Wellington (AFP) - Solo round-the-world sailor Thomas Ruyant arrived safely in New Zealand Wednesday after a high-seas collision that threatened to split his yacht in two, rescuers said.
The Frenchman was taking part in the Vendee Globe race when he hit an object believed to be a shipping container on Sunday night, causing an "exceptionally violent" crash.
With his yacht in danger of falling apart, Ruyant began slowly motoring towards New Zealand's South Island more than 220 nautical miles (410 kilometres) away, as rescue authorities closely monitored his progress.
Coastguard NZ's southern regional manager Cheryl Moffat said a launch met Ruyant late Tuesday and escorted him towards the town of Bluff for eight hours as he made painstaking progress of about three knots in the stricken vessel.
"They arrived at 7:30 am (1830 Tuesday GMT) this morning," she told AFP.
Moffat said the coastguard launch located Ruyant's yacht "Le Souffle du Nord" in the dark and transferred aboard two technicians and a pump to bail out the vessel.
She said the yacht's fragile condition was a concern but forecast bad weather did not arrive and it managed to limp into harbour in one piece.
"The skipper of our vessel said that conditions were pretty good, they were very happy about it," she said.
Ruyant said he experienced high winds of 45 knots before meeting the rescue launch and struggled to control the yacht because the crash had damaged its steering system.
He feared he would lose the yacht and was on the verge of calling for an aerial evacuation before the danger passed.
"I realised that I was going to make it," he said in a message posted on the race's website.
"There was an incredible moment of satisfaction with the sun going down along the coast of New Zealand."
The solo round-the-world yacht racers set off from western France on November 6, with the winner expected back on France's Atlantic coast by January 20.