Le Bon back at the helm after brush with death
By Richard Alleyne
Simon Le Bon, the Duran Duran singer, took the helm of his old yacht yesterday declaring that he had no fear of sailing again in the race that almost cost him his life 20 years ago.
The 1980s pop singer said he was just "excited" to be back on his former boat Drum with his original crew and taking part in the Rolex Fastnet Race again.
Not even the prospect of passing along the same stretch of water where he capsized and spent 40 minutes trapped inside the upturned boat was going to distract him from the main object of the race, namely having fun.
Yesterday, as he eased the £7 million boat out of Cowes harbour, on the Isle of Wight, the 46-year-old was in a bullish mood.
He said: "I just feel relieved to be on the boat and all the preparation over. I'm not nervous, I'm more like excited. It is just the same kind of feeling I get when I am going on stage. Just pumped up and looking forward to having some fun."
His confident air is a long way from how he felt after the accident when he admitted that he was "terrified" to get back in the water.
Le Bon had been asleep when high seas ripped the keel off the boat just off the Cornish coast on the first day of the challenging 600-mile race, which six years earlier had claimed 15 lives when a storm hit competitors.
His boat turned upside down, flooded with water and battery acid was poisoning the remaining air as 12 of the crew were trapped inside. The other 12, thrown into the sea, desperately tried to scramble to the surface.
Le Bon, who with his Duran Duran band mates had 13 number one hits and sold 80 million records, was plucked from the cold sea by a lifeboat but the experience left him traumatised.
Determined to get back to the sport he loved after the boat was refitted, he embarked on the Whitbread Round the World yacht race, coming third and allaying many of his fears.
Even so, it has taken him 20 years to re-enter in the Fastnet. He has got together the old crew and persuaded the Scottish motoring tycoon Sir Arnold Clark, the current owner of the 77-ft Drum, to lend him his old boat.
"Taking part again is nothing as cliched as unfinished business, it's more about getting an old bunch of friends together who haven't seen each other for a long time. For us that race and accident is one of the most important things to happen to us in our lives. I am sure there will be a relief when we get to where we capsized. Someone will point it out as we pass and there will be a cheer.
"A friend has generously offered us $3 for every mile we get past the point we capsized. It's fantastic, we have beautiful blue skies, beautiful boats with beautiful girls on them. Some things never change."
"I'm not afraid but I do think when we pass the point where the keel fell off we will feel a bump inside us and feel vindicated about doing the whole thing again."
He said he had no doubt he wanted to compete in Drum. "We have a great affection for it. It is the slowest boat in its class and even if it wasn't we would make it the slowest. We don't want to break anything."
Le Bon is also hoping to raise awareness and funds for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
The biennial Fastnet Race is considered one of the world's classic yacht races, pitting sailors against tricky currents and changeable weather conditions in its 608-mile course in the Channel.
A total of 281 yachts set off from Cowes yesterday for the race, heading into the Channel and along the south-west coast of England before looping around the Fastnet lighthouse, south of Ireland, to return to the finish at Plymouth in around five days.