H.Morel
Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux's sailing jacket is auctioned in Sables D'Olonne.

SABLES D'OLONNE, France, May 25 (UNHCR) Some of the world's leading long-distance yacht sailors raised more than 2,000 euros at the weekend for the UN refugee agency's operations to help survivors of the perilous Gulf of Aden crossing from the Horn of Africa to Yemen.

The sailors donated personal items to an auction held Saturday in the port resort of Sables D'Olonne on the sidelines of the prize-giving ceremony for the 2008-2009 Vendée Globe single-handed round-the-world yacht race, which started and ended here on France's Atlantic coast.

Thirty skippers started the high seas marathon last November, but only 12 made it back to France, including two women and winner Michel Desjoyeaux, who took 84 days to circumnavigate the globe and retain his title. The French matelot donated a sailing jacket to the auction, which was bought for 400 euros by a girl called Murielle. "I came specially to buy Michel Desjoyeaux's jacket for my boyfriend," she said.

Every competitor donated something, including Britain's Samantha Davies, who came an impressive fourth in her 60-foot vessel, Roxy. The 35-year-old donated a straw hat and sunglasses, while Unai Basurko, who failed to finish the race, gave his teapot. Marc Guillemot, who finished third, gave his waterproof bag, which was bought by a Geneva-based UNHCR staff member and amateur sailor.

Yannick Bestaven, who had a very short race, was the only Vendée Globe skipper to actually take part in the auction, selling several of his T-shirts, shirts and fleeces. "It's a good cause and if we can help by giving objects or clothing, then we do it with pleasure."

A signed photo of Vincent Riou and fellow competitor Jean le Cam, whose rescue he went to near Cape Horn, attracted a lot of bids before selling for 125 euros. The auction of around 50 lots raised a total of 2,200 euros for UNHCR.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Sables d'Olonne and on its long beach at the weekend to celebrate the winners and to enjoy the marvellous weather and a spectacular fireworks display.

Hundreds of them also visited a UNHCR display in the town's Centre des Congrès about the risks that people from Somalia and Ethiopia, including refugees and internally displaced people, take to reach Yemen on smugglers' boats.

Tens of thousands make the Gulf of Aden crossing each year, but hundreds die in the attempt from drowning or ill-treatment. A documentary by French journalist Daniel Grandclément, entitled "Martyrs of the Gulf of Aden," was also shown.

The Vendée Globe competitors have a lot of respect, sympathy and concern for those who cross the dangerous Gulf in search of a better life. They say that they have it far easier in their sea-going vessels.

By Sarah Gaston-Dreyfus/Katia Ruiz in Sables D'Olonne, France

For more information on the Vendée Globe, go to: Vendee Globe