When Philippe Jamotte slipped out of San Francisco Bay on Thursday, October 1, he was hoping for a quick 200-day singlehanded lap around the planet. He got off to a quick start, with seven or eight 200+-mile days, before closing in on the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone — otherwise known as ‘the doldrums’) and a series of mishaps that suddenly reversed his fortunes.
Squalls, broaches, lost spinnakers and sheets, plus a tangled spinnaker sock, all combined to slow his progress while reducing his sail inventory. In the midst of these losses the hydraulic autopilot required repairs, adding further concerns. Finally, a mysterious crack appeared in the boom — a crack that looked very challenging to repair.
After all that, on October 16 Philippe decided it was probably smart to turn for home. He wrote in his blog, “Tallying up the losses and damages incurred so far, in particular the uncertainties around the boom, which would lead me to downsize the mainsail, this boat’s main sail engine, I’ve decided it would be better, safer and hopefully more constructive, to turn around, go home. I’m pointing the bow a little East of Hawaii. If weather permits I’ll bend the course for San Francisco in a week or so.”
While on his solo voyage, Philippe sailed with his ‘friends’ — anthropomorphized sails like his big asymmetrical spinnaker, appropriately named ‘Big.’
Philippe described his relationship with ‘Big’ thusly: “‘Big’, you were always quiet, lying low in your bag in the forepeak. You barely had any scar from your previous battles on the French racing circuit. In fact, you are a hand me down from Class40 #115. We struggled to get to know each other. I didn’t know how to handle you. But Sylvain [Sylvain Barrielle, UK Sailmakers San Francisco] made a few adjustments to your sock, certainly not an ATN sock, and then you were ready, looking fit for a trip to nowhere. Your sock! She had trouble, and was the cause of your demise. That and of course bad luck, and a novice skipper. For that I’m sorry; it didn’t have to come to this. But while we sailed together down to the doldrums, you gave me my best moments of sailing. Such a beauty it was to see you pull Changabang away from land and into the vast Pacific Ocean. Such pleasure it was to steer Changabang under your power. You sent us clear of Marie [a threatening Eastern Pacific hurricane]. And now you rest in tatters. May your efforts not have been in vain. I’ll miss you. And the lost spinnaker sheet. At least I didn’t let you out to soil the sea. Although tempted to cut you off as you were desperately trying to hug on to CaB (Changabang), being torn apart by the weight of water, I mustered all I had to get you back aboard, as I would have for my best friend. You belonged to the air element. Not water. You were great. You were “Big”. And now I mourn your retirement.”
For now Philippe and Changabang have things back under control. The boat is headed north, slowly escaping the grip of the doldrums. From there, Philippe hopes to continue north past Hawaii before looping east toward San Francisco.
We imagine Philippe’s quick ride out is going to make the slow, injured return home that much more difficult. However, his resourceful, questing nature assures us that this is just another chapter in a life full of future adventures at sea.