Bernard Moitessier, my sailing hero
07 August 2020
“Because I am so happy at sea and perhaps to save my soul.” That is the note Bernard Moitessier shot via slingshot onto a freighter explaining why he was dropping out of the Golden Globe, around the world, solo race in 1968. He was by far in the lead and had to just sail north to England and claim the prize. But all along he thought the race was vulgar and he didn't want to commercialize voyaging by sailboat.
Instead, after a lap around the world, he kept sailing to Tahiti, a place never far from his heart after a previous visit. His voyage was about 360 days solo! He just loved to sail.
Logan was in an Optimist race when he was about 12. He was in the lead but at the next mark he just kept sailing. The instructor chased after him in the crash boat and asked what was wrong. Logan said, "I was having such a good sail, I didn't want to turn." I told him he just did a Moitessier.
A few weeks ago, my friend, Dorothy, American who has lived in French Polynesia most of her life, mentioned Moitessier in conversation with a group of women learning to weave palm leaves. Lisa and some other cruising friends attended and I came along. Dorothy is already a special person to me as she took care of Bobby Holcomb, the cultural hero of Polynesian lifestyle, from 1976 until his death in 1991.
I later asked Dorothy if she ever met Bernard Moitessier. She explained that she was one of the first people he met when he arrived in Tahiti. I said, “So you are the reason he stayed.” Dorothy became quite for a moment. After further conversation, it became clear that Dorothy was Moitessier's lover when he arrived in Tahiti!
Dorothy explained that Moitessier's last wife, Veronique, was re-launching his boat and sailing to Huahine. She said Bernard told her, “Always feel free to go to Dorothy for help. There will be no jealousy.” I knew his last boat was in the yard on Raiatea, 25 miles away, but had never looked for it. Now I was determined to make this connection with my sailing hero.
After a languid, six weeks in our beloved Huahine, Lisa and I sailed to Raiatea. It was just time to move on. We biked to the Raiatea boat yard. In a back lot, I found a young man talking with a lady on deck of an old boat. I asked where I could find Moitessier's boat. He pointed to the very boat we were standing next to and the lady on deck. I could hardly believe I was about to step into history.
Veronique invited me to climb the ladder aboard Tamata. She explained she was getting her ready to launch after years on the hard. Tamata was built in California where Moitessier was invited to work on a documentary in 1982. His famous boat, Joshua, was wrecked in Mexico, en route to California. Tamata is a simple boat built from steel and built like a tank. Below decks she has an air-cooled engine and rudimentary accommodations. I have never seen so many lines hanging from the walls everywhere.
Tamata seemed to be in good shape for a boat that had been sitting for so long. She was well built with very little rust and peeling paint. She is a sailor's boat with no frills but one that could take her captain anywhere.
How privileged I am to have met two of my sailing hero's lovers and his last boat. The book “A Voyage for Madmen” is a great read about the race even for non-sailors. Bernard Moitessier has also written several books that are quite interesting. I am still in awe that I had a brush with my sailing hero who shares my love for sailing and French Polynesia.