Saturday, December 29, 2007

A childhood dream to a reality

L'Amerique au bout des Sabots, edition Hécate
Let me introduce my book, it is in French and sadly has not been translated...
Faithful to my childhood dreams, I left my family and my beloved Brittany with the goal of becoming a wandering adventure. Having traveled to Canada, I needed a project that would match my dreams, an initiation journey that would forever propel me into the world of adventurers and would give me the courage to continue along my chosen path : traveling. At 20, I knew I had to forge my character, strengthen my will, conquer my fears, learn courage.
Meeting Chantal was a sign of destiny. And an exceptional destiny calls for an exceptional project : we decided to travel in a tradional horse-drawn wagon. This is a way of recreating some of America's history, but it would also put us to the test, since neither of us knew a thing about horses...
Everything seemed to conspire against us, however. We didn't know the country, barely spoke English, were completely ignorant about horses, and did not have any money ! The ten months we spent preparing for the journey proved a good school, mercilessly toughening the young women we were and developing our combativeness without taking away the innocence of those who dream greatly. In the process, an iron-clad friendship would be born as two naive girls, city-dwellers and foreigners, became two fierce wills that overcame every obstacles.
We both discovered America with all its diversity while learning to love, care for, and treat a magnificent Percheron mare name Hija, who would become our pride and joy. We ignored the sarcasm of stable owners who made fun of the two little French urbanites... Driving a dozen miles a day, we covered more than 2000 miles of roads, and trails between Montreal and Dallas. We also risked catastrophes, struggled with cars and trucks, and literally fought a one-ton horse who was much too young and willful for the trip.
In exchange, we would generate an extraordinary chain of friendship, earn the admiration of the wildest of horsemen, and would be literally ''adopted'' by many number of families along the way. We discovered America mile by mile, in depth. And we learned to back each other up in overcoming daily obstacles, wether in the form of a bridge, a train, a ferry, or just a piece of paper unexpectedly flying in front of the horse's eyes. People were astonished at our apparent fragility, our youth and our European background, all of which seemed in contradiction to our adventure. We learned a great deal about the USA, but also left an unforgettable mark in many households in the American countryside.
For me, this trip was the Open Sesame that permanently launched me through a doorway to adventure, which would lead me to Brazil for another horseback journey, then onto the Ocean at the helm of a sailboat. Chantal would choose a quieter path and returned to France.

presentation. Who am I ?

I come from Brittany, the birthplace of many famous sailors, Cape Horn skippers, corsairs and old salts of all kinds. I was born in Nantes in 1957 and like Jules Verne, a fellow nantais, born 140 years earlier, I listened to the hooting sirens of ships leaving port and dreamed of great expeditions.
tombstone of Bernard Moitessie in Brittany
Raised by my grandparents on boundlessly imaginative Breton legends, I immersed myself devoured ancient and modern adventure books. As a teenager, my heroes were not show business celebrities but adventurers, sailors and ethnologists, including Bernard Moitessier, Eric Tabarly and Paul-Emile Victor, among many others. At 15, I was fascinated by ancient history. The fact that I lived in a city twenty centuries old gave me the remarkable opportunity to work on Gallo-Roman excavations, and I became a member or Archeological Club of Brittany. My passion for ancient civilizations drove me to devour books about the American continent and sharpened my taste for great virgin spaces. I admit that if I would have liked to have lived 200 years ago, but not so much to live like a pioneer as to be an explorer pushing the limits of the unknown. But I also realized that feeding on dreams of past and nostalgic times was a trap to be avoided. At 20, without any precise goal beyond that of breaking out of my comfortable cocoon, I took my first step toward America, the continent that had first sparked my dreams of adventure, and left France for Canada...

In Montreal, I met Chantal, another young Frenchwoman three years older than me. Without hesitation, the two of us threw ourselves into a project as ambitious as our dreams : to drive a horse-drawn wagon across North America. What did it matter that we had neither money nor friends, knew nothing about horses or the country and spoke very little English ?

Despite encountering every difficulty imaginable, we would overcome obstacles knowing that this is the price you pay when you decide to become apprentice adventurers... The 16 months trip was our big initiation. With that unique experience behind me, I would apply the lessons I learned in continuing alone on my chosen path as a nomad.

We wrote a book, published in France "L'Amérique au Bout des Sabot''. Once the manuscript was written, my friend gave up the path of adventure and returned to France.

I retained my love for horses, my companion in discovery and up to then my sole mode of travel ! I would spend 3 months exploring the Brazilian outback of Minas Gerais on horseback before knocking around from the Andes to the Amazon by train, buses and local boats with my companion. In Rio, I had met the one who would become my future husband. The fact that he was a sailor naturally brought me back to the source of my first dreams : sailing around the world. When I took the tiller of the boat in the Rio de Janeiro Bay, it was love at first sight. What appealed to me was not so much the idea of sailing from one tropical paradise to another but the idea of discovery, the call ot the open sea, the excitement of encountering different cultures, new habits, and unknown languages.

At our ports of call, we picked up the skills we needed to get by. I became a ship-builder, building 3 boats with my husband, a master shipwright. We owned and ran a shipyard, built houses, worked as a photographer for a French overseas aid project in Senegal, taught snorkeling, sailing, worked as first mate on charter boat, as well as Chef, and even I learnt how to make half model of boats and other art work in wood. I discovered I had unknown talents under sometimes difficult conditions, struggling to do work tradionnally reserved for men, especially in third world countries.

The Ocean also played a part in my education, strewing my path with challenges : dismasting, hurricanes, and shipwreck showed me the other side of the adventure, which I had already encountered on horseback : that of risk, of walking a tightrope, of struggling with the elements, of facing myself when everything I have is destroyed. Me and my husband lost our first boat and had to start again from scratch, designing and building a new sailboat ''Breskell'' and setting out again a year and a half later.

But one final trial awaited me, which would sting more keenly than all the gales in the Atlantic : our couple split up, and in the divorce I lost my second boat..

My only salvation was to instinctively set out for new horizons, seeking the peace that comes from the long swells of the open ocean. I hired out as crew on charter boats in the Carribbean, and once again sailed across the Atlantic.

Today, I stand on the threshold of new adventures, eager for the thrill of great ocean crossings, including, I hope side trips into such remote corners as Patagonia, Mongolia, Alaska, as to follow the traces of Bruce Chatwin and the shadow of Bernard Moitessier.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

when I was a gaucho...

Horse trip across Minas Gerais, Brazil
I am not only a cruiser... I have another passion : horses. Though I admit I am just an amateur, I love to travel and discover a country with them. I spent 3 months riding a horse with my companion across one state of Brazil. More than a 1000 kilometers of wilderness. That was some time ago, but I am ready for another adventure, anywhere, why not Patagonia ?

Breskell, the boat that will stay in my heart forever

Breskell, in breton (as a galloping horse), 50 ft, a prototype created from our experiences, my ex husband and I, designed by his father, built by the two of us. (he is a master shipwright..) 15 months of intense work... cold molded, West System, it is a sloop, center board. A pure sailing machine, but the most comfortable boat at sea I ever been on. I lost her in a divorce.... After loosing the first one in a wreck !!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

joyeuses fêtes...

Merry christmas.

I spent my first christmas and birthday.. with my family since 21 years. From Portugal, I went to France where I ''licked my wounds''. After all, may be that meant to be. I had my 50 th birthday with my family, rediscovered my home town. Last time was 5 years and a half ago. Also that gave me time to see my options, and finally, I decided to go back to California and sail down with a boat to Mexico again !! I am leaving all my options open this time. I regained strengh back to my roots, got pampered a little by my parents, and got in touch with some decent skipper. And hopefully I will see some of you my friends again..
here, at 4, I was already a little tomboy dreaming of great voyages and explorations... I am still the same dreamer.

a little setback

When I left San Carlos full of hope en route for a new sailing adventure, I did not imagine how hard I will fall.... After numerous emails, the enthusiast skipper was really counting on me, even encouraging me to come sooner. At my arrival in Portugal I noticed that this man was not a happy guy, his sour face showed a troubled mind. The next morning he told me that he did not think that would work out. Or rather, he wrote that on a piece of paper, unable to tell me in my face ! No more explanations than that... I figured out that he had a companion somewhere, not willing to go sailing, but no willing to let him have a female crew ! Anyway, I swallowed my pride, took my backpack and left his boat. All transportations expenses for myself ! I went to France to visit my parents. I had spent the last 6 months looking on the internet for boats. I subscribed on some specialized nets. I had numerous answers, most of them from single guys looking for a relationship, preferably with younger women. I thought it was an agressive approach, you do not force a relationship. The fact that I am single does not mean I am in search of a soul mate. If that happened it is fine, but I do not advertise it. So I got a slap in my face, lost a little of my enthusiasm, but learnt a lesson. I keep looking, learn to filter a lot of those answers. I did not loose my dreams on the contrary. I lost money.. yes. But to all of you skippers, looking for crew, please do not assume that a woman, single is looking for a romantic adventure when she proposed herself for crew. And you, women, do not mix up crewing and cheap romance. I take crewing seriously.