Thursday, 19 August 2010


As I mentioned in the previous post, I've been doing some reading on sailing recently. I've managed to read three books on circumnavigation, two of which were non-stop. A non-stop circumnavigation seems to be more of a challenge and a test of one's limits rather than a recreational experience. What struck me most was the two totally different approaches towards it. I read Bernard Moitessier's "The Long Way" after reading Webb Chiles' "Storm Passage". These two books tell a totally different story and it's interesting to compare both the authors as well as their methods and characters.

Webb Chiles' story is full of agony, despair, stubbornness, ambition and delusions of grandeur. It seems to me that Webb Chiles had the right mix of ingredients to get into trouble. In comparison, Moitessier's account is about experience, harmony, humility, patience, anticipation. In practice, I believe the main difference came from the authors' attitude towards their task.

Chiles set off trying to conquer the sea, set records and prove himself. In doing so he chose a fast yacht that was not at all ready for the long hard journey he set off to complete. He pushed his boat to the limits and paid the price. He risked his boat and his life to try to set records. He was not at peace with the sea, himself and the boat. Nevertheless, his stubbornness and perseverance is what got him back alive. The last few weeks of his trip are just full of agony and a good example of what you may have to go through if things go wrong.

On the other hand Moitessier seemed to be more at peace with the elements, himself and the boat. He understood the weather and prepared for it. He was given the chance to set records and receive more fame and dismissed it. While he was not at peace with the modern world, this did not really affect his seamanship. 

To be fair however, Moitessier had a boat that was ready for such a passage and had been sailing since he was a child whereas Chiles had only about 10 years of experience and had done no long passages. Chiles was repairing his sails every day whereas Moitessier did not have to do any repairs at all. And one big difference was that Chiles's boat had a crack in the hull.. I'm not sure whether that was a design fault or one that developed due to Chiles' choice to press hard. Also Moitessier admits that the weather had been, in general very kind to him during his months in the South seas. Although I believe that Chiles' way to go about his task is not the right one, one must admire his courage and his feat was by all means remarkable. I do think that Moitessier was the wisest of the two though.

Most of you may have read Moitessier's book as it is considered a classic in sailing and is full of very useful information, tactics and advice. But I would also recommend reading Webb Chiles' account to see the striking difference between the two.

The other book is the one I mentioned in the previous post, James Baldwin's "Across Oceans and Islands". This is   also about a circumnavigation but not non-stop - in fact one with several stops that were very much part of the journey itself. This is the type of journey I'd prefer to do..

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