Bernard Moitessier

Biografie şi Bibliografie

Bernard Moitessier (10 April 1925 Hanoi, Vietnam – 16 June 1994 near Paris, France) was a renowned French yachtsman and author of books about his voyages and sailing.

In 1968, Moitessier participated in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a race to become the first sailor to circumnavigate the earth alone and non-stop. Although Moitessier stood a very good chance of winning, he abandoned his effort seven months into the race, and continued on to Tahiti rather than returning to England.

Vagabond of the South Seas

Moitessier grew up next to the sea in Indo-China and left it at the beginning of the Vietnam War as a a crew member of sailing trade junks. In Indonesia he purchased the dilapidated junk Marie-Thérèse in 1952 to travel slowly further to France by singlehanded sailing. On the first leg to Seychelles he had to stop her from leaking in the middle of the Indian Ocean by diving underneath it. After 85 days of sailing through monsoon weather he ran aground on Diego Garcia, because of the lack of navigational instruments and it took him three years' work in Mauritius, to where he was deported because Diego Garcia is a military restricted area, before he could sail again in a boat he had built himself. This he sailed via stops in South Africa and St. Helena to the West Indies, but on a trip from Trinidad to St. Lucia he once again was shipwrecked due to tiredness. Picked up and taken back to Trinidad by friends, he decided to go to France directly, as the only place he could earn enough to build himself a worthy boat. He was able to get work on a cargo ship which got him via Hamburg to France where he found work with a medical company whilst writing a book about his experience (Vagabond des Mers du Sud). He then moved to the south of France, where he married Francoise, the daughter of family friends, with whom he was to sail the world.

With the money from his book, he commissioned a 39' steel ketch which he named Joshua, in honour of Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail around the world solo. Finally he and Francoise left Marseille in October 1963, leaving her three children in boarding schools. After wintering in Casablanca they sailed first to the Canaries and then to Trinidad and through the Panama Canal to the Galapagos Islands. After two years of spending time in each of these places they arrived at Tahiti, which was one year too late. At this time they realised that they are running out of time and that there are just eight month left to return to their children. So the idea was born not to sail via the Indian Ocean and Suez Canal, as originally planned, but via the quick route, the much feared Cape Horn, which they completed by Easter, 1966. At this time it was with 14216nm the furthest and with 126 days the longest journey of a sailing yacht, which made him internationally known as one of the bravest yachtsmen in the world.

Solo around the world

Voyage of Joshua - "The long route"

Discussions between Moitessier and his friends Bill King and Loïck Fougeron about a solo non-stop trip around the world came to the notice of Robin Knox-Johnston who also started preparations before the Sunday Times offered their Golden Globe award for the race. Somewhat reluctantly, Moitessier decided to sail to Plymouth in Joshua to meet the criterion for the race of leaving from an English port, but left months after several smaller and therefore slower boats.

He finally left on 23 August, 1968 and was off the Cape of Good Hope by 20 October, 1968, where he managed to collide with a freighter in the process of transferring a canister of film and reports for the Sunday Times. A couple of days later Joshua was knocked flat by a breaking wave but he was able to recover the damage. A succession of gales and calm periods characterised his trip through the Southern Ocean till he passed Cape Horn on 5 Feb 1969. In all this time he got no feedback on the progress of other competitors from local radio stations.

From the time of calms in the Indian Ocean where he was depressed and discovered yoga as a means of controlling his moods, he started to think of not returning to Europe which he saw as a cause of many of his worries. The aim of continuing his voyage on again to the Galapagos Islands strengthened as he passed through the Pacific though he was determined to complete the circumnavigation first. Finally having passed Cape Horn he had a crisis when a south-easterly gale started blowing him north again, and his account of his thought processes before he turned for the Cape of Good Hope shows that he may have been very close to a breakdown.

The decision to abandon is instructive of Moitessier's character - although driven and competitive, he passed up a chance at instant fame and a record, and sailed on for three more months. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston went on to both win the race and become the first man to circumnavigate the globe alone without stopping.

Although he abandoned the race, Moitessier still circumnavigated the world, crossing his path off South Africa, and then sailing almost two-thirds of the way round a second time, all non-stop and mostly in the roaring forties - a total of 37,455 miles in 10 months. Despite heavy weather and a couple of severe knockdowns, he contemplated rounding the Horn again. However, he decided that he and Joshua had had enough and sailed to Tahiti, where he and his wife had set out for Alicante, Spain, a decade earlier. He thus completed his second personal circumnavigation of the world (including the previous voyage with his wife) on 21 June 1969. He then started work on his book.

It is impossible to say whether Moitessier would have won if he had completed the race, as he would have been sailing in different weather conditions than Knox-Johnston; based on his time from the start to Cape Horn being about 77% of that of Knox-Johnston, it would have been an extremely close race. His book, The Long Way, tells the story of his voyage as a spiritual journey as much as a sailing adventure and is still regarded as a classic of sailing literature.

Subsequent life

It took him two years to finish the book about his trip in Tahiti, during which time he met Ileana Draghici with whom he had a son, Stephan. They moved to the atoll of Ahe, where Moitessier attempted to cultivate fruit and vegetables. Ileana encouraged him to move to America to complete films about his sailing but he left after two years in his boat Joshua. Joshua was beached, along with many other yachts, by Hurricane Paul at Cabo San Lucas in 1982. It was salvaged and restored, and is berthed in La Rochelle, France. After further travels, Moitessier returned to Paris to write his autobiography.

Moitessier was an environmental activist against nuclear weapons in the South Pacific. He died of cancer on 16 June 1994 and is buried in Bono, in Brittany, France.

Partial list of works

    * Un Vagabond des mers du sud 1960. Translated by Rene Hague as Sailing to the Reefs.
    * Cap Horn à la voile: 14216 milles sans escale 1967. Translated by Inge Moore as Cape Horn: The Logical Route.
    * La Longue route; seul entre mers et ciels 1971. Translated as The Long Way by William Rodarmor, 1973.
    * Tamata et l'alliance 1993. Translated as Tamata and the Alliance by William Rodarmor, 1995.
    * Voile, Mers Lointaines, Iles et Lagons 1995. Translated as A Sea Vagabond's World by William Rodarmor, 1998.


"You do not ask a tame seagull why it needs to disappear from time to time toward the open sea. It goes, that's all."

"I am a citizen of the most beautiful nation on earth. A nation whose laws are harsh yet simple, a nation that never cheats, which is immense and without borders, where life is lived in the present. In this limitless nation, this nation of wind, light, and peace, there is no other ruler besides the sea."

"I wonder. Plymouth so close, barely 10,000 miles to the north...but leaving from Plymouth and returning to Plymouth now seems like leaving from nowhere to go nowhere." (Written after rounding the Horn in the Golden Globe race.)

"My real log is written in the sea and sky; the sails talking with the rain and the stars amid the sounds of the sea, the silences full of secret things between my boat and me, like the times I spent as a child listening to the forest talk." (from "The Long Way")

"The geography of the sailor is not always the one of the cartographer, for whom a cape is a cape with its longitude and latitude. For the sailor, a great cape is both very simple and extremely complex, with rocks, currents, furling seas, beautiful oceans, good winds and gusts, moments of happiness and of fright, fatigue, dreams, aching hands, an empty stomach, marvelous minutes and sometimes suffering. A great cape, for us, cannot be translated only into a latitude and a longitude. A great cape has a soul, with shadows and colors, very soft, very violent. A soul as smooth as that of a child, as hard as that of a criminal." (From "The Long Way")

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