The Long View

Frenchman Guy Bernardin is no stranger to circumnavigations, and soon will set sail to round Cape Horn for the 7th time.

guy bernardin
Frenchman Guy Bernardin will be heading for Cape Horn a seventh time.Herb McCormick

One of the all-time classic books of seafaring is Frenchman Bernard Moitessier's The Long Way, his first-person account of the epic 1968-69 Golden Globe Race, the first solo race around the world. Moitessier was in a battle for the lead with legendary British sailor Robin Knox-Johnston (who went on to win the event) and had put Cape Horn in his wake when he decided to retire from the race. He did so with a missive delivered to the deck of a passing freighter via slingshot with the message that he was quitting "because I am happy at sea and perhaps to save my soul." He continued on to Tahiti, sailing over 37,000 nautical miles before dropping his hook in French Polynesia. The Long Way is the tale of both a sailing adventure and a spiritual quest, and it inspired a whole generation of young French sailors to follow suit and race around the world, where so many of them flourished.

One of those acolytes is a friend of mine, another French sailor named Guy Bernardin.

I first met Guy while covering the 1982-83 BOC Challenge, another round-the-world race for singlehanded sailors. He was sailing a 38-foot boat — the fleet's smallest — called Ratso II; the name was OSTAR spelled backward, in honor of the solo trans-Atlantic event of the same title, in which he'd also competed. With George Day, I wrote a book entitled Out There about that inaugural BOC race, which was special in many ways. Over the course of the grueling voyage, the competitors forged a bond that in many ways overshadowed the competition, which became a theme of the book. Everyone involved — including we journalists, from afar — felt privileged to have participated.

Now, to honor both Moitessier’s achievement on the 50th anniversary of his setting sail in the Golden Globe, as well as the spirit of that first BOC, Guy has launched another event called Longue Route 2018 (the French translation of Moitessier’s famous tome). The rules are simple: There really aren’t any. As the website (longueroute2018.com) states: “On this occasion, Guy invites other sailors to join him on this passage, in the same state of mind as Bernard Moitessier. This is not a race, there are no constraints, obligations or awards. It is a return to true values, individual and human responsibilities of the sailor and the man. Freedom and serenity to be alone at sea.”

There are a few guidelines. Entrants can sail anything up to 52 feet, and must set sail between June 18 and September 30, 2018. North American sailors have to leave from an East Coast port north of 41 N; European competitors can start anywhere north of 45 N on the other side of the pond. Everyone will finish in a French port yet to be determined. That’s it.

Guy is perhaps uniquely qualified to host such an event. After his success in the BOC, he found sponsorship and competed in the highest levels of professional sailing for many years. But eventually he grew tired of that and purchased a replica of Joshua Slocum's Spray that he sailed twice around the world, once alone and once with his family. After his pro sailing career, ­following Slocum's wake, on a replica of Slocum's boat, was an altogether different experience that he still cherishes. Like Moitessier — who named his boat Joshua, after Joshua Slocum — Guy has a special place in his soul for the pre-eminent sailors who have gone before him. "I think we can learn a lot of things by being in touch with the past," he told me recently. "I enjoy giving tribute to the people who did it before, like Slocum and Moitessier. There are others, but I think they are the most important. It gives you a better feeling and motivation if you go out to sea and remember the past and try to understand how they sailed at the time. I have learned so much from the sea. And it's important to remember these people for the next generation, to keep their memory alive. It's something we owe them."

Guy has now circled the globe five times and rounded Cape Horn on a half-dozen occasions. It never gets old. “For me, Cape Horn is one of the seven wonders of the world,” he said. “As I passed it the first time I went around, it felt like there would be a new life for me. And everything did change after that. I was more confident about myself.”

There’s no question that, when it comes to sailing, Guy has taken the long view. He’ll be 74 the next time he rounds the Horn. So far, 10 sailors have signed up to join him. He wants more. “Everyone who finishes,” he said, “will be a winner.”

Herb McCormick is CW’s executive editor.