Posted by: artandlove | July 13, 2009

Sailing with Bernard Moitessier

Bernard Moitessier Tamata

Bernard Moitessier (1925-1994) was born in Saigon (at that time French Indochina) son of a French import/export entrepreneur. His family (he had two brothers and one sister) lived in accordance with the colonial style of those days: strongly tied to social conventions, classy outlook, etiquette worshipping and business orientations.

His childhood was strongly influenced by the long summers spent with his brothers in a fishermen village on the Western Vietnamese coast. After completing his studies at a peculiar agronomic high-school (since he failed attending any regular high school), he tried to work for his father’s company, but sitting at his desk, lost in paperwork and pursuing moneymaking goals he felt too restless and definitely unhappy. He soon started dreaming of a different life.

A sailor’s joys are as simple as a child’s.

In truth he was not a silly, shallow rebellious teenager – as there were and still are too many. He was instead quite a deep young man and longed to find another dimension, a more appropriate world to his ingenious, contemplative and passionate character.

You do not ask a tame seagull why it needs to disappear from time to time toward the open sea. It goes, that’s all

To accelerate this escape process was his imprisonment during the Japanese occupation of Saigon. As soon as he was set free, in his early 20s, he left his steady but dull job, his family and home town to follow the call of the sea, starting a long life of travels, adventures, meditations, writings, social commitment and ecological research.

I am a citizen of the most beautiful nation on earth. A nation whose laws are harsh yet simple, a nation that never cheats, which is immense and without borders, where life is lived in the present. In this limitless nation, this nation of wind, light, and peace, there is no other ruler besides the sea.

Moitessier sailed “solo” through the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and also survived a few shipwrecks. His cheerful and simple disposition allowed him to quickly and instinctively become friend of all the people who had the fortune to meet him along his routes; and surely even while still alive he unquestionably became a guru for all the free life lovers and sea worshippers who read or heard about his philosophy and life. His boats, Marie Therese I and Marie Therese II, Joshua and Tamata are in the heart of every seaman and ocean lover.

People who do not know that a sailboat is a living creature will never understand anything about boats and the sea.

Bernard Moitessier drastically refused the materialistic approach to life and deplored the workaholic modus vivendi that was already booming in early 50s in the Western world – and that nowadays is alas! too widely diffused all over the globe.

La solitude qui fait mal je l’ai connue dans la foule à Paris, jamais en mer

He strongly despised the high speed endeavour for money accumulation, he scorned the unstoppable haste and rushing in any possible and even minor human action and relation, mocked the ridiculous struggle in gathering more and more luxurious useless items, he watched with compassion the victims of silly and vacuous formalism – in one word he abhorred this nonsensical rush to nowhere that involves and imprisons all those who have not understood what life is really about.

One summer night, out on a flat headland all but surrounded by the waters of the bay, the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space. Millions of stars blazed in darkness, and on the far shore a few lights burned in cottages; otherwise, there was no reminder of human life. My companion and I were alone with the stars; the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon. It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead. And because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they never will.

He is definitely a classic example of a true free spirit and a romantic nature lover who lived in perfect harmony with himself and with those who loved him. His life, travels and philosophy are perfectly reflected in his marvellous and insightful autobiographical five books and diaries: Sailing to the Reefs, Cape Horn:The Logical Route, The Long Way, Tamata and the Alliance and A Sea Vagabond’s World.

My real log is written in the sea and sky; the sails talking with the rain and the stars amid the sounds of the sea, the silences full of secret things between my boat & me, like the times I spent as a child listening to the forest talk.

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  1. Wonderful reading this about a man I had not heard of. I resonated with all the philosophical points about the way we “live” today. I aspire to not rush anything as much as possible whilst still going about my life. It’s not a cop out. It’s a joy to go more deeply into every moment.

  2. Dear Alison,
    thanks for your comment I totally agree with you. I do strongly condemn this useless rush to nowhere that is apparently diverting many people’s attention from the real and true sense of living.
    Should you be interested in reading of Bernard Moitessier, I would warmly recommend you to start with his first book: “Un Vagabond des mers du sud” (1960). – Translated by Rene Hague as Sailing to the Reefs.
    And then definitely “Tamata et l’alliance” (1993). Translated as Tamata and the Alliance by William Rodarmor, 1995.

  3. What a joy to read sometimes about the true authentic values of life!
    I resonated too with all you’ve said, this brings me back to my youth, when I was brave enough to follow the same paths… not on the sea, but…

    I’ll certainly read with joy this inspiring writer, thank you all who made me discover him.


  4. Thanks for your words Paolo, the pleasure is mutual.
    Very few really have in mind what actually counts in life. Chasing money, power and success and basically the vanity part of it all leaves empty hearts and dull spirits.
    Bernard was a true free soul, whatever he did was not to show off to anyone – not even to himself – it was just the way he intended LIFE.
    We all should learn from him – of course not simply emulate or imitate him..
    Pursuing inner peace and outer harmony: that is the real chase, not an easy one though.

    Thank you again for your few insightful lines; I hope you will pass by my weblog again.

    All the best

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