My first memory of dreaming of sailing around the world was during a trip to Florida in 1995. I was sitting on a beach with my wife, Mireille, looking east and trying to see the Bahamas which were 90 miles over the horizon. It was several years later that after having studied navigation it became obvious that it would be impossible to see these islands due to their low elevation. I asked Mireille if she would like to sail around the world and we discussed the pros and cons of such a journey.  We both decided that it was something that we wanted to do but it would not possible in the near future. Being pragmatic we came to the conclusion that there were three major hurdles that would have to be overcome before we could crystallize our dream. The first was the education of our two daughters, the youngest, Magali was only three years old and Laurence who was seventeen would need a university education. The second constraint was financial and we agreed that such a project would not only be costly but that we wanted to be financially independent upon our return in the event that we were no longer willing or able to find work. I had read several accounts of long distance sailing families that had considerable difficulty in re-adapting to a shore based existence once they had tasted long term sailing. To persuade a bird to go back into a cage once it has tasted freedom, however gilded the cage, is a difficult task. The final major obstacle was that although I had been sailing for nine years, had owned and rented sail boats and spent three years in the Monaco regatta team my experience was limited to coastal sailing. At this time I could manage an overnight sail from the south coast of France to Corsica which is about 90 miles away but I did not have the skill set to go any further. Whilst on paper I had nine years of experience the reality was closer to one year’s experience repeated nine times like many coastal sailors and I realized that repeating the same coastal trips would not significantly improve my sailing skills. I needed to go beyond my comfort zone, beyond “my” known and into areas where I had little or no knowledge in order to prepare for the rigors of ocean sailing.

     It was clear that due to the educational constraints of our daughters, the financial and experience constraints mentioned above meant that we would not be leaving for a very long time. The dream was relegated to one of those ideas that you think you would like to do when you retire. It took us fifteen years to turn this dream into reality. We cast off our dock lines on the 1st September 2010 from Menton in the south of France and headed for the south pacific.

     This account is about how we got from that vague idea on a beach in Florida to Tahiti fifteen years later.

      Whilst I could do nothing to shorten the time for my youngest daughter to receive an education I could use the time to improve my sailing skills. We sold our eight meter coastal cruising yacht and bought a ten meter racing yacht which we raced in the south of France and northern Italy. We rented yachts in the Caribbean, Australia and Greece for our family holidays. Several years later I sold the ten meter yacht and bought a twelve meter boat which we both raced and used for family cruising in the Mediterranean. I passed my British Yacht Master exams to make sure that I had covered most of the basic knowledge requirements for offshore sailing. By the time we that we had bought a fourteen meter cruising yacht called Baraka I felt confident that we could sail long distances with reasonable safety and we set off on an 1800 mile cruise from Menton to Malta and back via Corsica, Sardinia, Tunisia and Sicily. I used my free time to read sailing books covering all topics that could be useful for a world tour from ocean passage planning to medical emergencies, electronics, celestial navigation with a sextant, Viking and Polynesian navigation methods, tropical weather systems. The more I read the more I realized how much there was to learn and for the five years before leaving I only read sailing books. Watching television or reading novels held little interest for me as I believed that my time would be better used studying sailing methods. During our summer vacations we would sail across the Mediterranean to Sicily or round Sardinia, Elba and Corsica. We visited over one hundred ports and anchorages and would often sail 300-400 miles at a time. My family got used to night watches, use of the radar and the collision rules in the crowed waters of the Mediterranean. They started acquiring the skills necessary to sail the boat in my absence i.e. when I needed to sleep. Without these skills they would not be able to cross an ocean or I would have to do it single-handed.

     These family holidays were a lot of fun and sometimes quite challenging in poor weather conditions and on several occasions we were confined to port for days due to storms. I knew that in the Pacific there would be no ports from Panama to Tahiti and we would have to weather storms deep in the ocean or anchored off a lonely reef. We sailed in windy areas such as the west coast of Sardinia using anchorages and rarely used Marinas to prepare ourselves for our future voyage. Few of our friends knew what we were doing or why we were doing it. It would raise a smile from me when I learnt that some of our friends would jump on a plane and fly to a tropical island to lie on a beach for two weeks and that they considered this was an adventure. During the four years that we sailed up and down the Mediterranean we were joined by another couple Julien and Francoise on their 37 foot sailing yacht. Julien understood what I was doing and was happy to push further and further on our sailing expeditions. He taught me how to fish which was a precious skill in the open ocean and was our only source of fresh protein for several weeks while crossing the Pacific. In 2006 we bought Trifon which is a 16 meter aluminum ultra-light yacht. The boat was designed to sail fast across oceans by J.M. Finot but was no longer competitive since the advent of carbon fiber yachts in the early nineties. There were only seven Levrier des Mers 16’s built and their lack of popularity with the cruising community was partially caused by their large sail area and light weight which meant that they can be challenging to sail in storm conditions. Buying the Levrier was not a particularly rational choice, more of an emotional one and I was advised by several sailors that there were far more suitable boats that would be easier to handle for a world voyage. My sail maker, Bruce Hobday, who came with me and Mireille to test the boat in Spain tried to talk me out of buying the boat warning me that I would need to plan each maneuver with much greater care than on the previous Dufour and Beneteau boats that we had owned. He explained that this type of boat was on a different level to the standard cruising boats and small errors in handling could result in severe injury. Rather than talking me out of buying Trifon his warning convinced to take up the challenge and buy the boat. I was also assisted by my friend Eric Crouzet who also owns a Levrier des Mers 16 called “Azawakh” based in the north of France who explained to me many of the on-board systems.

     My brother-in-law, Robert, who is a skilled engineer, spent four years with me working most weekends to upgrade, mend and replace most of the on-board systems. The boat was rarely given to a boatyard to carry out the modifications as my goal was to understand and to be able to mend, bypass or replace any of the systems. I was unlikely to find shore-based assistance outside of Europe and the Caribbean it was therefore a necessity to understand how to repair the boat. This included the fuel and water systems, diesel engine, sanitation, electrics, electronics, refrigeration, power generation, sail handling systems. With the exception of the main engine and the mast almost all of these systems where replaced and installed by the two of us. We had outside assistance for the installation of the bow thruster, water maker and electronics package but were present to watch how the installation was done. We had a good number of breakages during our voyage and those four years spent preparing the boat made the difference between safely reaching Tahiti and abandoning the voyage in Spain or the Caribbean. We realized that the further we sailed the more we relied on older methods of seamanship and navigation. The wrong type of knot used to secure our dingy to the back of the yacht in the Marquises cost us the dingy which would not be a drama on the south coast of France where you can walk into the local ship chandler and replace it within the hour having moored your boat. The nearest ship chandler to the Marquises islands is seven hundred miles away and without the dingy getting ashore for fuel, water and food is a severe challenge. We relied more on paper charts and eyeball navigation entering reef systems and atolls than the GPS based electronic chart plotter and noticed that the modern electronic aids have far less use in remote parts of the globe. The British Yachtmaster course taught me how to check my bearings and never to use just one method for navigating but have a positive way of verifying your course. Using leading lights and land based alignments may seem outdated in today’s GPS era but checking one against the other is a safe way of sailing around coral fringed islands.

     You may spend a lot of time in preparation of your boat for a long voyage and you may have acquired what you believe are sufficient skills to sail across oceans in reasonable safety but there are other obstacles that you need to overcome if you ever want to leave. You need to be able to cut the cords to your daily existence which included work, family, friends and even family pets. It can be complex to leave a secure controlled environment that you have created for yourself over many years. Whilst we had no specific date to undertake this voyage certain events occurred that made us think that if we do not leave soon we may never go. My wife has been suffering from a form of arthritis that is destroying the cartilage in her finger joints. This deteriorating condition has accelerated since 2008 and she probably will lose the use of her fingers in the next few years unless a cure is found. Waiting until retirement would have meant that she would not be able to handle the ropes or assist in any way on the boat. My youngest daughter reached the age of eighteen in 2010 and was likely to embark on nine years of medical school. This was her last opportunity to come with us if she took a gap year between school and her medical studies. This also restricted us a voyage of one year which is not sufficient to sail round the world due to the seasonality of cyclones and hurricanes. Many people presented with this choice would have chosen to do a round trip across the Atlantic and back. However what we really wanted to see were the tropical Pacific islands such as the Galapagos Islands, the Marquises islands and the Tuamotu atolls. My plan was to sail across the Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea and then across the Pacific Ocean to Australia. Our decision was influenced by the fact that we had already spent two summers in the Caribbean on rental boats and that we were after something more exotic and challenging. The Atlantic circuit for a European based boat often consists of sailing from the Canary Islands or Madeira to the Caribbean in November at the end of the Atlantic hurricane season and then visiting the Caribbean islands until April/ May and then sailing back to Europe via Bermuda. The logistics for doing the Atlantic trip are reasonably straight forward as the boat “only” needs to be equipped for two three week ocean passages and there is “modern civilization” in the form of ports, ship chandlers and provisions at either end. Compare this to the logistics required to voyage for four months across the Pacific without entering a port and you will realize that you need to plan on a different level than for the Atlantic circuit trip.

     Requesting an eleven month sabbatical was not difficult as both my wife and I work for broad minded and forward thinking company owners. They both understood the medical side of chronic arthritis and in the eight month run up to our departure our jobs were re-organized through other staff members taking over different parts of our tasks. My business partners absorbed the major part of my role and did a great job of running the company.  I believe that they had mixed emotions of our impending trip but this was also the case of some of our friends. Most of our friends were very excited at our idea of sailing as a family to the south pacific. My mother was excited to learn of our voyage however my mother-in-law was only informed in installments as we progressed as we thought she may have a panic attack. It was only after we reached Panama that she realized what we doing. We had to answer many questions from our friends about whether we would anchor at night in the middle of the ocean or what time we all would be able to go to bed, how high the waves would be, how we would avoid pirates and sharks. I noticed that many of their questions related to their own personal fears including shipwreck, drowning, vertigo or confrontation with dangerous animals or people. It was clear that nobody with exception of my brother-in-law realized the extent of the multi-year preparation and the amount of work involved in organizing the voyage.

     I have been asked by several people why we chose to sail round the world and there are several reasons why we thought this was a worthwhile project. We live in times of instant gratification where little or no skill or hard work is involved in having the “adventure of a lifetime”. This often consists of boarding a plane or cruise ship and have a professional pilot or Captain take you to an exotic location but besides having a passport and sizable bank account no effort is required on your part. Everything is done for you, there is no need to know how to fly the plane, navigate or how to organize the refueling. Once you arrive in your comfortable hotel food and drink appear at regular intervals. Maybe the only locals you will meet will be sweeping the floor or cleaning your room and from time to time, you will herded with the rest of the guests into a nice air conditioned coach to go and see an “authentic Polynesian wedding ceremony” or similar event. You leave paradise two weeks later with a sun tan, possibly an enlarged waistline and start thinking about next year’s annual “holiday of a lifetime”. In our busy lives there is often not the time or urge to do anything more however we wanted to get off the crowded motorway of mass tourism. The challenge of sailing our yacht across the Atlantic Ocean, across the equator and onwards across the Pacific Ocean was highly motivating. The possibility of visiting remote parts of our planet, interacting with the local people and trying to understand their views and customs was a major reason for our voyage. To throw away the clock for a year and sail off into the unknown, at least for us, as a family unit relying only on our knowledge and skills was the principle reason for this voyage. When the Spanish sailors set off to cross the Atlantic Ocean five hundred years ago they sailed in caravels which were seventy feet long, weighed fifty tons and had a crew of 30 men. When we set off from Menton we had a crew of three in an eleven ton yacht measuring fifty three feet. The Spanish sailors took thirty-one days to reach the Caribbean which was much slower than Trifon’s twenty-five day crossing. While we sailed with modern winches and accurate maps the basics of sailing across an ocean have not changed since Columbus, you are still on a small boat being blown day after day across a vast expanse of salt water. The advent of modern instrumentation enables you to accurately plot your location but it neither protects you from storms nor allows you to sail any faster.

     I discussed with my wife and daughter that any real adventure involves dangers and unknown risks which is the definition of an adventure and that we would mostly likely be confronted with misadventures at some points along the voyage. If we had sailed half way round the world in perfect weather with no storms or breakages then I would have been disappointed. I wanted to feel what it would be like to be in an Atlantic or Pacific Ocean storm in a small boat thousands of miles from land. To describe the emotion of running fast downwind in a small yacht in eight meter waves is beyond my narrative abilities and is a combination of severe concentration, adrenaline, elation and fear all mixed together. I wanted to know whether we could handle these situations both physically and mentally. To have missed out on these moments I would have felt that we had been short-changed on our voyage. To experience these moments of elation and anxiety is becoming rarer in our overly protective first world society and we thought that these risks were worth taking. We still carry the same genes as our fore-fathers and past generations performed incredible feats of discovery by taking large leaps into the unknown and I wonder if it is not a through a combination of fear and laziness that so few people “choose the road less travelled”. I have always appreciated the thought of Randy Pausch who said “It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our death bed. It is the things we do not. Find your passion and follow it” We are fortunate to have found our family’s passion which is ocean sailing

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