Have boat will travel, by Liesl King.
With a boat whose name means “bundle, swag, or to gather your belongings and leave”, I guess it comes as no surprise that Yann Quenet, from Saint-Brieuc in Brittany, France, is on a solo circumnavigation in a 4m boat named Baluchon. We may think that the French are the ultimate sailing nation and yet Yann didn’t grow up around boats. It was only later in life that he bought a small old boat, repaired it and then taught himself to sail.
In October 2021 Yann left Reunion Island and 22 days later he arrived in Richards Bay. He was ready to sail down to Cape Town when he hit a serious roadblock. The powers that be, on discovering that Baluchon had no engine, deemed his boat, that had crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific during the last two years, completely unfit and unsafe to proceed down the coast. Yann however has a very pragmatic approach to sailing. “Well, if one can’t go down the coast in your boat, then you simply load it on a trailer and drive it down”, he explains. “Besides I got to see a lot more of this beautiful country.”
“Going round the world is a dream I have had for a very long time. So eventually, I built myself a boat and departed. At the beginning I didn’t really think about how long the trip would be or what effect it would have on other people. I didn’t think that anybody would notice my little boat, or even wonder what I was doing. Yet everywhere I go, people come and ask questions about my little boat, what I am doing and where I am going. It is a very good way to meet people. For me that was very surprising. And people are very friendly. I started in France in May 2019 and a lot of people told me I was crazy and that it wasn’t possible to go around the world in this little boat. Now just over two years later it is very possible.
“Next stop will be St Helena if it is possible. With Covid, all the countries are opening and closing and then opening and closing. I never know what I am going to find. I have no way of communicating with the outside world while I am sailing. It is always a surprise to me on arrival to find out whether the country is open or closed.” Yann has a handheld VHF radio so that he can communicate with the authorities as he nears port but contacting them while en-route is simply not possible in Baluchon.
“Sometimes they are happy to see me, other times they tell me to go away! From there I think Brazil and from there to the Azores then home to Brittany. It has been more than two years since I left France. In my mind it is not a long time, it feels like I left France just last week.”
I am fascinated by just how tiny Baluchon is, and quiz Yann on what he does when a storm approaches. “Ah she is like a coconut on the ocean. I take down the sails, shut the hatch and just wait it out. There is a lot of movement, but she is very light and has a keel of about 80cm. It is like being in a washing machine. It is not very dangerous, but it is very uncomfortable.”According to Yann Baluchon has broached many times during storms, but his trusty little boat has never rolled over completely.
“It is like a dream. I get to travel and see the world. I love sailing and it is a very good dream for me. I love sailing alone and then when I get to a country I meet a lot of people, which is good and then when I leave, I like being alone again.”
Yann explains how he fits his food and water on board. “My longest trip was to New Caledonia, and it took me 77 days. I had a problem with my food and also with my water. Water is a big problem for me. I need two litres of water every day and I only have space for about 90 litres on board. So, it simply isn’t possible to carry enough water for 77 days. For extra water I had to wait for the rain and then collect it. For food I have French Gastronomy, tins of tuna, tins of sardines and noodles.”
From New Caledonia, his plan was to sail to Australia, where he wanted to pop Baluchon on the roof of his hired car and then drive across the middle of the country. Covid however put a stop to that, forcing Yann to continue onwards towards Reunion.
Surprisingly he tells me that he has had minimal issues with his boat during the circumnavigation. “It is simple”, he says, “small boat, small problems and not too many electronics!”
The best moment of his trip so far? “When I go from Panama to the Marquesas Islands, it was my dream to go to this beautiful island, this wonderful place. And when I arrive, I have no food and no water, and I think ‘Ah tonight I go to a restaurant and eat like a king’. But when I arrive the policeman comes and says, “No you cannot come in, we are closed, you may have Covid. I tell him that I have been sailing alone for 45 days and I cannot have Covid, but he just says, no you cannot come in. Then all the other boats at anchorage came to have a look at this tiny boat that just appeared in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And when they hear I have no food, they gave me chocolate, cheese, bread, food, and fresh beer. It was the most marvellous meal of my life.”
Plans for the future? “But of course, when I get to Brittany, I am planning on building another boat and then going around the world again. This time I think a little bigger, perhaps five meters”, he ends with a grin. Yann, we wish you well on your onward travels and hope to see you back here soon, with your slightly bigger ‘coconut’ to cross oceans with. Next time I promise I will have chocolate and fresh beer waiting.