When Yves Parlier arrived back at Les Sables dOlonne in France on Friday (March 16) after over 126 days at sea, he was a much slimmer but happy man. On November 9th, when he started the Vendee Globe with 23 other round-the-world solo-sailing specialists, Parlier had stocked just enough food for 100 days aboard his high-tech 60-foot sloop Aquitaine Innovations
. Now, over four months later, his finish wouldnt garner any prizeshe arrived well off the pace, more than a month after winner Michel Desjoyeauxbut it did win him the admiration of his fellow competitors, along with that of sports fans and sailors around the globe. This 40-year-olds feat of perseverancewhich some members of the sailing press termed "obsessive"in overcoming a crippling dismasting and a severe shortage of food, proved the kind of heroic mettle that transcends racing and often makes this rare breed of sailor emblematic of the best that the sport can muster.
In his signature style, Parlier blasted out of the gates in November. It was his third go at the Vendee Globea non-stop, no-assistance marathon around the planet. Aquitaine Innovations
, with its distinctive deck-mounted outrigger-style spreaders, held the lead for much of the first four weeks of this epic contest. Along with his superb insight regarding weather, his singular determination led him to pilot his speedster further south than any of his peers. At least two rivals voiced concern that Parlier was dangerously pushing the envelope. And then, five weeks into the race, not halfway through the course, his lead evaporated due to a strategic miscalculation. After two days of uncommonly light winds, Aquitaine Innovations
was overtaken by a sudden squall with nearly her full complement of sails flying. The boat jibed inadvertently a series of times before stuffing its bow deep into the frigid water with such force that the rig toppled down in three pieces.
This was Parliers second dismasting in six months and the third mast hed stepped aboard his 1996-vintage vessel in as much time. Some 1,000 miles southwest of Australia, he had every reason to simply retire, to erect a jury rig and head for warmer climes and safer waters. Critical gear failure in the Vendee Globe can be more the rule than the exception, and such circumstances nearly always put the racer out of action. But Parlier wouldnt accept that fate. He took a day or two to collect himself, jury-rig a 40-foot mast with what he could salvage of his carbon-fiber rig, and then he surprised the race organizers by calling to say that hed be continuing the race.
His decision drew alarm from fellow competitors. He was called a "mad genius" by by one racer and and extreme "maverick" by another. Because his jury rig didn't offer him enough power to sail faster than eight knots, they worried that he would eventually run out of food. But Parlier had other things in mind.
Parliers next surprise came when he subsequently announced that he planned to detour to Stewart Island at the southern tip of New Zealand to refine his jury righe had salvaged an 18-foot section of mast and he intended to add it to the program. With four reefs tucked in its mainsail to fit the shortened spar, Aquitaine Innovations hobbled into this remote island and the plucky Frenchman went to work. He started the project by first lowering the rig to the deck, by himself (so as not to contravene the rules of the race). Then, using a hacksaw Parlier fashioned a coupling sleeve with the remaining middle section of his original mast. He used it to join the new upper portion with the longer lower section.
The most ingenious aspect of his new rig was his solution for curing the epoxy resin. Given the ambient temperatures, Parlier knew hed have to apply heat to the resin, so he contrived an "oven" using a combination of 25-watt light bulbs, candles, and gas fuel for heat. For insulation he wrapped the contraption in reflective survival blankets and fleece gear. Could McGyver have created a more ingenious fix?
The Stewart Island chapter of Parliers odyssey took a full 10 days. In the interim he managed to supplement his depleted larder with oysters that he collected at low tide, getting ashore and back by means of a raft he constructed by lashing jerry jugs together. When he finally resumed racing, his new jury rig was good enough to deliver a 10-knot average speed across the rest of the Pacific to Cape Horn.
Judging by his communiqués ashore, Parlier seemed to have found peace in his perseverance. After rounding the Horn, he made light of the fact that he was running desperately short of food, and in the final weeks of his trip he sent images ashore of his new dietary supplementseaweed hung out to dry on deckwith himself smiling in the foreground. "Proteins," he said in another missive, indicating the meager fish that he managed to catch.
Spurred on by his uncanny determination, the Frenchman somehow managed to close on his destination. Early on the day that he arrived, Vendee Globe founder, organizer, and two-time race veteran Philippe Jeantot offered high praise for Parlier: "What Yves has done is bigger than the race
.For me, he has reached back to the first Vendee Globe, to the original spirit of the race, which was adventure." With every new edition of the event, explained Jeantot, it becomes more of a "regatta-style race, but Yves has shown that theres still room for the adventurer." Absolument! For his levelheaded, good-natured defiance of adversity, Parlier deserves the fitting labela true argonaut. Bravo!
Not for TV-Type Survivors
Solo-sailing events such as the Vendee Globe occasionally demand a little more from some sailors. With his extraordinary accomplishments borne of ingenuity and dogged determination in this race, Yves Parlier has shot to the top of an elite list that includes some pretty good company. Heres a brief look at some other sailors whove successfully overcome over-the-top adversity at sea:
Arnet Taylor After losing his only rudder aboard the 60-foot Thursdays Child on Leg II of the 1994-95 BOC, he steered by way of warps for over 1500 miles into Hobart.
Robin Davie Dismasted in the same race some 2000 miles west of Cape Horn, he erected an A-frame jury rig and made it safely to the finish in Punta del Este.
Nandor Fa Eight days out of Cape Town on Leg II of the 1990-91 BOC, he lost both rudders aboard his 60-foot Alba Regia, but made it back to the South African continent steering with sail trim alone.
Florence Arthaud After surviving a slew of breakdowns in the 1986 Route du Rhum (daggerboards, steering system, and autopilot among them) aboard the 70-foot Energie et Communication, she was diverted to Loick Caradecs capsized 80-foot trimaran Royale only to find that sailor already missing. Physically and mentally exhausted, she wept for the final two days, but still managed to finish.