The world was a very different place 50 years ago, when three Frenchmen built a boat called Beligou and spent two years sailing her around the world
Yachting Monthly was recently contacted to let us know about a new book, written in French and downloadable for free, recounting a circumnavigation in 1966-68.
Guy Quiesse, the author, Claude Quiesse, the photographer and painter, and Jean-Claude Bazoin met on military service. On their return to France, they resolved to sail around the world. Finding nothing suitable on the market (GRP boatbuilding was in its infancy) they commissioned the build of a 35ft iroko-on-oak, double-ended, cutter-rigged sloop, and called her Beligou.
They used a sextant for navigation, forecasts were received in Morse and decoded as the boat had no VHF, and their instruments consisted of a watch, a compass and a barometer. Their fridge was an earthenware pot kept in the bilge. They did most of their cooking on a Primus stove but kept a bottle of butane, which they used in heavy weather when they didn’t fancy risking the Primus fireball.
After test sailing her around the Channel, they set off into a world changing even then, and now long-gone.
For example when they reached the Galapagos, they were invited to stock up on meat by shooting goats. UNESCO had decided that rogue herds were destroying the islands’ flora and fauna and encouraged their culling. Guy recalls:
‘Our expedition almost stopped there. I was ashore with Claude when there was a deafening ‘CRACK’ from the boat. Jean-Claude tore up the companionway and threw something steaming into the water. It turned out that his thumb accidentally caught the trigger of his loaded Winchester. The shot pierced the 3cm-thick Iroko cupboard, went right through the gas bottle inside, then out the other side of the cupboard, before hitting the planking leaving a slight dent. Liquid gas flowed into the bilge and vaporised in a cloud made very dangerous because our friend was smoking his beloved pipe – indeed it was burning ash from the pipe that caused the accident!’
They completed their circumnavigation and the real happy ending is that the boat is still sailing today, little changed, on France’s Atlantic coast.
There’s no explanation of why it’s taken 50 years to share these memories but the result is a book that French speakers will find amusing (Guy writes well) and that gives the rest of us glimpses into the past. There is also the Livre d’Or, a sort of visitors’ book kept during the 32,640-mile voyage, which includes messages from. among others, Beryl Smeeton and Sir DA Murphy, governor of St Helena.