Ocean racer and family bound for France
Bristol’s Mouligne “Flamili” of four — and two cousins — cast off from the Bristol Yacht Club dock Saturday noon to cheers and cannon fire bound for points far to the east.
Their course took them down the bay — a reach would be nice to save precious fuel (but the breeze naturally swung to the south, right at them, just before departure) — then a left turn off Newport.
“We’ll leave Nantucket to port, go just south of the Grand Banks and head east from there,” said skipper Jean-Pierre (JP) Mouligne. In about two weeks, if they can average 150 miles a day on the 2,000-mile leg, they’ll arrive in the port of Horta on Faial in the Azores. Then it’s on another 1,200 miles east-northeast to Arzal in Brittany, France.
For Mr. Mouligne, this will be his seventh Atlantic crossing — just done more slowly than the world-renowned ocean racer is accustomed to.
For the other five, this will be a first.
On board will be JP’s wife Kate, their children Zoe, 12, and Antoine who will turn 14 on July 20 (the birthday party should take place somewhere between the Azores and France), and French cousins Laetitia, 25, and Alexis, 28.
It was Zoe who named this boat (and predecessors) Flamili. When the family was looking for boat names, Zoe, then six, suggested Family — it came out “‘Flamili’ with that twang that came from missing teeth,” said Ms. Mouligne.
Although all six have done lots of sailing, the open Atlantic is challenge viewed with what Mr. Mouligne says is mix of excitement and trepidation.
Zoe, the youngest, “is naturally the most worried. She made me pinky swear” that all would go well. Helping calm nerves have been fun events in the days leading up to departure including a sleepover on board Flamili for Zoe and friends last week. Some of those friends sent her off with hugs Saturday.
Ms. Mouligne, a commercial photographer, has considerable sailing experience, including a four-day open ocean stint off Europe with JP on the 50-foot racing boat Cray Valley, but an Atlantic crossing — with children — will be a first that she’s viewing with some “apprehension.”
The cousins have sailed the coast of Europe and the Mediterranean on their family’s boat — “They are good sailors who will be a great help.”
Mr. Mouligne, however, has crossed this and other oceans often — and fast. At age 41 aboard the 50-foot Cray Valley, he won Class II of the Around Alone single-handed race — 27,000 miles in 132 days, 5 hours. He’s won trans-Atlantic races, including a solo race in 1992, and set a two-day Newport-to-Bermuda record in 1996.
His last crossing was a double-handed sail from France to Halifax in 2007 and he said he’s retired from ocean racing now.
“I’m 58 years old and have done a lot of it but you have to know when to stop,” he said.
The boat they’re sailing to France, a Jeanneau 45, is the seventh in a series of their search for ‘the perfect boat. It’s strong, seaworthy, well equipped and, while no Cray Valley, fast enough for a cruiser.
“And it’s reasonably comfortable, although ‘comfort’ at sea is a relative term,” Mr. Mouligne said. He’s spent months preparing it — “I think we’re about ready,” he said Friday, the day before departure, as he drove to Connecticut for a business meeting. He’s North American senior account manager for composites supplier Gurit whose US headquarters is on Broad Common Road in Bristol (in the former Goetz shop). “It’s been kind of hectic these last days (but) the company has been very supportive.”
The routine on board should settle into a well-planned series of watches — three teams of two people “three hours on, six hours off.” The teams will be JP and Zoe, Kate and Antoine, and Laetitia and Alexis. “And if anything at all comes up, they know to wake me.”
Experiencing the open ocean with his family is something that Mr. Mouligne said he has long dreamed of doing.
“I’ve looked forward to sharing the beauty of the open ocean with my family,” he said. He said he hopes they feel the same “sense of awe out there that I do … wild and serene at the same time, a place where humans don’t really belong … a sense of power but lovely too — dolphins, flying fish. A very special environment. You get a real sense for how small you are.”
Although nothing is certain at sea, the timing (before peak hurricane season) is favorable and the route should take them below northern ocean storms through an area known for southwest and west winds. It would be really nice, he added, if their last leg through the Bay of Biscay, a place he has taken a beating before, is smooth. “Odds for that are better in summer than in November.
And he hopes that “taking watches together, sharing the work and the fun times, will help teach us all about working together, teamwork.”
The Azores stop was planned because “I’ve sailed by there several times but always racing or in a hurry.” He’s heard too much about the beauty of the place “and the good food” to miss this opportunity.
Arzal, a small port at the mouth of a river, has been recommended to him for its beauty and its well-protected harbor — a safe place to leave Flamili when the Moulignes fly back home to Bristol on August 3. The plan is to put Flamili up for sale in France where there is a healthy market for Jeanneau boats. Whatever happens, he’s sure they won’t be boat-less for long.
“It will be an adventure. for us. We’ll come home without our boat but I think with lots of stories to tell.”