Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Moitessier - The Sailor's Sailor

"I have no desire to return to Europe with all its false gods. They eat your liver out and suck your marrow and brutalize you. I am going where you can tie up a boat where you want and the sun is free, and so is the air you breathe and the sea where you swim and you can roast yourself on a coral reef....(1)"

IN EARLY MARCH 1969, THE FRENCH-COLONIAL SINGLE- handed circumnavigator Bernard Moitessier, aboard his unique 39 foot steel ketch Joshua, rounded Cape Horn and stood to the north "outside" the Falkland Islands for the long run uphill to England to finish first and fastest in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race around the world.(2)

Joshua was so far ahead of the other entrants that winning was almost a certainty, barring any unforeseen emergency-and there were few exigencies that the capable and versatile Frenchman could not handle, including Cape Horn, which Moitessier had now doubled twice in his long sailing career. Waiting for Moitessier would be the cash prize of $25,000, the trophy, and the inevitable storm of noto- riety, adulation, and perhaps a million dollars in books, endorse- ments, public appearances, emoluments of all kinds to say nothing of the nationalistic pride of beating the English at their own game, and winning the Legion d'honneur.

Joshua at the moment was a shoo-in. Then something happened. Moitessier changed course, headed eastward along the Roaring Forties (after having already crossed his outbound track) on a second nonstop circumnavigation, automatically dropping out of the Times race.

In his log, and in a long letter composed for his publisher, which he hoped to give to a passing ship, Moitessier's reasons were although he professed to be of sound mind weird in the extreme, incomprehensible at best. He was in a region noted for phenomena and hallucinations, which had affected many lone voyagers such as Captain Slocum (for whom Joshua was named), Al Hansen, and Vito Dumas. Had he succumbed to some strange mental unbalance? Had he just plain gone nuts?

"Why am I doing this? Imagine yourself in the forest of the Amazon. Suddenly you come upon a small temple of an ancient, lost civilization. You are not simply going back and say, "I have found a temple, a civilization no- body knows." You are going to stay there, try to decipher it . . . and then you discover that 100 kilometers on is another temple, only the main temple. Would you return?"(3)

But no. How could anyone understand? It is this thing, this strange cosmic dimension, which time takes. You feel as if you could sail on for a thousand years....

Read more here.

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