In the Fall 2014 issue of Multihull Sailor, Liesbet Collaert reported on Swiss sailor Yvan Bourgnon’s solo circumnavigation on a home-built beach cat. She met up with the intrepid sailor in Tahiti, where he was re-provisioning and making repairs to his 21ft Ma Louloute. Bourgnon, 44, was on track to become the first person to circumnavigate on a sailboat without a cabin.
Last June, Bourgnon stepped ashore in L’Ouistreham, France, to complete his remarkable voyage, one that had more than its fair share of near-disasters. Bourgnon survived two capsizes and several hurricane-strength storms, including 70-knot winds off Sumatra that had his little cat doing 25 knots under bare poles. It was ironic that his voyage nearly ended on a Sri Lankan beach in a near-calm.
“I hadn’t slept for four days, and I was two hours from port,” Bourgnon told Redbull.com’s Will Gray. “I was in bad shape. I had hallucinations. I almost hit a cargo ship, and I knew I had to sleep, or I would crash in the harbor.
“I put the autopilot on, but when I woke up I was in the breaking waves, and the boat smashed on the rocks. I was thrown out and got stuck underneath. I thought I would die under the boat. I couldn’t breathe. My boat was completely broken, but it kept me alive.”
Adding insult to injury, the local authorities mistook Bourgnon for a drug smuggler and locked him up for two days. On his release, the doughty Swiss rolled up his sleeves, salvaged what he could of his broken boat and set about rebuilding it, aided by a crowdfunding program set up by his many supporters back in Europe. Five months after the wreck, he was back on the water and heading up the pirate-infested Red Sea, the most challenging part of his 31,000-mile voyage. Strong headwinds, countless oil platforms, heavy shipping traffic and poorly charted reefs all added up to a singlehander’s nightmare.
Once through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean, it was comparatively plain sailing. Bourgnon stopped to reprovision and rest at Malta and at Cascais in Portugal, crossed the notorious Bay of Biscay without incident, and completed his remarkable 20-month odyssey on June 23. The fact that he navigated solely with a sextant and paper charts—without even a backup GPS on board—made his feat all the more impressive.
Bourgnon’s recipe for survival at sea? Don’t panic. “I can think of four or five times when, if I’d had a little bit of panic, I would be dead.” On the small matter of sleeping on a beach cat underway: “Rarely more than 15 minutes at a time! I learned to sleep with the sheet in my hand under tension, and that is one reason I didn’t capsize much because I was ready to ease the sail in a second.”
Photo courtesy of Yvan Bourgnon
MHS Fall 2015