HOBART, Australia (AFP) - A French sailor adrift for three days in the remote Southern Ocean stepped onto dry land Tuesday, hailing his second chance at life and feeling fragile but his features lit with gratitude.
Alain Delord was little more than an orange speck bobbing in and out of view on foaming four-metre (13-foot) waves when the Antarctic cruise ship Orion spotted his life raft on Sunday evening.
The Orion had been carrying 100 passengers to Macquarie Island, halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica, when it received an emergency call from Australian maritime officials reporting a solo yachtsman in distress.
By the time the Orion reached Delord, 63, he had been adrift for three days on a life raft with little more than a wetsuit protecting him from strong gusts and the surging ocean, which was just eight degrees Celsius (46 Fahrenheit).
Until receiving an Australian airdrop, 24 hours after his yacht Tchouk Tchouk Nougat capsized mast-less in the Southern Ocean, he was without food or water.
All he could think of in those 24 hours and the days that followed was the prospect of a rescue, Delord said Tuesday, fighting back tears as he reflected on his harrowing ordeal.
He said he never allowed himself to contemplate the worst.
"It's contradictory but you always hope for the best, so you don't think about those things," Delord told reporters after arriving in Australia in borrowed clothes hanging from his thin frame.
He described his relief when the first plane arrived overhead, having tracked his location with a beacon he activated when he abandoned his 150,000 euro ($200,000) boat in 70-knot winds on Friday.
"It was incredible," said Delord.
"Up until then there was just the little beacon going 'peep peep peep' and you don't know if anyone is hearing it.
"You know the authorities are going to do what they can."
Delord was finally plucked from the ocean as night fell on Sunday in a daring six-minute operation with a Zodiac inflatable dinghy usually used to transport passengers to shore in the Antarctic.
They winched him from the dinghy onto the ship through a side door and carried him to the ship's hospital, where he was assessed as suffering little more than a few bumps and bruises, swollen hands and fatigue.
"It's the start of a second life," the sailor said after stepping off the Orion at Hobart's Macquarie Dock.
"The chances of being here today were very small. It's a miracle because of the circumstances."
Once on the Orion, he was more than comfortable, given an opulent suite near the bow of the ship.
Delord is an accomplished and experienced sailor, having worked with boats his whole life. But asked if he would be taking a second shot at his solo round-the-world sailing attempt, he replied with a firm "No".
"The problem is financial," Delord replied, his yacht not having been insured.
He said his lonely days at sea had given him a new respect for the ocean and a new lease on life, his eyes filling with tears and a hand on his heart as he spoke.
Delord had been at sea three months when his yacht was wrecked, and his first steps onto the dock under bright blue skies were accompanied by a smile of relief.
"C'est bien, la vie," he said.