Falmouth coastguards coordinated the rescue of two French yachtsmen last night who had been taking part in the Transat Jaques Vabre yacht race.

They had reached 170 miles off the Isles of Scilly when the yacht Rivages, competing under its race sponsor name of Cheminées Pousoulat, was damaged in winds of severe gale force nine with ten metre waves.

Falmouth Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre received an emergency positioning beacon alert at 6.50pm yesterday and contacted the 19 metre yacht, which was on its way to Brest.

The two crewmembers reported that the vessel was taking on water and they had problems with the mast.

Falmouth coastguards broadcast an alert to all ships in the area to see whether any of them could change course to help the yacht crew.

The Norwegian container ship Star Isfjord, which was 30 nautical miles away, diverted to help the yacht. However the weather conditions meant it could only make very slow progress of three knots.

Working alongside the French Coastguard at Griz Nez, Falmouth Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre organised for a search and rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose to fly to the very limit of their range to the yacht, with support from a French aircraft. The aircraft provided a communications link and found the exact location of the yacht before the helicopter arrived on scene.

The navy helicopter arrived on scene at just after midnight and attempted to winch the crew on board. Unfortunately because of the damage to the mono-hull racing yacht and weather conditions they had to abandon the attempt at just before 1am.

The Star Isfjord arrived on scene at 4am today and at just after 6am managed to grab a line from the Rivages in a force eight wind and seas with eight metre waves. The two crew transferred to the ship are now on the way to Rotterdam.

Falmouth Coastguard watch manager Ian Guy said: “This has been a very lengthy rescue and demanding rescue. The yacht was a long way from land and at the mercy of massive waves.

“The helicopter crew did all that they could but the damage to the yacht made it impossible for them to winch the crew to safety. It’s thanks to the skill and dedication of the crew of the Star Isfjord that we can happily report that the crew of the yacht are now on their way home for Christmas.”