A few years ago, Catherine and Bruno completed an Atlantic circuit aboard their Allures 45 Vatratraza II with their four children. A family project, an “ocean eclipse” as they like to call it. A dream which came true for all of them, in which everyone found their place and from which they have each brought a thousand riches.

 

Bruno, what were the origins of your sailing project?

Catherine and I had always told our children that one day we would go on a family adventure – a year’s journey around the Atlantic. So, even though there were a few obstacles to overcome, it came as no surprise to them when we made the decision to realize what was a completely shared dream. We made Bernard Moitessier’s motto our own: “Everything that people have done well and beautifully, they have built with their dreams.”

So you took the whole family with you on Varatraza?

Varatraza is the name of the trade wind in the Indian Ocean, where William (14 years old when we set off) and France (12), our two eldest children, were born. With their two little sisters, Romane (9) and Paloma (6), there were six of us aboard our Allures 45.

Four children, three cabins, two per cabin?

No, we thought that William sharing a cabin with and one of his three sisters was a bit too “risky” (laughs)! So he had his own cabin, the parents had theirs of course, and the three sisters shared the forward cabin, which had been specially fitted out for this purpose by Allures. That was the price of peace on board.

But everything went well…

This story, our story, went perfectly in fact, even if leaving our parents (the kid’s grandparents, obviously) the family in the broadest sense, friends, businesses was a difficult time for everyone. But what we’ve experienced over the past twelve months has been so rich. We very quickly met other families while we were sailing, and the children made “boat buddies” even more quickly, as they say, that they would find from one stopover to another, even in the middle of the Atlantic like our friends from Tiplouf! And the timing was ideal: it was William’s last year in secondary school, and Paloma had just learned to swim.

What are the highlights of the year for the children?

The Transat itself, between Cape Verde and Martinique, is certainly a memorable experience for them. They had never spent fifteen consecutive days at sea. It remains in their memory as an extraordinary journey, even if from time to time they got a bit bored, for example when we tore the gennaker in a squall between Cape Verde and the French West Indies. It was an extraordinary adventure, a crossing that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives, an unforgettable time, etched in our memories… 

The people they met were also important. While before we set off, they were afraid of being alone, but they made lots of friends their own ages, and the atmosphere at the stopovers was sometimes epic. I think it has been a wonderful window on the world for them. When they came home and told us they found it strange that everyone spoke French, it was an extraordinary gift! And our little girl, Paloma, who at 6 years old, went horse riding in Cuba, what an amazing opportunity! Finally, the stopover in New York, where William celebrated his 15th birthday, was an exceptional moment, and seeing the Statue of Liberty was really emotional.

How did the home-schooling go?

We followed the French CNED system, and keeping up with our children’s schooling went smoothly. Generally, they worked every morning and were quite self-sufficient, the older ones helping the younger ones, all we had to do was check the tests they’d done! It worked very well and their standards are excellent. Moreover, everything they have learned on a daily basis, whether on passage, in the countries we visited, or from the people they met is even more invaluable.

And which country surprised you the most?

It’s hard to say. Senegal was a shock, that’s for sure. But perhaps the most surprising thing was Cuba. We’d been dreaming about it, we talked about it, about this somewhat mythical stopover. So when we arrived there, after three days at sea from the Dominican Republic, not before hiding the satellite phone so that it would not have to be handed in, and after a multitude of entry formalities, a sweet feeling of accomplishment came over us. Yet once ashore, we were truly amazed. It’s as if the country has remained frozen in the 1950s… People travel by bike, or horse and cart. The houses are very simple, often made of wood, the little old people are on the side of the road, sitting in their rocking chair and watching people pass by rather than watching television. Everyone sells a small selection of produce from their garden on the side of the road…. The hyper-consumer society has not yet reached here yet… and how relaxing that is! Cuba has literally seduced us, enchanted us, bewitched us….

You also undertook a project with Voiles Sans Frontières…

What a thing to have done, yes! Voiles sans Frontières (sailing without borders) is a French NGO that associates the maritime world with solidarity projects in order to help isolated populations that can only be reached by sea and river. This was a mission that we had prepared before our departure, in particular by raising funds, and it was very important to us that the children got involved and that we reached our planned destination, the village of Siwo in the Sine Saloum in Senegal. The up-river journey was epic with several groundings on sandbanks, and William in the dinghy to get us out, but we finally got there. And what a memorable welcome! A real discovery, a clash of cultures in conditions that are sometimes harsh for us Westerners. We were both delighted to see that the VSF projects were making a real improvement, especially in schools, but also frightened of everything that remains to be done. We still have a thousand smiles left, tons of kindness and so many questions about what more we could do…

But the end of the trip did not go exactly as planned…

No, I don’t think so. Even though we had put the boat up for sale, we also planned to make the return passage to Europe without the children, who returned to France by air. And then a Franco-American couple from Washington showed an interest in buying Varatraza. The contact was excellent, the mutual trust allowed us to overcome the few administrative pitfalls related to the sale of a French boat in American territory, and so we sailed back down to the Chesapeake. We’d become very attached to the boat after everything we’d experienced on board, so it was understandably hard to tear ourselves away. But we are happy to have left her in good hands, so that she can continue her adventures.

 

Catherine and Bruno’s blog (in french) is here