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So . . . is it really possibly to sail an open 20ft beach cat around the Globe ?

 Well, I have quite a story for all you small multihull enthusiasts!      (2013-2015)
  (Please note 'disclaimer', below)
As the reporting is mainly in French, English-speaking sailors are hearing little about a rather astonishing 'adventure' that's unfolding as I write. A highly experienced Swiss sailor is attempting to sail 50,000 km 'around the world' in what is virtually an overbuilt sport beach-cat of 20ft—so that's "WHAT's NEW!"

Yvan Bourgnon

Yvan Bourgnon (son of a Swiss baker), the younger brother of equally well-known skipper Laurent Bourgnon, is no newcomer to big challenges and I guess the sailing world got to know him as co-skipper of the winning trimaran Primagaz, in the 1997 Transat race.
Yvan, now 42, has such an extensive list of successes, from being the French Hobie‑16 champ and holder of numerous 24-hr records in various larger catamarans, that the best way to check, if interested, is with Wikipedia. fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yvan_Bourgnon

In Jan 2012, he sailed around Cape Horn in a 6m catamaran in the Défi Terresens and followed this with the Défi Atlantis around the Isle of Corsica in 2013, each event with different crew members. ('Défi' = 'Challenge' in English.) But for the Défi SMA—a complete circumnavigation —he teamed up with Vincent Beauvarlet, another successful cat sailor who was also a champion sailboarder.
Based on his many experiences of handling rough sea passages in small open sport catamarans, Yvan Bourgnon had a special boat designed for him by Swiss designer Sebastien Schmitt (designer of the Decision 35 cat). This was built at the plant of 'JPS Production' in Trinité-sur-Mer, in NW France with typical foam core and glass, plus carbon fiber parts and reinforcements. The principal sponsor for this Challenge is SMABTP, a large French insurance company, but judging by the sticker ads on the boat and sails, there are also many smaller companies backing the effort. The final boat is 6.30m long x 4m beam (presumed to exclude the raised seats) and it reportedly weighs in at 450 kg dry and 750 kg loaded. Mast height is given as 12m (39.4').
The boat itself appears to be like a 20ft beach cat but more sturdily built and having somewhat more freeboard and more rugged cross beams and equipment. The main visual difference is the addition of the side benches that are now raised and enclosed on 3 sides to give some protection for the crew, both when sailing and when 'resting'. Some sleep might have been possible with two aboard, but sailing this cat single-handed must make this nigh impossible on such a relatively lively boat that needs constant attention. The boat carries a masthead float in case of capsize but this boat would initially appear too heavy for one person to right. (I can imagine a manually operated self-inflating bag within or under those raised benches, would add some useful buoyancy at just the right place to assist the righting effort.)

The 12-month circumnavigation effort officially began on October 5, 2013 from Les Sables‑d'Olonne, France, reportedly with only a sextant and compass on board for navigation. The attempt was also to be made without any accompanying support craft. On the 2nd leg of the trip to the Canary Is. the weather was really rough, with very large waves and 35k winds, and the younger co-skipper Vincent Beauvarlet became quite sick. This appears to have led him to finally withdraw from the attempt, as per a French journal, 'Vincent Beauvarlet chose to throw-in-the-towel and not continue'.
Before saying more, let's clarify that this is an incredibly dangerous and demanding adventure and the odds of Yvan succeeding are probably far below 50%. This description (as reported in La Dépêche du Midi, Dec 11th 2013) of the solo leg across the Atlantic to Martinique should well clarify this.

There is also a short video interview with Yvan after his arrival in Martinique that further confirms much of this.

QUOTES (freely translated from the French articles and supplemented with info from later interviews)

December 11, 2013, Yvan Bourgnon first set sail Oct 5th for the Canaries which he reached in early November. At that point, his team-mate Vincent Beauvarlet chose to withdraw from the event. So on November 20, we see Yvan leaving the Canary Is, taking off SOLO across the Atlantic.

On arrival, this is the story he reported: "The boat almost capsized 150 times till it really DID capsize in a big storm…I had to fight with all my strength to get back to the boat and to then put it back on its feet. So this is not for everyone(!!), it is very risky. I found I was drooling…and I rarely drool like that—some 'trick of psychopathy' I guess. I had all kinds of weather and winds. Depressions, calms and violent storms…with winds of over 60 knots! When I was finally capsized in the storm, I was laid flat as a pancake and the boat towed me by my lifeline for a considerable time. I panicked as I could not pull myself to the catamaran. I struggled like crazy, like a wild animal, and finally I got to catch up and with much struggle and effort, was able to right the boat*. Despite all my previous experience in the oceans, I've never been quite as scared before, as I started to think the end was close for me. After that, I passed three days wallowing in waves close to five meters in height and I was shaken in all directions. And the return of the wind was not better, as then I had repeated gusts of 45 knots."

This photo was from Yvan's trip around Cape Horn, but gives a little introduction to big seas as seen from a small cat.

"I had anticipated something very difficult but not to this extent. It was a crazy thing! I only benefited Monday, with some beautiful surfing. In the 19‑day crossing, I have lost 3–4 kg but feed myself with lyophilized (freeze-dried) food. Now, besides itching everywhere, I'm fine. Getting sleep on board was extremely difficult. Rarely more than 10 minutes at a time. The rest of the time you hang on as best you can, because the boat wriggles in all directions."

When asked if he had regrets having continued solo after the withdrawal of his team-mate Vincent Beauvarlet, he replied: "No. But it's very hard—such a physical and moral commitment, but I understood that. Secondly, I just might have drooled less ;‑). But what I do, is not recommended for everyone. It's really dangerous."

*When thinking of what it must have taken to right this boat, it's informative to glance at this photo of the two original skippers, doing a rehearsal of the process with the help of a boom linked to the underside of the forward cross beam. This boom appears to be permanently hinged and stowed under the tramp down the centerline.

Yvan Bourgnon will stay a few days in Martinique to fix some broken parts, including the top of the mast and a broken rudder (see missing port rudder and tiller in this photo taken on arrival in Martinique), before heading towards Panama and then the Galapagos Is., before the big (3–4 week?) hop across the Pacific.

For the next part of this trip, Yvan is reportedly to be accompanied by a support boat—but it's not yet clear just how far that boat will travel with him. After all, with SMABTP involved, it could now be an insurance issue ;‑)

I plan to report more as time, stories and info permit.

If you wish to check out the latest video clips put out by a principal sponsor, go here: En-Avant-Toute.ch.

UPDATE Dec 24th
After some maintenance and repairs, Yvan has just re-launched his catamaran and plans to leave within 3–4 days for Panama. He is naturally concerned about the monsoons in Indonesia and would like to cross the Pacific as soon as practical. However, crossing this early in the year has its own challenges that Yvan has to mull over.
One major blow is that after reviewing the high risks being faced, SMA has decided to withdraw its sponsorship but Yvan will continue with the support of many other smaller sponsors and probably pick up new ones.
As he approaches the Panama, he will likely face strong, gusty winds, large cargo ships and hidden reefs, so he'll have his hands full.   'May the gods be with you Yvan.'

UPDATE Dec 27th
While most of us were relaxing over the holidays, here is the latest report from Martinique.

During his two weeks in the Caribbean, Yvan Bourgnon began by repairing his boat—especially his two major issues: a cracked masthead, plus fixing the port rudder which had separated from the hull. He is also re-designing some facilities for a little extra comfort. "During my drag through the water, I regretted not having a handle to release, as used for kitesurfing." A support boat that follows could then pick him up after he lets go his lifeline, as he personally carries a permanent beacon.
"The earth can relax but it is very busy for me," said the sailor. He must spend his limited funds wisely as his budget has decreased to a trickle after the withdrawal of his main sponsor, following the departure of his co-skipper. "We are still looking for sponsors to continue and this is good because there is still space available," says Yvan. But this lack of funding could lower his budget for communication gear and logistics.
"But that does not stop me! In the worst case, I will finish alone—but I will finish." He expects to be back in France by the end of next year, after traveling 50,000 kilometers around the globe.

UPDATE Jan 1st, 2014 (Freely translated from Twitter)
Not wasting time since arriving in Le Marin, Martinique, I took this most welcome stop to finish improving the security and reliability of my cat. First, I've added a third reef to give only 7m² of sail for winds over 35 knots. Then added 100 liters of ballast forward in each hull to sink the boat in strong winds to keep it on track. Special attention given to the rudders (with the help of Alizé Composites), to strengthen the attachment and repair the one that came off during the Atlantic crossing. Previous crossings by my friend Jacques Vincent, has certainly given me valuable tips.
With very few chances to find material in the Pacific, this was the best moment to overhaul the boat and after tests next week I hope to leave for Panama by Jan 10, and make the 1200 mile trip in 8–9 days, to then pass through the Canal in tow behind another boat. It must be impressive to pass through these locks with such huge ships. Yvan

UPDATE Feb 6th, 2014
Well, Yvan set sail again Feb 3 on Step 4 of his continuing effort to circumnavigate in his open beach cat.

Here is his planned track to the Panama Canal entrance.

But only 2 days out, he suffered another capsize (a tough pitch pole) and sent in this report, that says it all.
(as always, freely translated from his French text message)

"Had a very rough night. Hit by a big squall." He capsized early evening but only managed to get sailing again 4 hours later.

"The halyard stuck so I could not haul down the spinnaker. I capsized when the squall struckt; 'ass over head'.
I had to drag down and gather up all the sails one by one, while I was in the water…a 2 hour struggle.
Then it took me another 2 hours to incline the mast, install the righting kit before I could right the boat. It was really a very difficult struggle, because there was not enough wind to push on the trampoline (that could have helped me).
But I was less afraid than the last time because I now knew what to expect, and this time I did not lose the centreboard but it was tough to move and very exhausting. In addition, it was very dark as there was no moon and I did not have a lamp.
I lost a lot of things: the auto-pilot remote control (that caught on fire), the stove, a winch handle, 1 VHF, and a lot of comfort items like clothing etc. And now I have no more port-side auto-pilot control.
I finally managed to get some rest after all was stored on the boat. It was really in a horrible state…
But I have the sun today with 15 knots of wind to carry me. I feel in good shape but I will certainly double my caution…"

Fair winds to you, Yvan… Mike

Some interesting details of Yvan's boat can be seen in this video at the Martinique marina. Apparently the rudder failure was due to delamination of the side cheeks. CLICK HERE for video.

And these additional comments came Feb 6th from another French website: www.seableue.fr

This voyage involves some very wet sailing, because apart from a diving mask and drysuit, the sailor is not protected at all and is continuously subjected to wind, waves and rain during the stormy conditions.
His only protection is from the sun, as Yvan brought aboard a precious 'parasol', because as he says, "when the weather is calm and there is no wind, the sun is very strong and one must take cover".

In the narrow catamaran hulls he stores freeze-dried meals and some treats like biscuits and other sweet foods for energy—something he sorely missed during the Atlantic stage.
With 400 kg of equipment, food and water, the cat is twice its own weight.
With jib, mainsail and gennaker, the catamaran is complete.
The weather this morning was somewhat sour, with gusts of wind and a few gray clouds alternating with the sun ..... but at this moment, Yvan could be flying through the St Lucia channel.
A few miles from him, the accompanying monohull and his crew (who ensure the transmission of photos, videos and news), watch over this tiny, crazily driven boat, but this is by no means his first accomplishment, as Yvan has led challenges of this type before (also in beach catamarans), both across the Mediterranean and around Cape Horn! "I love this, and this is my life," he told us again this morning just before he set out again. One can only wish him 'fair winds'.

UPDATE Feb 10th, 2014
Great news!! Yvan has arrived safely at Colon (Panama) at 20:30 GMT, taking only 6½ days instead of the anticipated 9 days from Martinique.
4 hours earlier, he sent this in: [free translation]

"I see the coast and will arrive [soon] at Colon in Panama.
I finished the Atlantic in style, with days of perfect sailing without squalls or storms.
I really had fun with wonderful sensations!
Except for my capsize and the rough time at the approach to Colombia (which lasted 18 hours), I have been more efficient with the new spinnaker.
This arrival is very symbolic for me, as I now complete this ocean crossing. This feels like a good achievement as this ocean was not easy. It was sometimes very tough but I'm still alive!
But the skin on my arms and hands is pretty damaged, even if the navigation of this stage lasted just 1/3 as long as crossing the Atlantic. I made the mistake of not putting a dry combi on at night as I thought I would get more air in the warmth, but not a good decision. I left Martinique with a skin allergy and now, with the sun and sea water, it is quite aggravated.
I will need to repair the auto-pilot when I arrive and begin the formalities to go through the canal, and in a few days, plan to leave for the Galapagos "

UPDATE Feb 26th, 2014 — Yvan Bourgnon transits the Panama Canal
4½ months already into this historic voyage, the saga continues.

Yvan has now successfully passed through the Panama canal and is on his way south to the Galapagos Islands, where he will check things over before heading west over the Pacific!

For the Panama passage, he choose to piggy-back on another yacht as passing through these huge docks with monstrous ships all around is just too dangerous for a small, relatively fragile boat.

Here are some pics to give the viewer some idea of the situation. I understand that the essential long (200'?) mooring lines and multiple tire fenders can be rented for the passage through, but it's not cheap.

Perhaps a few words of history would be of interest here. It was Theodore Roosevelt who saw the value of a canal connecting both sides of the USA. So in 1904 he first succeeded to help the Panamanians separate from Columbia. The USA bought the canal land from the French after they failed in their attempt to build a successful canal (mostly due to mosquito-spread disease killing over 20,000 workers!). The present canal was completed in 1914 and has been in operation ever since—100 years.

In 1977 President Carter signed the canal conditionally over to Panama and the Panamanians took it over totally in 1999. The huge revenues have been the base of the country's economics ever since.

The present canal is 48 miles (77 km) long and permits ships of up to 1050 ft (320 m) length, 115 ft (35 m) beam and 41 ft (12.5 m) draft to pass through in about 30 hours. By 2015, new locks will allow even larger vessels to pass.

In the photo below at left, notice the large shore-based 'locomotives' that position the ship centrally. If you wonder why the lines are not connected to the ships bow at the deck, it's because when the water rises they would be too high and require more line to be winched out, so slowing the operation. Ideally, the attachment is about ½ the water rise below or above the locomotive winches—depending on whether the lock is flooded or not. Clearly, this system does not apply to small boats that use hand lines. Many large ships have their own dedicated 'Panama winches' that are self-tensioning and do the same job.

A free translation of an exchange with Yvan reported by "Swiss News — 20 minutes" (dated: 9am Feb 25th) can be found here:  boatdesign.net/forums/multihulls/yvan-bougnons-circumnavigation-beach-cat-project

Yvan is still looking for sponsors to help cover expenses for the accompanying media boat. Seems his own expenses are in hand. Yvan has had to pick his way through a number of floating tree logs and this added more hazard than anticipated to his voyage.

Footnote: While this is by no means the first time an open beachcat has crossed the Atlantic, it is to my knowledge the first time a circumnavigation has been attempted, especially sailed solo!
For previous Atlantic crossings, check out the 'Atlantic' link below.


Putting the Round-the-Globe attempt of Yvan Bourgnon in perspective.  Dec 28th, 2013

If anyone thinks that 'sailing a beach cat across the Atlantic is not so difficult', I suggest they read these accounts—from a now discontinued Hobie Cat Magazine—of what the crew has to face in order to survive and get there … not even mentioning 'the sheer luck' of not being rolled over by the crest of the many huge waves they all must encounter.

Check this out: www.sail.ie/misc/cats_atlantic.htm—Tony Laurent and Daniel Prada

As 'mad and insane' as these attempts seemingly are, most of us will still admire these rare adventurers who are ready to gamble their lives to challenge the upper limits of their own physical and mental strength, as well as attempt to be 'the very first' at something. At least we can all learn something from this: eg: 'what does not work and why'.  Enjoy!

While waiting for the next update about Yvan's epic trip, why not check out the 100s of free articles and photos on this website? Check on this link HOME to find a complete Index. Why not bookmark this useful page for the future? Also check out recent videos of the W17R and visit the W17 Main Page, where you will find links to The Waters Edge with pages of photos and tips and a World Map of where the boats are building.
Enjoy! …and, a Happy New Year!

Disclaimer re: Source and Credits
Please note, that all the above information has been taken from many different French-text articles and I have no way of knowing if the information was reported with 100% accuracy. Also, as French is not my native language, there may be the occasional misunderstanding on my part. However, as I really felt this amazing story may go relatively under-reported in English, I am 'wading-in' to share my understanding of the events to date, through my website—even if it's not a trimaran ;‑) While most of the early pics can be credited to Groupe SMABTP (Camellia Menard), I am unable to identify all of them but trust that the original source will not take exception to me posting them to illustrate this special adventure. So, sincere thanks to all who recognize their handiwork.

Now…a personal comment   Dec 12th, 2013
I am certain that a fair number of people—even sailors—who read this account, will be muttering the words 'crazy!', 'insane!', 'nuts!', 'stupid!', 'ridiculous!' etc etc—but I hope they will consider this thought. We all have different degrees of what we consider 'crazy' and that can significantly change our viewpoint on things such as this. I am WAY more conservative than this Yvan fellow, but yet I've also been labelled 'crazy' by others even MORE conservative, just because I car‑raced for 12 years. Yet there are 100s of 1000s who car‑race regularly. Life is precious for sure but death is also guaranteed at some point. I am SURE that Yvan did not take this on with any added desire to die—only that he knew the increased risk would be there, yet wanted to take on the challenge of this life-long dream while he was still able. In my personal view, we NEED individuals like Yvan Bourgnon and others, to push the boundaries of what is possible. We can learn a lot from what they experience and many of our lives can benefit from those lessons. Not only nautical things about a boat, but also about ourselves, how we function, think and get to survive. For SURE, crossing the ocean in a small, light boat with all the wild conditions that one might expect to see, is NOT something that I'd be ready to personally undertake, but let's cut Yvan some slack and give a little admiration for this uncommonly tough and courageous individual, who clearly has very little in common with most of us, and therefore steps away from any right we may think we have, to criticize or cast negative opinions about. So, "Go Yvan Go — and if the Gods are with you, may you return in one piece so that we can sit back in our armchairs and drool over your amazing adventure and achievement".

Mike — Dec 2013

POSTSCRIPT – Jan 2016 (added Jan 2017)

After passing through the canal, Yvan arrived in the Galápagos Isles March 2, 2014 before setting out on his longest non-stop leg towards the Marquesas Islands. He arrived at Nuku Hiva on March 27 followed by landings in Tuamotu, Tahiti, Raiatea, Bora-Bora and Samoa. Accompanied not too far away by friends in a monocoque sloop, he passed via the Fiji Islands and Darwin, Australia, to finally arrive in Bali early July.

After leaving Bali July 12th, Yvan headed for the Maldives. On the 1st of August 2014, while approaching Sri Lanka in rough sea conditions, he was caught fatigued and asleep, and was unexpectedly shipwrecked on a rocky shore. Although he luckily escaped personal injury, his boat was completely destroyed and to make matters worse, he was accused of being a drug trafficker and imprisoned for 24 hours, while authorities checked out ‘his unlikely story’.

Forced to return to France, he had new hulls built and returned to reassemble his boat in Sri Lanka and was finally able to resume his incredible solo adventure 7 months later, March 22, 2015, but now without an escort boat.

He was soon to approach the main shipping routes, an area of much piracy off Somalia. Although concentrated in the Gulf of Aden, this extends far offshore, from the coasts of Oman out to the Seychelles. So from April 3, some 200 miles from Socotra, he starts a "stealth mode", requesting that his position be no longer communicated on the Internet because he needs to pass in an area where piracy is still common. With relief, he successfully reaches Djibouti and rests up from 15 to 22 April.

He was soon in the Red Sea, a stage he now considers the most totally grueling of his whole journey, due to strong, sometimes violent winds, with short steep seas, while navigating only by sextant through a forest of oil-platforms and numerous islands bristling with coral reefs; all in the middle of heavy cargo ship traffic that refused to observe any rules of priority. (About 25 times, ships ignored his VHF calls, visual calls or just seeing him, and constantly threatened Yvan with impending collisions. Much relieved, he finally arrived in Suez on May 7th and passed through the canal.

On May 13, 2015, he left Port Said, making a 3 day stop in Malta to fix some technical issues.

On June 8 he passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, and made another technical stop at Cascais, on the Portuguese coast. He left the next day and after a last stopover in Torquay on the UK coast of Devon, he finally completes his amazing solo around-the-world arriving in Ouistreham, near Caen on June 23rd, 2015, nearly 2 years after it began.

This amazing world tour is now the subject of a documentary series "The World of Yvan", written and directed by Pierre Guyot for Fox International Channels group (National Geographic Channel, National Geo Wild and the Travel Channel,) and consists of four 52-minute films: “Face aux éléments", "Retour aux sources", "Tous les dangers" et "Mare Nostrum". The documentary "Retour aux sources” (Back to Basics), also recounts the reunion in Raiatea of Yvan with his brother Laurent Bourgnon, a film that unveils the last interviews and images filmed, before Laurent’s untimely death from a diving accident in Tuamotu, June 2015.

Félicitations Yvan !  Vous avez défié à la fois, les chances et les sceptiques, et nous a donné tous, les espoirs renouvelés pour nos rêves personnels.  Nous te remercions !

[Congratulations Yvan !  You have defied both the odds and the sceptics, and given us all, renewed hopes for our personal dreams.  We thank you !]

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