Yvan Bourgnon set himself the challenge of sailing around the world on a 6.5 metre boat without on-board accommodation.
The Swiss skipper, former winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre with his brother Laurent, set sail from Sables d’Olonne in October 2013 with the objective of crossing the Atlantic and then the Pacific.
His boat suffered damage in Sri Lanka but he repaired “Lulu” in time to continue his adventure. He spoke to euronews about his journey.
euronews: You are well known for your achievements and your transatlantic expeditions. You have decided this time to abandon your maxi-trimaran to sail around the world “old style” on a small catamaran without modern equipment. What made you embark on this round-the-globe trip the ‘old fashioned’ way?
Yvan Bourgnon: ‘‘Actually, I was very lucky to be able to sail with my parents when I was little and it was pure sailing – marine navigation – like (Eric) Tabarly or (Bernard) Moitessier.
‘‘It is true that having learned navigation like this, I wanted to go back to the basics of sailing; sailing without electronics, forecast assistance, or any kind of outside aid. And above all not to have my head in a computer in order to be closer to the elements and the sea. When there is a storm, on the contrary, the goal is to manage it, to fully tackle it and find solutions rather than take refuge inside the cabin.’‘
euronews: How do you navigate, because you do not have a GPS for example?
YB: ‘‘My parents taught me to use a sextant when I was little and I’m fascinated by astronomy, stars. So I had so much fun sailing round the world because the sky, as you know, changed as my journey progressed. I had fun in finding the stars that I knew as a kid and relearning the constellations. It’s such a pleasure to successfully position oneself to within almost a kilometer just by calculating the angle between the sun and the horizon, between the sun and the stars; it’s absolutely amazing.’‘
euronews: Is it a problem not to have any kind of communication with the outside world?
YB: ‘‘Yes, especially not having meteorological assistance because nowadays even in the Vendée Globe, they get very specific information on the boat and they manage to negotiate depressions, storms, painful moments, while I, on the contrary, I head directly into the storm without realizing it because I did not have this source of information. So it’s relearning navigation where you make do with what you have and hope God is on your side that day. You make do.’‘
euronews: What is it like when you do find yourself in the middle of a storm with this kind of boat?
YB: ‘‘I have sailed through more than five storms on this trip with winds of more than 100km/h. You can’t really imagine it but suddenly the waves are larger than the boat. You no longer have your sails set, no sails at all but you have to control the boat in the waves. The boat can sometimes travel at speeds of 50 km/h without sails that’s how light it is. It really flies with the wind. Sometimes I was forced to slow the boat down with a storm drogue. It’s a technique I have learned over the years.
‘‘I still capsized twice. So I had to learn how to flip the boat back over by myself which was not a simple matter because the vessel is still 600 kilos and for a little guy like me, even though I’m strong, it takes two to three hours. The second time I capsized at night, I found myself underwater with the mast all over the place. You have to haul down the sails, you must climb to the top of the hull in order to let go of the mast rotation, tilting the mast, and it’s pretty risky, very dangerous.
euronews: You ran aground in Sri Lanka on August 1. Tell us what happened?
YB: ‘‘Well actually, it’s was towards the end of the journey that was the most difficult for me, namely the crossing of the Indian Ocean, my last ocean. First, I endured two monsoons in quick succession. Monsoons are winds of over 100 km/h with heavy rains that last more than 12 hours.
‘‘I suffered two in the space of three days. I came out of that a little worse for wear and of course there were headwinds, the boat bangs about a bit. It lasted eight days without any respite, and then finally the last 4 days was very, very demanding and impossible to get some sleep. I did not sleep for four days non-stop and I then I was so relieved to reach the coast. At which point I said to myself I can finally breathe, unless I was hallucinating.
‘‘I saw a team-mate and cargo ships everywhere. I had no idea of the time, distance or anything, it was crazy. And just before arriving, by miracle the wind calmed down, so I told myself that it was opportunity to get some sleep. I told myself that I can now rest up and recover and return to port in good shape.
‘‘But when I fell asleep, the autopilot was not working properly. I woke up with the boat surfing a wave, by then it was too late. The boat was rolling in a 4 or 5 metre tall wave, so it was quite brutal.
euronews: How did you get through it all?
YB: ‘‘I was very lucky. When I was ejected from the boat, I was sucked to the bottom and came out underneath the trampoline. I almost drowned during this moment. Then I climbed back on the boat by hanging on, and that’s what ultimately saved me. “My louloute” protected me when she hit the rocks, she was like a buffer even though I was knocked around a bit. Today, I still have a herniated disc.
‘‘And then little by little, the boat ran aground on the rocks after which I was able to pull the boat off by jumping on the rocks, but I was incredibly lucky.
‘‘If I had not got back on the boat, I would have hit my head directly on the rocks, and it would have been fatal.’‘
euronews: Suddenly your world tour has been interrupted. Are you looking to repair your boat?
YB: ‘‘We recovered certain pieces, the wings on which I laid down on are intact and we were able to recover them. There are plenty of intact pieces that still exist so we will be able to give this boat a second life and hopefully re-start the journey at the end of the year.’‘
euronews: So if you leave at the end of the year, you will have to cross the Golf of Aden which is littered with Somali pirates and where no sailors really venture anymore. Is this not pure madness?
YB: ‘‘Yes and no. I think the pirates are a little more discouraged nowadays because in the past 6 or 7 years there has been a decrease in maritime traffic. They no longer have much to steal because everyone has deserted the area. So I think there are a lot less attacks and I do not have much to take on my boat. There are no electronics, there’s no alcohol, there is nothing to take.’‘
euronews: You are four-fifths of the way there. Your worst memory, I guess, is running aground in Sri Lanka. But what is your best memory?
YB: ‘‘The best memories are often memories where there’s nothing to tell. However when I crossed the Pacific, I set sail from the Galapagos and the first day, I woke up next to a sea lion that had climbed into the boat without me noticing. I followed that up with a fantastic crossing of the Pacific, carefree, with a moderate wind. I really had fun there. I was never really stressed, there was never any serious damage.
‘‘I crossed the Atlantic in 20 days without anything really terrible happening. This is another reason why I attempted this world tour. There is 10% of great difficulties but 90% of happiness.’‘
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