Presentation by Yves Gélinas at the Joshua Slocum Centennial Dinner (June 27 1998)
It is a great honor for me,
at this occasion of the celebration of the Slocum centennial,
to be invited to present to you
my personal contribution
to the art of sailing a small boat
single-handed around the world.
A few years ago, I was in Saint-Malo, in France.
I had spent five years
cruising from the East Coast to the West Indies,
to the coast of Cornwall and the Baltic
on my Alberg 30 Jean-du-Sud.
and time had come for me to sail back to Québec,
where I came from.
So I sailed from Saint-Malo to Gaspé, in Québec,
but the wrong way around the world :
instead of heading West across the Atlantic,
as I came out of the English Channel, I turned South.
At the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope, I headed East,
sailed across the Indian Ocean,
South of Australia, crossed the Pacific Ocean
and after rounding Cape Horn,
finally turned North until I reached Gaspé,
in the Gulf of St. Lawrence,
sailing 28,000 miles in 282 days.
I had planned to do this non-stop,
but I was capsized and dismasted in the Pacific Ocean
and had to stop for repairs.
I imagine that the first comment
that would come to mind
about such an adventure, could be :
what was it that made a person
- until then apparently in good mental health -
want to make such a big detour
alone, on such a small boat?
I could answer that it is the fault of Joshua Slocum
who gave such a bad example
to four generations of sailors.
I could add that I had done
some single-handed sailing before
and found that I had never been so much at peace
as when I was alone on my boat, on the ocean.
I have been cruising under sail for 30 years now
I learned to sail on the St. Lawrence river
and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence
on other people’s yachts before I purchased Jean-du-Sud.
There were no sailing schools, then,
so I had to learn by making mistakes.
Fortunately, I was lucky
and those mistakes were without consequence
(anyway, it was on other people’s boats!).
I eventually plugged the holes in my sailing education
by reading avidly all the books about cruising under sail
that I could get my nose in
- including, of course Sailing Alone Around the World -.
I purchased Jean-du-Sud in 1973.
It is an Alberg 30, hull no. 399,
built of glassfibre at Whitby Boat Works,
on the shore of lake Ontario.
A six month cruise to the West Indies and back,
the following winter, had made me want to leave again.
But that time, I wanted to leave for good.
I was working in filmmaking,
and realized that
if I wanted to achieve something important,
I must be totally devoted to this art,
I must concentrate on it.
But all I had in my mind was that urge to go to sea.
I realized that if I stayed, I would be condemned
to settle for quasi-mediocrity.
I had also read many books about spirituality
and they all agreed on this point :
" In order to increase one’s level of consciousness
and live in the Here and Now,
one must free oneself from one’s desires. "
I saw that the only way
I could ever get rid of that strong desire
would be to make it come true!
I was trying to save money in order to leave,
but the more money I earned,
the more expensive it was to earn
and at the end of each year, I ended up almost as broke.
In June ‘75, I finally became
a " Full-time Cruising Yachtsman "!
Other people could have said " Sail Bum "!
I got rid of all my belongings that did not fit inside the boat
and moved aboard Jean-du-Sud.
I had decided to carry out this experiment :
Since I had almost no money, the only way I could leave
was to find out what I could do without.
I had the main ingredients : a boat, two anchors, a dinghy;
They were not totally paid for,
but I persuaded myself it would be left at my disposal
for as long as I needed them.
For the rest, I decided I could manage.
So I headed back to the West Indies
and had a go at the charter business for two seasons,
in order to survive
and even pay some money back to the bank.
Then I sailed across the Atlantic
to be closer to my two daughters
who had moved to Sweden with their Swedish mother.
In fact, I can say that the conscious story
of that long voyage
started in July ‘78.
I had sailed Jean-du-Sud to Sweden
to explore with my two daughters
the coast of their new country.
I was writing an article that described
the course I had followed with Jean-du-Sud,
under the propitious eye of a Magick-Bird
and that strange relationship that had developed
between the three of us
(Jean-du-Sud, the Magick-Bird and myself).
At the conclusion of the article,
even before I had formed the words in my head,
that line wrote itself :
" And I now hear him talk of the Long Voyage... "
What? You mean : Sail around the world
South of the Great Capes, non-stop, alone?
Listen to reason : this would be
like climbing Mount Everest!
Of course, I know, Jean-du-Sud is a good sea boat,
built very strongly.
In five years, I have learnt that I can trust him
(yes, my boat is French : it is a " he ").
And I know he did not go to sea
only to have a go at the charter business
or even be a sailing tourist :
he needs something more consistent
to put under his keel.
But think about it for a moment :
with only four tons displacement,
he would be the smallest yacht ever
to sail that route!
In those latitudes, there is no more land
and the seas can be enormous :
they fetch the whole way around the world!
I would need to prepare myself and my boat impeccably
if I want to survive.
If I consciously neglect the slightest detail,
I will spend the whole voyage repeating to myself :
" I should have... "
and I will never be able to live in the " Here and Now ",
which is the object of this whole exercise.
First, I would have to replace the mast :
playing around Cape Horn with a yacht this size,
I can be sure I will get knocked over, sooner or later
and the original Alberg 30 spar was not designed
to stand through a capsize.
Then, strengthen the hull and coachroof,
build four watertight bulkheads,
to make my boat virtually unsinkable,
pull out the old " Atomic Four " engine
to make room for stores and spares.
And there is still a great deal of work to do on the design
of that super self-steering system
I have been dreaming of, these last years,
that will look better, perform better
than all the other systems on the market.
I need new sails : I would not sail far in the Southern Ocean
with the original sails of the boat.
All that would be a great deal of work
and require a lot of money!
And I considered myself lucky
if what I had lasted till the end of summer.
In the fall, I would need to find a job.
So I had forbidden myself to even dream
about this crazy project
and I had left Sweden and headed South
without even knowing where I would spend the winter.
Luckily, a letter from a friend, Michel Chabiland,
caught up with me in Germany, on my way South.
Michel offered me a job in his boatyard.
I had met him the previous fall
and we had quickly become fast friends.
He ran a yard near St. Malo, on the Rance River
where Jean-du-Sud had spent the winter.
In the spring, he had generously placed at my disposal
his yard’s resources,
in order to refit Jean-du-Sud before I sailed to Sweden.
And it was during a stopover
in this beautiful anchorage of the Channel Islands,
the Isles of Chausey,
the last before I would reach St. Malo and start to work,
that this crazy dream suddenly appeared possible :
I saw that the Magick-Bird was offering me the facility
to prepare Jean-du-Sud for this great challenge.
I could use Michel’s yard to make my boat so strong
that the seas off Cape Horn would not scare him.
And I knew I could count on Michel’s generosity
and also on his competence
to help me solve the many technical problems
I was bound to meet.
So I moored Jean-du-Sud near St. Malo
and learned a new trade.
For the first time in my life, I was working with my hands
and I remember writing this note :
" I have been earning my living for twenty years,
but I learned how to work at forty! "
That first autumn, I could only work on planning the project.
I did not have any money, so I thought :
it is simple, all I have to do
is shoot a film as I sail,
this is what I was doing before I went sailing.
And the money I find to make the film
can also pay the expenses of the voyage.
That was extremely naive :
I quickly found that it is hard enough
to finance a feature-length film.
But try to convince people to invest
in a film shot single-handed
while you also sail an Alberg 30 to Cape Horn!
In spite of the interest shown right away
by the French network of Radio-Canada,
if a friend who was a sailor and a cinematographer
at the National Film Board of Canada
had not insisted so strongly
that they lend me some equipment,
I would have left without a camera.
Finally, thanks to the financial help
of a network of radio stations
who sponsored the voyage
and the collaboration of a ham operator,
Pierre Décarie, VE2KD, who picked up the reports
transmitted every day by radio from Jean-du-Sud
and relayed them by phone patch
to the station for broadcasting,
thanks also to the Ciné-Groupe people,
who assumed the risk of producing the film,
I could leave reasonably well equipped.
With hindsight, I realize
I had to have a great deal of faith
to tackle such a project.
In fact, consciously,
I had decided to conduct this experiment :
I had read in a book I felt I could trust
that if you are deeply convinced
from the top of your consciousness
that you must do a thing,
it becomes automatically possible
and you should find the means
that will help you make it happen.
Provided, of course, that you do your own share impeccably.
At Findhorn, they used to call this
" the Law of Manifestation "
others invoke the Providence.
But I prefer to express this same reality
in a less serious, if not more poetic way
and call it " the Magick-Bird ".
This way, I can use as a reminder
a little bird, woven from a Magick coconut palm
hanging from the hand-rail, inside the cabin.
When I had left, five years earlier,
I had put it to a test
and must admit that until then,
its performance had been more than adequate :
I had never run out of the essential,
I was even able to have my two daughters
with me on the boat, every summer.
So I decided to start from this axiom
and give it the benefit of the doubt.
From that moment until the day I left,
there was not a single day I did not ask myself :
" What can I do to-day most efficiently
in order to materialize this project? "
As soon as I considered the problem as a whole,
taking into account the size of the project
and the little means I had,
I felt discouraged and was tempted to quit.
So I made an effort not to anticipate,
to face the problems only when they needed a solution
and tried to solve them one by one, the best I could.
I thought I would need two years,
but it was three years before I could leave.
Three years, during which every morning,
I asked myself this question :
" What can I do to-day, most efficiently... "
And if you ask me what this long voyage
taught me most important,
I will answer : it is precisely this attitude
that became, with time, a habit.
As a conclusion, I would like to read a letter
I wrote my two daughters before I left.
You will easily understand
that it was essential to me
that I express my deepest motivation
as honestly as I could do it
to the two people on earth that I loved the most.
Annikki and Julika Gélinas
St. Malo, April 13 1980
Yesterday was your birthday, my dear Annikki, and I often thought about you.
Many times during the evening, I went topside to try to see, up in the sky, the lovely constellation of the Dolphin. I finally had to go to bed without seeing it : the Dolphin is a summer constellation and even late at night, it was still too low and the horizon was cloudy. I told myself that I should have given you a group of stars that can be seen on your birthday, but I comforted myself at the thought that the Dolphin is a lovely constellation, even if it is not very bright. As soon as I discovered it in the sky, I thought that you would like it because you are always joyous and playful like a dolphin. I can still remember the day I saw you for the first time, the day of your birth, thirteen years ago yesterday, you were already smiling!
But I could see, high in the sky, the lovely Northern Crown, with the Pearl in its middle, and right away I had before my eyes the charming smile of my own little pearl, my dear Julika.
For quite some time, I have wanted to tell you the reasons that pushed me to undertake this long voyage, but I realize that it is very difficult. It is easy to find reasons, but none of them seems to me more important than the others. Finally, I had to admit it is beyond reason. If I go, it is because I feel deeply inside myself that I must do it. It is a dream I have had for a long time and my good fortune - or better, the Magick-Bird - made the circumstances favorable even though I did not plan it consciously.
Of course, I must mention my interest in sailing. Sailing became for me a way of life and I try to do it as best I can. The success or the failure of such a voyage depends almost entirely on the amount of energy I put into its preparation and execution. If I want to do it non-stop, I must have foreseen even the smallest detail. I try, of course, to take advantage of the experience of those who sailed those waters before me : they are my guides. But I try to steer away from the mistakes they could not avoid, and to add to the sum of this knowledge, the fruit of my own experience and talent. Maybe that way, if the Magic-Bird wants it to be, can I contribute to improve the art of sailing a small boat across the oceans.
And if I chose to sail non-stop, it is also because this is the only way I can sail around the world without missing a single summer with you : if I leave in August, after spending June and July with you, I will be back, if all goes well, in April or May, soon enough to spend an other summer with my loved ones.
When I left Montréal, five years ago, to go sailing with Jean-du-Sud and the Magick-Bird, I was looking for a way of life that would be closer to what I wanted, deep inside me. It seemed more important to me to work at getting peace of mind, than at earning and spending money. After five years of this way of life, I could experience all the good it did me and I feel that eight or nine months of solitude could allow me to consolidate what I have already acquired, and progress even further. It happens that some people feel the need to be alone, at some point in their life, either to go through some difficult step of their spiritual evolution, or to give themselves the liberty of progressing more easily.
This is what I have felt these last years and it is, I believe, my deepest motivation.
" If you have been far away for so long, as far as the stars and even farther than the stars, you come back with a different vision ". It may be that I am also looking for that different vision that Bernard Moitessier found deep inside himself.
Moitessier also wrote : " In the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean, one is in the hand of God ". But I prefer to say in the hand of the Magick-Bird. We have lived together for so long, the Magick-Bird and myself, that I feel He will do all He can to guide me through. You can even help Him to help me. Anyone can do it and the more love there is, the better it works.
Sir Francis Chichester, a great British sailor, did a single-handed circumnavigation on this same route, with a boat very difficult to handle. His wife, who loved him very much, had organized a group of people who prayed for him, while he was at sea. And he wrote that this had helped him a lot, in his difficult moments.
But to get the same result, you don’t have to recite prayers. All you do is quieten your mind and your heart, and right away, you are on the wavelength of the Magick-Bird.
Who knows, I may be at that moment fighting against bad weather and I will feel that I am no longer alone, that others, somewhere, are sending me their love, and this new energy will help me overcome my fear or my fatigue, reminding me that the Magick-Bird is looking after me.
And if it did happen that, as the song after which I named my boat says, " Jean-du-Sud found his ultimate storm ", I hope that you will not be sorry for me. I will try to do the great passage without fear or regret, and my last thoughts will go to you. You may not see me, but I will be fortunate enough to make my nest very close to you, deep inside your heart, and help you from the inside with the Magick-Bird, for the rest of your life.
A bientôt, my sweet Annikki
A bientôt, my tender Julika