Up, close and personal with Loick Peyron

T-Mag Wednesday 16/March/2016 21:51 PM
By: Times News Service
Up, close and personal with Loick Peyron

I reached the pitch dark Al Mouj parking lot at around 8:30pm. From there, I found my way to the tent village that had been erected for the sailors, crew members, media, and organisers from across the globe who had gathered in Seeb for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World series. As I drew closer to the brightly lit tents, I saw it was busy with well-built, macho men running around with tool kits and screwdrivers. I couldn’t stop myself from blushing when one of the young men would pass a smile or a warm greeting while doing their strenuous tasks.

Inside one of the massive tents, I found a boat with Artemis written along its side. I began to look around when I heard a voice coming from somewhere above me.

“Times of Oman?” he asked. I looked up at the guys perched on the boat, trying to carefully dismantle it and I nodded my head. Described by his fellow sailors as someone who’d seen it all and done it all, I’d come to find 56-year-old French sailor, Loick Peyron. He was set to leave the next day for the next leg of the competition in Bermuda, so I’d hurried down to The Wave to try to get to know the man behind the lore before he left.

A middle-aged man wearing a smart white shirt and big wide smile began striding towards me and I knew I’d found the one I’d come here to see.

Loick Peyron’s father was the captain of a super tanker, his brother a well known sailor, famous for being the first to beat Jules Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days hypothetical limit, rounding it in just 79. However, inspite of his family background, things weren’t exactly hunkey dorey for him when he first took to the sea.

At 18, Loick was a man with a dream — a dream of conquering the world in his boat. His parents wanted him to finish school first and then head out on his sailing ventures but Loick was determined that he wanted to do it right then, in the summer of 1979. A rebellious teenager, he stormed out on his own, and as a result, he found himself without food or money, living on a small boat.

It was under such circumstances that Loick Peyron set sail on his first trans-atlantic crossing in 1979, all by himself. He faced a lot of challenges on that journey.

Since there were no GPS tracking systems at that time, he had to rely on a sextant, which is an old, primitive navigation instrument that requires a lot of calculations. It was also important to know the precise time, especially when you’re on a long, difficult adventure alone. But the tiny wrist watch he was wearing was damaged, so there were times when he had no idea where he was or what time of the day it was.

Before finishing the first lap of the race, he dozed off and woke up to find himself lodged onto what looked like a huge rock, but was in fact the foot of a mountain. Thankfully, the boat hadn’t sunk and he was able to push it back to sea. He finished last on that lap, but by the final round, he finished 5th, an achievement he was proud of for his maiden voyage.

He faced many dangers over his hundreds of maritime journeys, his eyes gleamed as he described his exploits. “When you’re in the south of the Pacific, you just know that you’re far from everything. The temperature is zero degrees, it snows on the boat so it’s super wet, and there are huge icebergs of sizes you’ve never seen before and you still need to keep going.

The feeling is... impressive. The scariest are the icebergs that have melted and can’t be seen from a distance, you go bang into them and your boat sinks and that’s about it. So when I was doing my 1st round the world trip, which took me 110 days, I had come across all kinds of icebergs and obstacles. But the funny part is, it was almost a- month-and-a-half later that the graveness of the situation struck me and I started visualising myself hanging onto a knife stabbed into the side of an iceberg in the middle of the pacific all alone. I’ve realised that it is important to be scared when you’re sailing. It keeps you alert and makes you react immediately so can do something to save your life.”

Since his early voyages, he has learned to avoid many of the self-inflicted hardships he encountered in the beginning, going on to complete four around-the-world trips, ten off-shore races, three America’s Cup World Series, and 49 Atlantic crossings. This May, he will set off on his 50th Trans-Atlantic crossing.

Perhaps because he has spent so much time on the sea, his personal characteristics are a lot like the vast blue ocean — unpredictable and dynamic, so his 50th Atlantic crossing isn’t going to be a typical crossing. Loick won’t be racing, instead he will cross the Atlantic for the 50th time on the same boat that won the race in 1964 as a tribute to the forefathers of sailing.

A firm believer in the philosophy of ‘respecting the past to embrace the future,’ the 52-year-old wooden boat will also have 52-year-old technology with no GPS trackers or any kind of electronics or fancy navigation devices. He is chasing the feeling of sailing as it was in the 1960s as authentically and honestly as he can. He is also certain that he will finish last in the race.

“I think I need to give the young chaps a chance,” he laughed. “Sailing is the best school of life. More than anything else it instils strong values of respect, humility, hardwork, and team spirit.”

I looked around the tent at the men unwinding screws, disassembling pieces, and dismantling the boats. They weren’t hired helpers, but they were the sailors who had been competing only days earlier, all working together to bring the pieces down so their vessels could be shipped to their next racing destination.

I couldn’t help but feel proud. These were the values Loick was talking about. Maybe these rugged, self sufficient ways are the reason he has been able to survive so many life-threatening situations, emerging as a champion time and time again, and, inspite of spending so much of his life on the sea, never getting fed up of his challenges. Every journey, race, and adventure fuels the next, leaving him high on the adrenaline rush and giving him
a sense of purpose.

I looked at the wild, free expression on Loick’s face as he continued to recount stories of daring and danger on the open sea and I let myself get lost in his tales. I knew that soon he would bid adieu to Oman, setting out for yet another sail, for yet another beginning.
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