Bernard Moitessier and the Golden Globe

May/June 2003

The era of modern single-handed �round the world racing resulted from the triumphant passage of Sir Francis Chichester in 1967. Aboard Gypsy Moth IV, the 65-year-old Chichester � making only one stop in Sydney, Australia � achieved the previously impossible goal, circumnavigating in 226 days; proving that it is feasible for a small boat to be single-handed around the world nonstop.

The public acclaim afforded Chichester, who was knighted upon his return to Plymouth, was so great that sailors and adventurers took notice, and the gauntlet was thrown down. The man who could sail around the world nonstop would be sure to claim his share of fame.

Thus was born the Golden Globe Challenge, sponsored by England�s Sunday Times. Two prizes were offered: one, a trophy of the Golden Globe for the first competitor to finish the circumnavigation, and the other of a cash prize of �5,000 for the boat with the fastest time. It was mostly English sailors, many of whom were young and relatively inexperienced, who answered the call to race around the world. Indeed one of them, Chay Blyth, who had achieved some fame as one of the first two men to row across the Atlantic Ocean, had only about four days of training as a sailor. These men saw the opportunity to win such a race as a means to better their position in a stratified English society. Of all these, the most remembered is Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who was the eventual winner. But there were others whose names are not so easily recalled: Nigel Tetley, who took his family trimaran; John Ridgeway, who, along with Blyth, had rowed across the Atlantic; and Bill King, who had a junk-rigged boat built for the event. And of course there was the ill-advised Donald Crowhurst, who ended up taking his own life during the race.

Of the foreign entrants, Bernard Moitessier is the name best recalled. In 1968, Moitessier was 43 years old. A French citizen born in Saigon, he had spent most of his life sailing traditional boats in the Indian and Pacific oceans. By nature, he was a mystic-romantic who viewed the purity of sailing as a high state of being. He wrote that his motivation was not for glory or money but for something less easy to explain; let�s just call it transcendence and leave it at that. Moitessier already held the small-boat sailing record, having sailed more than 14,000 miles from Tahiti to Portugal with his wife. He had already planned to sail around the world when the race was announced, and he entered reluctantly.

Throughout the story he wrote about the race, The Long Way, he alternately rants against the evils of money grubbing and greed, and writes rhapsodically about the joys of being in a pure state of solitude, alone with his boat at sea. In other words, like other moderns, he was deeply conflicted, but whereas most of us live with our conflicts, Moitessier acted upon them. In one of the most heroic � or foolish � acts recorded in the annals of sailboat racing, for whatever reason, Moitessier chose not to complete the race, despite the fact that he was logging the fastest time when he thumbed his nose at the race and kept going around the world for a second turn. After rounding Cape Horn and on his way to victory, Moitessier made the decision not to go back to Europe, but instead to sail for the Cape of Good Hope and then halfway round the world again back to Tahiti.

�I have set course for the Pacific again,� Moitessier wrote. �Last night was too hard to take. I really felt sick at the thought of getting back to Europe, back to the snakepit.�

Like all the participants in this race, Moitessier navigated using celestial. He had one sextant and took good care of it. He used noon altitude sights (meridian passage) sun sights to get his day�s run and his latitude. Let�s join Moitessier at 40� 20� south, 35� 10� west, after he has rounded Cape Horn and decided to head east to the Cape of Good Hope instead of back to England.

He is preparing for a noon sight on Feb. 18. His height of eye is 10 feet. The sextant error is 2� off the arc. His time checks are on the money. He will take a lower-limb sight of the sun. His sextant altitude Hs is 60� 58.8� We will use the 2003 Nautical Almanac.

A. Based on the DR position, what time is LAN?

B. If Hs is 60� 58.8�, what is the HO?

C. Using traditional formula, what is the latitude based on noon sight?

D. Using HO 249, page 5 (Hc 61�, d +60, Z 180�, Table 5 d correction +38�), what is the intercept?  

By Ocean Navigator