Is this the most extreme journey ever? Swiss sailor Yvan Bourgnon has swapped his 'Formula One' catamaran to sail around the world in a tiny, cabin-less beach cat – a journey of 50,00km, that he estimated would take him almost a year. Making it even tougher? Bourgnon gave up GPS and computer-aided navigation to do it old-school with a sextant and a compass – "sailing by feel", as he calls it.
Where is he now? On pause after a devastating crash in Sri Lanka, the emotional results of which you can see in the video above. He will continue the final leg later this year. Yvan Bourgnon's boat is currently in Sri Lanka, and he's raising money to repair it and finish his journey.
One question: why?
To see whether someone could really survive in such hard conditions for such a long time with no protection. In most adventures people have something to protect themselves – a tent, igloo, cabin, whatever. In this tiny beach cat I have no covering. I have had to sleep with waves crashing into my face all night, every night for months.
You capsized early on in the Atlantic – that must have been a bit of a wake-up call?
Yes. I was very close to drowning. The boat was on its side moving at 10 knots, and my safety line was dragging me under. It was terrifying because I didn't know if I could get the boat back up. We modified it two days before the start, because in the first test I couldn't get it upright. But I hadn't tested it again.
You crossed the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans then crashed in calm waters by the beach in Sri Lanka. How did that happen?
I hadn't slept for four days and I was two hours from port. I was in bad shape. I had hallucinations. I almost hit a cargo ship and I knew I had to sleep, or I would crash in the harbour.
I put the autopilot on but when I woke up I was in the breaking waves, and the boat smashed on the rocks. I was thrown out and got stuck underneath. I thought I would die under the boat. I couldn't breathe. My boat was completely broken but it kept me alive. I was very emotional!
How do you sleep?
Rarely more than 15 minutes at a time! Mostly it's five, six, seven, 10 minutes, wake up, sleep again – like this for an entire year! I learned to sleep with the sheet in my hand under tension, and that is one reason I didn't capsize much because I was really ready to ease the sail in a second.
What's the worst storm you’ve encountered?
The monsoon storm in the Indian Ocean, offshore of Sumatra, was intense. I've never known so much rain – 15 hours non-stop, hard. The wind was up to 120km/h, and with such a light, small beach cat the boat just wants to fly. Even with no sails it got to 25 knots! The wind direction would change 180 degrees in a few seconds, and you can't see it from the sky so you cannot judge it. I almost capsized 30 times that night.
How do you deal with life-threatening moments?
Avoid panic. I always said to myself, ‘the moment you panic and you do something you don't know or control, you stop'. I can think of four or five times when, if I'd had a little bit of panic, I would be dead.
What was the most amazing moment so far?
When I left Vanuatu I had a rudder problem and I needed to stop. There was only one place to go – a tiny sand island, 400m wide and one metre high. There was nothing else around for around 3,000km. I ended up spending one-and-a-half days there. It was amazing.
You've been on land for a bit, how has that been?
Terrible. This trip has disturbed my sprit and my body. I have become more savage. More wild. When I came back in Paris, I was disorientated. I lost my bag, left my shoes in the restaurant, lost many things.
I know more today than ever that I don't want to be on the land.
You're back on the water in November – then is it all plain sailing to the finish?
No! The first difficult thing will be the monsoon then the pirates in the Arabian Gulf. No small sailing boats have gone there for six years so we don't know if it's a problem or not, but I am fast and I have nothing to give, nothing on the boat, so that will hopefully get me through!
And, assuming all goes well, what then?
I really think it is possible to do an Antarctica circumnavigation in a beach cat. It's shorter but very cold, lots of ice, lots of storms. I couldn't do it alone, but with a new boat, a crew and more forecasts, I think so...
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