GENESIS OF THE LONGUE ROUTE 2018
To plagiarize shamelessly Jack London – or his wife Charmian, both wrote exactly the same sentence without specifying the author – “it’s all the fault of Captain Joshua Slocum and his ship the Spray!” I had met Guy Bernardin on his arrival as winner of Quebec – Saint-Malo in 1984 in monohull. He had visited me on my boat of the time, then our paths had moved away. We came back in touch at the writers’ convention of Noirmoutier about ten years ago – without much success on the sales side, to confess everything. Pen neighbors, we talked about sailing, he, the former sportsman who had 5 races around the world in his belt, who owned for twenty years the only-one exact replica of Slocum’s “Spray”, with which he had made two more circumnavigations, one in family and one alone ; and I, the former delivering captain who had not the luck to go off the beaten track for a long time, because today, boats’ delivery is no longer an adventure. Evidently, we quickly founded some common friends, and to be accommodated in the same hotel added to being the only sailors among the authors finally brought us closer.
Guy and I regretted the loss of the spirit of adventure and the attraction of the unknown in the minds of today’s boaters, who seem to need an electronic compass to get out of the harbor ; the administrative constraints increasingly ubiquitous ; the digital world that prevents the acquisition of any sense of the sea rather than sharpening it ; the rising price of any item in boating ; the delirious budget needed for ocean racing… It seemed us urgent to return to true values of surpassing oneself, of relearning the marine world by our human senses and not by electronic sensors, of mastering all this technology instead of being the slave of it – without denying its interest and its safety. It seemed us urgent, in this shrunken world, to relearn the serenity of the open sea, to go back to the essential, to control his life instead of seeing it scrolled, to relearn how to walk, in a word!
Guy was looking for an excuse to remake another solo round the world trip, without stops and by the three capes. “Spray of Saint-Briac” put on sale (which is always the case), he was looking for a more modern boat, keeping in his desires of former runner. I was more or less expecting to see him set the sails on an old Vendée-Globe boat, many of which are for sale for quite nothing. Don’t repeat him please, but I found him a bit swollen of illusion, at his age, to want to continue playing as a young men where I do not feel able to master a unit of more than 12 or 13 meters while I’m far younger than him! For my part, I did not intend to go on anything other than a sailboat of manageable size, with a divided sail plan to have to handle only small surfaces of canvas, a good stability of road to avoid expensive, fragile and always too energically-hungry electric autopilots, and all but a deep keel that acts as a capsizing pivot when the boat collapses in the trough of a wave in the heavy weather ! Having walked two or three times on cockpit coamings then on nothing at all but the spray was enough for me about the modern keelboats supposed to be factor of safety !
With such differences of concepts, we were not likely to argue, and we could think of this community of lovers of the open sea, solitude and simplicity, which must be still existing somewhere ! The slow extinction of the American “Slocum Society” after the centenary celebration in 1998 of Joshua Slocum’s world tour, in which Guy had participated in Fairhaven with “Spray of Saint-Briac” as he was returning from his own circumnavigation with his family, urged to take back the torch. But Guy did not wanted to bother with anything whatsoever. He wanted to focus on the essentials : find a boat and leave. Obviously, he was right!
It is not surprising in these conditions that some dates sound to the ears as the signal of a departure too long waited. At the end of 2014 or perhaps the beginning of 2015, Guy phoned me to ask me if I knew what 2018 represented. Said like that… I gave up ! Well, he told me, 2018 is the fiftieth anniversary of the “Long Way” ! Oh my god ! The time of the transfer from the ear to the brain and the idea tilted without even thinking : we had to celebrate the anniversary as it should, and both of us were on the same wavelength : there is only one way to do it : to leave in the wake of Moitessier!
It was obvious that such a pilgrimage on the path of the old Indochinese guru could not be a competition: one can not make the journey to Santiago de Compostela in respecting the rules of an Olympic running, even if they are those of the marathon ! Like Moitessier, we wanted to run freely the sea, just the sea, for miles and miles, as far as possible from any land, its constraints and its limits. But if we did both, why not share the road with others? The path of Santiago can be traveled by all the number of people you want, it will always be for each one an individual journey toward the end of himself … To each one his responsibility, to each one his own choices and his own risks… Once on the way, far away at sea, everyone will be alone, on the boat he has chosen, equiped and prepared according to his wishes, his designs, his needs… and also his money ! So we choosed a simple line of action inspired by the one of the Sunday Times in 1968 : free choice of boat, free date of departure between june and october, free port north of 45 ° North – or 41 ° North for the US East Coast but with one transatlantic to do – free route, without stopping if possible, and return north of 45 ° North.
The career of Guy naturally made him the promoter of the idea, and that’s why about twenty unknown sailors gather today in his wake, despite his loss, lonely wanderers who have all in their eyes the waves of the long swell which, according to some, turns without constraints down there, in the Great South…
Olivier Merbau Nov.2017
This is an elegant exposition of the values of Moitessier, and Slocum, and Blondie Haslar, and Mike Richey – who each in his way identified with ‘One Man, One Boat, The Sea.’
The commercial pressure to sell TV ad time, leading to hyper-commercial sponsorship of ‘big sailing events’, is wholly at odds with that. It has led to multi-million euro/dollar ‘campaigns’ where the modestly-funded true amateur is viewed as an idiosyncrasy and an undesirable. It has caused, for example, the Singlehanded Transatlantic Race being closed to small boats by the RWYC, for sponsors are afraid of the risk of bad publicity, so the little Jesters now do their own Transatlantic thing quite safely, still from Plymouth, but from a different sailing club where they are still welcome.
But….. there are still ‘Simple Sailors’ out there. The pioneers showed the way. Others, can and do follow, experiencing their own sailing epiphanies in the deep oceans. Without the need for marketing managers….