Sailing Against the Tide

In 1932 Eric de Bisschop, a 42-year-old French anthropologist, wanted to discover what effect ocean currents might have had on the migration of populations from eastern Asia to the Pacific islands. He was in China at the time, where he met a businessman named Joseph Tatibouet. Tati, as Bisschop called him, began to assume an important role in Eric’s life. He not only helped finance Fou Po, a
Author:
Updated:
Original:

In 1932 Eric de Bisschop, a 42-year-old French anthropologist wanted to discover what effect ocean currents might have had on the migration of populations from eastern Asia to the Pacific islands. He was in China at the time, where he met a businessman named Joseph Tatibouet. Tati, as Bisschop called him, began to assume an important role in Eric’s life. He not only helped finance Fou Po, a 60-foot junk de Bisschop used to learn more about the currents that flowed through the Pacific islands, but also sailed aboard as crew.

Unfortunately, Fou Po was lost when a cyclone blew it ashore on the north coast of Taiwan. De Bisschop, undeterred, designed and built a second, somewhat smaller junk he called Fou Po II. Between February 1933 and October 1935, de Bisschop and Tati set off to determine whether the 9,000-mile Pacific equatorial countercurrent might have offered early ocean voyagers a viable route from Asia to America. But de Bisschop’s boat wasn’t very seaworthy and was wrecked twice, in Australia and New Guinea, leaving both men exhausted from severe malnutrition.

foupo1


They eventually sailed to Hawaii, landing at the leper colony on the island of Molokai in October of 1935. There they were taken ashore, and, while they were being nursed back to health, a devastating two-day storm smashed Fou Po II to bits on the rocks and destroyed all the notes de Bisschop had made during their explorations. Restored to health by the resident French missionaries, the two men began planning other voyages that might shed light on early trans-Pacific migrations. Almost a year later, de Bisschop completed construction of a catamaran based on the Polynesian double canoe; he named it Kaimiloa. He planned to sail this unconventional craft from Honolulu west to Indonesia, to the Cape of Good Hope, and finally on to Cannes, France. This time, he was successful.

From what is known about Kaimiloa’s construction, it is clear that de Bisschop’s concept was to build the two hulls first and then tie them together with a combination of heavy beams and boards. The flexible beam fastenings were derived from Polynesian building methods. Kaimiloa weighed in at about 20,000 pounds, a far cry from the ultra-light cats of today. When he and Tati finally sailed into Cannes after an 11-month voyage, the French press hailed de Bisschop as a nautical hero. This time, he had built a reasonably seaworthy catamaran.

foupo2

De Bisschop settled in Tahiti after the Second World War. Thor Heyerdahl’s account of his voyage aboard the raft Kon-Tiki reignited de Bisschop’s interest in proving that the Pacific’s equatorial countercurrent might have carried migrants from Asia to the tropical archipelagos of the Pacific a thousand years earlier. In 1956, then 66 years old, de Bisschop decided to prove that a well-designed raft with proper centerboards could tack and sail into a prevailing wind just like any other sailboat, rather than simply drifting downwind. He put his lifetime of experience into the design and construction of a bamboo raft he called Tahiti-Nui.

After making one false start from Papeete, de Bisschop and a crew of three headed southeast toward South America. Even though he made good a course toward Chile, the voyage was slow. After 3 months at sea, more than 2,500 miles remained, and the bamboo was approaching the limits of its buoyancy. On March 7, 1957, the raft came within 350 miles of Easter Island and the crew asked him to stop for repairs. De Bisschop refused, and the raft continued to drift east for another month as water rations fell to dangerously low levels. By May they were still 800 miles from Chile, and the raft’s 4-inch bamboo logs were starting to break up in 50-knot winds. They ended up being rescued by the Chilean Navy.

De Bisschop refused to give up. A year later, in February 1958, he christened Tahiti-Nui II, a raft he hoped would take him from South America back to Polynesia along Heyerdahl’s track. This time, his luck ran out. He was fatally injured when the raft was wrecked on the reef at Rakahanga in the northern Cook Islands.

Related

01-GMR19FP45_1194

Boat Review: Fountaine Pajot Elba 45

With new catamaran brands springing up like mushrooms, France’s Fountaine Pajot is something of an oak tree in the market, with a story that goes back to its founding in 1976. It is also one of the largest cat builders out there, sending some 600 boats down the ways in 2018. The ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Take no Chances This is my stern with the engine running slowly in gear against the lines. We all know that when we’re charging batteries this lets the engine warm up thoroughly. However, I have a ...read more

062110BTSN-5870-2048

Exotic Charters

If anyone tells you that they plan to sail into the sunset and live on $5 a day because they’ll be “world cruising,” you may want to remind them that in most places today, you can’t even get a $5 margarita. The world has grown smaller since adventurous couples like Hal and ...read more

Lead01-190709_1138-(1)

Racing: 12-Metre Worlds

In July, 22 12-Metres from six countries gathered in Newport, Rhode Island, for the quadrennial the 12-Metre World Championship—the second-largest 12-Metre gathering ever, only topped by the America’s Cup Jubilee in Cowes, England, in 2001. The famed class is best known as the ...read more

01-LEAD-082212PINE-6741

Naval Architect Philippe Briand

It’s not often that a Frenchman urges Americans to take more chances. With its 35-hour workweek and comprehensive social security net, France can make America look like the land of hazard and reward. To celebrated French naval architect Philippe Briand, though, who has seen more ...read more

shutterstock_208692541-2048x

Chartering in the Virgin Islands

If you like the thought of easy sailing, affordable travel costs and a low hassle factor, you can’t beat the Virgin Islands for a wondrous winter charter. Whether you’re headed to the Spanish, British or U.S. Virgins, here are some tips on chartering in a tropical paradise ...read more

c57-ex-02-hi-res

Boat Review: Bavaria C57

There is much new going on at Bavaria Yachts. Only a few months under new ownership and the German builder has already launched a new flagship—the C57, which presumably will be the template for future models, including possibly an even larger boat than this one. We sailed the ...read more