Crossing the Atlantic with friends

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1972, without realising it, “Un Vagabond des Mers du Sud” started “La Longue Route” which led to Exploreur in 2006.
Like many others, certainly, Bernard Moitessier’s stories revealed the spirit of adventure which was growing in me. The feeling of well-being at sea, the weightlessness when swimming and fishing in the water, the immensity accessible under sail meant that the adventure had to be on the sea – and under sail, to be free and travel far, quickly and comfortably.
Ten years spent sailing the Var coastline with an Éclair 19, followed by ten more years in the Mediterranean with an 11m monohull gave me the experience and the wish to sail upright and on a level with the sea. It therefore had to be aboard a safe, fast catamaran. A stroke of luck with the calendar meant that the Atelier Outremer was finalising a new model: the Outremer 42’, which would be available in May 2006, the date I had planned to stop working. The dream came true, and in June 2006 ‘Exploreur’ began its test sail in the Mediterranean, with the aim of visiting Turkey and Croatia for 4 months, followed by an Atlantic crossing and discovery of the Caribbean. 

October, the autumn, back to work for many; it was starting to get cold and I was no longer at sea, but ashore for a short time. Boat preparation, technical visits and the addition of a bowsprit and gennaker filled the days. A few sails with friends and the departure for the Caribbean was approaching fast.
I was going to sail singlehanded to Morocco, then friends would join me to sail part of this ‘longue route’ with me. Sailing singlehanded is pleasant and exhilarating for many reasons, but sharing the exceptional moments that punctuate any offshore trip is also very pleasant.   My wife was to join me on the other side; it was thanks to her approval that I was able to realise this dream. Her state of health limited her participation, but she faced up to it with courage and willpower, as she is a fighter.
It was cold, the sky was grey, the sea was rough, but the wind was blowing in the right direction, so I had to tear myself free of the land, where everything held me back at the moment of departure. Five years previously, this project had taken shape in my mind and I now measured all the obstacles, the doubts and the willpower necessary to arrive at this departure day. I was leaving a difficult but familiar sea behind me to discover an unknown ocean, seas and shores.  
The sails were hoisted, the first leg was long, 260 miles in 36 hours, but it was nice to anchor knowing that I had handled the departure well and the automatic reactions under sail had returned.
Passing the Straits of Gibraltar was difficult, as after a short stopover to take on fuel, I arrived at the worst moment for the tide and with an unfavourable westerly wind. It was depressing to be making just 3 knots, the 30 miles to reach the south-west shore seemed insurmountable. After a few hours, I was feeling the effect of the tide less and the westerly breeze was dying. Phew, Gibraltar was behind me, the night to come would require all my attention, as there were a lot of fishing boats with unorthodox courses and disconcerting lights. One of these boats brushed past me at around 2am; it still makes me shudder…

At Cape Verde, David and Jean-Michel arrived, keyed up for the crossing… There were lots of details to deal with before weighing anchor, which we did at the end of the morning, heading for the north of the Cape Verde Islands, then Saint Lucia, south of Martinique. Time didn’t allow us to see the rest of the islands. The sea was rough, with a noticeable swell and a force 6 from the N – NE: with these ingredients, our stomachs were on stand-by! Exploreur, with one reef in the main, sped blithely along at 10 knots, it was loving the conditions.
On the second day, everything was going well, the digestive apparatus had adapted. The swell occasionally slapped between the hulls, and the speed was steady, though we reduced sail for the night.  
For the first 5 days, the average was around 170 miles per day, then the trade wind dropped, to give us a day of calm, a real holiday with swimming and fishing, but the crew moaned as the fish weren’t biting. On the other hand, our friends the flying fish visited us regularly and occasionally found themselves on the dining table. The trade wind returned the next day, but was lighter; this was to be the case for the following days and the average dropped. But the average was not important, there was plenty of food in the galley, we made bread every second day, Jean-Michel broke new ground with his cake-making skills, making us a ‘far’ that we will never forget…  
At the end, we slowed down to arrive at Saint Lucia in the early morning on the 21st December, after 15 days at sea, with a bagful of emotions and feelings which would require several weeks to be emptied and fully felt.  
The Caribbean met us; sun, turquoise water, not forgetting the warmth of the inhabitants. We were to spend the following months in a symphony of smells and colour, the dream was no longer, but the adventure continued aboard Explorer, with Anne-Marie and Serge.

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