The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 24 -

Four Winds and a Bachelor

       When you get near the Strait of Magellan,
       you will find that the test of human endurance
       has been sufficient, and you will stow your
       chart of the cape. Let me give you my charts of
       the strait, which will then come in useful.(1)

France, in a first-floor home workshop, about twenty yards from a
bridge over the Marne at Nogent-sur-Marne, a young man laboriously
worked with hand tools, cutting and forming ribs for a boat with lum-
ber scrounged from dumps, and assembling them into frames on
paper patterns. The boat was a nine-meter sloop, designed by the well-
known naval architect Henri Dervin for coastwise cruising and rac-
ing, but radically modified by this young man whose name was
Marcel Bardiaux.(2)
  It was not a time for yacht building or perhaps it was. Anything
to keep one's mind off the war and the morale uplooking. At the
time, England still reeled from the air assault. The Americans were
bogged down in the Pacific, slowly beginning the island-hopping
comeback toward Japan. Vito Dumas was home again after his
strange circumnavigation in the Roaring Forties. During the next
three years, the world would descend into the desperate abysses of
total war. There would be no personal freedom, and in much of the
world, not even hope.
  The young man, Marcel Bardiaux, however, had other plans. A

     ~ 224 ~ 

seaman, discharged by the navy after the fall of France, he yearned
for the freedom of the oceans, like Gerbault some twenty years
before. The dream ship taking shape on the floor of the workshop
was, indeed, similar in lines to Firecrest, Gerbault's Dixon Kemp
racer; and, like Gerbault, Bardiaux had been a national champion in
a popular sport. He had everything but money. Living in occupied
France was an extreme hardship for him and his mother, who was a
war widow from World War I.
  Life had always been hard for Madame Bardiaux. During the
1920s, even with her small widow's pension, she had been forced to
work to raise her son, Marcel, an only child with delicate health (and
to tell the truth, somewhat overprotected from life). When Marcel
was only eleven, in spite of his fragile physique, he went to work to
help support the family. Frugality is a French national trait, and out
of his small earnings he managed to save enough to build his first
boat. At fourteen, he left home and went to Le Havre to find a ship
to sail on, but instead the police found him and returned him to his
  Next, Marcel turned to the outdoors camping, canoeing, fishing.
He designed a lightweight tent for hiking, and a kayak that was so
successful that soon he was selling all he could produce. He became a
founding member of the Kayak Club of France, a restless group of
youths who spent long weekends on the Marne. During this period,
he had his first real adventures. He paddled down the Danube to the
Black Sea and Istanbul. He crossed the Aegean, went on to Mar-
seilles, and returned to Paris via the inland canals. By the time he was
nineteen, Marcel was the canoe and kayak champion of France.
  He also took up skiing, motorcycle and car racing, and studied river
navigation. He entered the navy as the war clouds gathered in the
halcyon 1930s. Instead of a delicate child, he had grown into a wiry,
robust, rugged young man, with a collection of many skills, and a
keen mind sharpened by competition. The delicate wings of the child
had grown tough and powerful.
  Out of the service after the Occupation, there was little to look
forward to but long years of war. In a bookshop one day, he came
across the plans for Henri Dervin's little sloop in a yachting publi-
  She was a Bermudian, 30 feet overall, without bowsprit, with a
beam of 8 feet 10 inches and a displacement of 4 tons. Not designed
for ocean travel, yet her lines showed a good seaworthy model. With
his experience with small craft, he set to work with wrapping paper

    ~ 225 ~

and pencil and soon modified the hull to suit his needs. He knew
from reading Le Yacht, and the books of Slocum, Pidgeon, Gerbault,
and O'Brien, what was required. He made almost a clean sweep of
the deck, leaving only a small trunk cabin which he faired in like an
airplane wing. This still gave him 5 feet 8 inches of headroom and yet
gave the boat a configuration similar to a submarine.
  He had already named her: Les Quarte Vents ("The Four
Winds"). And she would become the smallest yacht yet to circum-
navigate. Qui sait??
  But first she must be launched; and before that she must be
built in wartime occupied France.
  He began collecting materials, including 1,274 kgs. of scrap lead,
old battery plates, with which he built the keel himself in his shop,
melting down each batch and casting the last of it during a midnight
air raid. By 1945, when the Germans were retreating, he had the
frames and other parts ready to set up. Then the Germans blew up
the bridge only 20 yards from his shop, and nearly ended everything.
He salvaged the parts and found a shed in a safer location. Finally, at
12:30 naval time, July 29, 1949, the war over, with the help of
friends he hauled Les Quarte Vents through the cobbled streets of
Perreux on two truck axles and launched her.
  The next months were spent outfitting his dream ship, and writing
articles for Le Yacht. His project received wide publicity, and, in
some cases, newspaper stories not to his liking. Then on Sunday
morning, January 1, 1950, the time had come. With typical Bardiaux
zest and flare for center stage, the erstwhile circumnavigator wel-
comed at first the flotilla of kayaks and motor launches on the Seine,
the banks crowded with spectators, the newspaper and television
cameras. It was a jolly crowd that became more boisterous, until it
turned into a jeering mob as he tried to start his tiny gasoline engine.
But one figure in the crowd everyone recognized and respected. It
was Marin-Marie, the famous painter and bluewater sailor.
  Marin-Marie called down to Bardiaux, "Let them chatter, my lad;
it's the only thing they know how to do."
  It was now past time to go. Behind him was the send-off party of
the Touring Club of France, and that of the Federation of Ex-Sailors
of the Merchant Marine and Navy. But it had been one of those
days. On his way to the quay that morning, he had been arrested for
speeding. Now the pesky engine would not start. In anger, he threw
down the crank and took up a sculling oar.
   ~ 226 ~

  "Bravo!" came a voice from the audience. "But if you are planning
to go around the world like that, you will have sore wrists!"
  Out of sight of the crowd, he accepted a tow, and after many false
starts, encumbered by friends and well-wishers and a female com-
panion or two, he made it to the coast. Because it was cold that
winter and Bardiaux had little heat aboard, his linen got moldy, the
photographic equipment sprouted fungus, and everything was
covered with beads of condensation. In the middle of January, at
Tancarville, he tied up to complete the outfitting. A trial run was
made with friends on January 22. They were caught by a falling tide
and grounded for seven hours. On February 3, he reloaded and
headed for the customs office, which was closed for the weekend. He
had to wait until Monday to get his seaworthiness inspection, before
he could get his papers.(3)
  When he was finally cleared, a raging gale swept over the region,
accompanied by neap tides. Not until February 14 did he get away,
departing in a nasty sea then going aground near the lighthouse.
Later, at Ouistreham, he was welcomed by the local canoeing society.
Additional repairs were made.
  Not until late June did he reach the pleasant little port of La
Rochelle, as he made it a practice to stop and visit at every opportu-
nity and to enjoy the hospitality of yacht clubs. He learned that the
fabled lone navigator, Commander Louis Bernicot, was here on
Anahita, Marcel sought him out and was welcomed aboard the
veteran cutter. The two talked for hours, and Marcel got Bernicot's
autograph on his copy of the navigator's book, The Cruise of the
  Before they parted, Bernicot told him, "I will sail as long as I can
climb the masthead."
  The words were prophetic. Sometime later, Commander Bernicot
was killed in a fall from the mast.
  From La Rochelle, Bardiaux sailed to Arcachon for more repairs
and alterations, then on Saturday, October 21, at 0600, he said good-
bye for the last time and sailed from France for Vigo, Spain, in what
was probably the longest good-bye in maritime history.
  He arrived at the popular yachting stop in Portugal on November
7. It was December before he could extract himself from the festiv-
ities and formalities. Les Quarte Vents took a beating on the crossing
to Casablanca, but there Marcel found the port full of vagabond
yachtsmen waiting for weather to follow their whims. He enjoyed

  ~ 227 ~

himself among other sea wanderers, such as Edward Allcard, and
managed to wreck a friend's car and suffer a twisted knee that re-
quired a doctor and a month's bedrest.
  On March 24, Bardiaux planned to leave but inspection showed
the hull copper corroded from the harbor pollution. He was delayed
until May 11. He had been tempted to take aboard the beautiful
stowaway from Allcard's yacht, but "saw a dangerous reef ahead." He
later wrote: "This act of courage (in resisting temptation) was not
accomplished without lingering regrets."
  He arrived at Las Palmas on June 6, 1951, to spend some time in
languid loafing amid the harbor thieves and pollution. He stocked up
on fresh fruits and vegetables, enjoyed some local female companion-
ship, and, on June 18, cleared for Dakar.
  Les Quarte Vents had already proved to be a wet boat. Most of his
equipment became encrusted with mildew or rusty. At Dakar, he was
warmly greeted by the navy club, his coming announced in advance
by his articles in Le Yacht. The time passed. He beached the boat for
repairs. He cut his foot and got infection from jiggers that burrowed
into his flesh. He injured his jaw, got an infection in his left hand. Air
France pilots advised him to wait for a better season.
  Because he always carried a kayak on deck, local canoe enthusiasts
sought him out. Dakar was no exception. He made many friends,
stayed in private homes, and made side trips into the country. A local
navy officer taught him navigation and the use of the sextant and
tables. He refitted with nylon rigging. Then, on September 23, 1951,
he weighed anchor and set out for South America.
  It was a boisterous passage, for twenty-eight days it was like living
inside a cement mixer. Finally reaching Rio, he was made a guest
member of the Rio Yacht Club and entered upon a long, exhausting
round of social activity. The French warship Jeanne d'Arc was also in
port, but he found himself snubbed by the officer corps aboard,
although the local consular community had adopted him. His plans
for leaving were nearly upset by a girl named Leni, and by running
out of funds that sent him back to the typewriter for Le Yacht.
  During this period, he found among his mail a haughty letter from
the French consul informing him that his reserve unit had trans-
ferred him from the navy to the army.
  Je n'y comprends rien. The French, he thought, have a genius for
utilizing skills. Having been conscripted into the navy, he had worn
out many broomsticks on the flagstones of the fleet depot at Brest.
Then, having earned an A.B., he was given a telephone switchboard

  ~ 228 ~

to man during the war, on a lookout post. After all this training,
when he had finally learned navigation, now he was to be transferred
to the infantry.(5)
  So now the new private of infantry put to sea, bound south, with a
send-off flotilla of yachts from the club. He stopped at Ilha Grande,
the Brazilian "Polynesia," and managed to injure his arm again.
Further down the coast, he stopped at the outstation of the Yacht
Club de Guaruia, amid a cloud of mosquitoes. He visited Sao Paulo,
"the only city in Brazil where people work." Here he found Ameri-
cans owned much of the business, but French, Italian, and German
firms were not far behind. They were producing chemicals, coffee,
and pharmaceuticals, for Brazil and all South America took pills for
every possible ailment and change of the weather.(6)
  After sampling the wine and women of Sao Paulo, he sailed on to
Buenos Aires. He had now become a celebrity in South America, and
at each stop it became more difficult to leave. But on March 8, 1952,
he sailed from the Argentine Yacht Club moorage, stopping at Mar
del Plata to careen, and spent two happy weeks at the naval base at
Puerto Belgranco, where he had access to the shops and marine ways.
Most Argentine towns have cultural centers called Alliance Francaise
for teaching French. He was always welcomed at these centers.
  Getting away again, Bardiaux gave wide berth to the Gulf of St.
George. Soon he began to encounter the mirages of which Slocum
had written. He stopped in at Puerto Deseado, and was welcomed by
people who had expected him. An Argentine training ship was in
port along with French wool buyers.
  On April 23, he headed south, called at San Julian where Magellan
had wintered, and found a friendly family ashore to visit. He spent
weeks on this coast, visiting out-of-the-way ranches owned by En-
glishmen, Americans, French, and Argentines. He made side trips to
immense sheep ranches and magnificent villas in the outback.
  The austral winter was approaching. On May 7, Bardiaux was close
to San Diego Cape, the southeast corner of Tierra del Fuego. The
weather was terrible, the currents running nine knots, the barometer
falling. He recalled that the Bounty had not been able to get around
the Horn at this time of year, and was forced to go east-about. He
went into Thetis Bay for shelter, but the violent currents and swells
broke his anchor chain. A swirling snowstorm struck, and he suffered
a sixty-hour sleepless vigil. Finally, he got through the channel with
the keel touching occasionally. In calm water, he sept soundly for
ten hours.

  ~ 229 ~

   Cape Horn was less than 100 miles away. He rounded Cape San
 Diego in weather so frigid that he had to dip his sails frequently to
 unfreeze them. There was a heavy current and frequent breakers. He
 could not heave-to or put out a sea anchor. Then, suddenly, cooped
 up in the cabin trying to hang on, he felt the boat begin to turn over.
 He leaped out of the cabin and was almost taken overboard. Finally,
 Les Quarte Vents recovered, and sluggishly returned upright. The
 bottom was filled with water, the deck swept clean, the bilge filled
 with broken glass, and the cabin filled with the odor of carbon tetra-
 chloride from the fire extinguisher. He got everything secured at last,
changed into dry clothing, and lay down for a rest.  
   On Sunday, May 11, 1952, he was off again. Soon he sighted
 Deceit Island and let down twenty-five fathoms of anchor chain to
 reach bottom. He spent two nights here but did not rest. Many times
 he told himself, "If I get away with it this time, I will never set foot
 in a boat again."
   He wanted to pass Cape Horn in daylight so he could take photos.
 The swell was enormous. There was drifting ice about him. At 0600,
 on May 12, four hours after leaving Deceit Island, he figured he was
 five miles off Horn Island. At 1230, the sky opened for a few minutes
 and the pyramid of Cape Horn was abeam. There was no chance of
 landing there, but he saw St. Martin's Cove on Hermit Island,
 twelve miles to the west. He made it and anchored in thirty fathoms,
 with waves breaking and violent williwaws lashing at him.
   Anyway, he had conquered Cape Horn. Tenez bon!
   The Argentine navy was expecting him at their base at Ushuaia, so
 he set off again and worked his way through the strait between
 Lennox and Navrin islands and into Beagle Channel. He stopped
 briefly at the little cosmopolitan settlement of Port Haberton, popu-
 lated by Yugoslavians and Portuguese. This was the route of Al
 Hansen, who had been first to round the Horn from east to west.7
   On May 16, breaking ice off the sloop with a hammer, he left for
 Ushuaia where he was given the V.I.P. treatment with a suite of his
 own at the base. Through June, he worked his way among the
 Patagonian channels, not seeing another person for two months. He
 passed the Milky Way of Slocum's experience, and then went north-
 ward to Chiloe where Al Hansen had disappeared. In Chilean waters,
 he was adopted by the navy and air force. He took many photos and
 wrote many articles. Often encountering wretched specimens in
 native camps, he would give them food in return for pelts, until his

   ~ 230 ~

 vessel began to look like a Hudson's Bay trading post. He was wel-
 come, of course, wherever he called.
   At Valdivia, where Robinson had lingered with Varua, he was
 hosted by the Yacht Club and the Aero Club. He thought the city
 looked much like Rouen, which was known as the Sink of Nor-
 mandy. The roads were impassable for nine months of the year. Some
 French ranchers sent a private plane to pick him up for a visit at their
 estate. Leaving, he partied his way up the coast to Valparaiso, whose
 harbor he found even more polluted than Casablanca. He stayed at
 the naval base in Quintero for six months, living at the officers' mess
 and using the facilities to refit. An airplane and a car were placed at
 his disposal, and he was taken to Santiago to see a specialist about his
 partially paralyzed leg.
   On Saturday, April 4, he departed Coquimbo for Tahiti via the
 Marquesas, 4,880 miles away, which kept him at sea for 43 days.
 Arriving finally at Papeete, he received his worst reception of the
 entire voyage from a countryman, a pompous harbormaster, who did
 not regard Bardiaux as a conquering hero, but only another penniless
   From Tahiti, his voyage took him to Bora Bora, New Caledonia,
 New Guinea, New Zealand, and to Indonesia, during the monsoons
 with experiences among pirates; to Bali, and then to Keeling-Cocos,
 Reunion, Mauritius, and to Durban for a long visit with the other
 well-known French voyagers in port, to Cape Town; across the Atlan-
 tic again to the West Indies, up to Bermuda and New York, and
 then finally home to France.
   He had exceeded Gerbault's long voyage, having made 543 land-
 falls in eight years, and by his own count, attended 5,000 patties. He
 had kept his word not to return to Paris until he had circumnavigated
 the world.
   But it was good to be home again. C'est bon!

    ~ 231 ~

 - end Chapter 24 -

To Chapter 25.

======================================================================= AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Twenty-four 1. Advice given to Marcel Bardiaux on navigating the Patagonian channels. From 4 Winds of Adventure by Marcel Bardiaux (London: Adlard Coles, Ltd., 1961 ) . Originally published by Flammarion, 1958. 2. Henri Dervin also designed Le Toumelin's Kurun. The completed vessel was 30 feet 8 inches overall, with a beam of 8 feet 10 inches, a draft of 5 feet 9 inches, a displacement of 4 tons. The Marconi rig normally set 435 square feet of canvas. A spanker was fitted at Buenos Aires, much in the same manner that Slocum added a jigger before attempting the Horn. 3. Such bureaucratic red tape has finally reached the United States. Current proposals will give the Coast Guard unlimited power to prevent a yacht from leaving port if, in the opinion of an officer, the vessel is "unsound." 4. This book was even then out of print. Not even Bemicot had a copy of it. The inscription Bemicot wrote on the flyleaf was: "To M. Bardiaux in expression of my fellow-feeling with most sincere good wishes for the success which he deserves. I have no doubt he will make one of our best sailors. La Rochelle, 26.6.50, L. Bernicot." 5. Such bureaucratic logic can be found in the military of every country in the world. 6. A Brazilian buddy in my navy outfit during World War II never went anywhere without his bag of pills, which included a hypodermic needle for frequent self-inflicted shots. 7. Among others who explored the Patagonian channels in the same period were the Griffiths on Awahnee, Dr. David Lewis, Edward Allcard, and Major Tilman.

To Chapter 25.

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