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Remembering Moitessier

By May 14, 2010

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In this year of so much talk about solo circumnavigating sailors and record-seekers, I find myself thinking of the first round-the-world nonstop solo sail race in 1968. There was Donald Crowhurst, so desperate for fame and fortune, slowing going insane as he sailed in circles in the Atlantic. There was Knox-Johnston, the stalwart sailor who eventually won after the others dropped out, sank, or chose not to. And there was the great French sailor Bernard Moitessier, who was leading and could have won but simply chose not to.

Well, not so simply. It later took a full book to explain his philosophy of sailing and why he decided, after essentially completing his circumnavigation, not to return to claim his prize money and publicity but to keep on going another halfway around the world to Tahiti. It's a magnificent book. He writes of the beauty of the sea, of sailing, and why he chose not to return to the "snakepit" of Europe. His writing is at times almost mystic, as in this passage about his ship: "She sailed round the world... but what does that mean, since the horizon is eternal? Round the world goes further than the ends of the earth, as far as life itself, perhaps further still." Moitessier was always going further.

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