Nov 9, 2008
At the boat by 7:30 am, we had been given special tags to get through the police barriers which blocked certain roads near the port. At 7am, in the dark, there were hordes of people walking from cars parked well away from the harbor. The French are amazing. They had pondered what was about to be undertaken, to sail around the world alone, and they wanted to be there to send off the skippers. They wanted everyone to do well and come home safely. As the doctor who gave me my flu shot said “premier ou dernier, vous serez vainqueur”–first or last, you are a winner.
Our time was 10:51 to depart the pontoon. President de Villiers of the Vendée Department came to the boat to wish me well. Suddenly, we were off. The docks of the marina were filled with cheering people. A group hummed an impromptu and loud Star Spangled Banner. But then we got into the main channel and were overwhelmed. Thousands and thousands of people, on both sides of the narrow channel, down on the boulders, up on the sidewalks, standing on cars, on the balconies and tops of buildings, all cheering and shouting Bon Voyage, B on Courage. Skippers had been asked to stand forward of the mast on the way out, I did, but didn’t know what to do in thanks. I would pound on my chest over my heart and bow in thanks. Both sides of the passageway were similarly mobbed. All the way out to the sea where people were standing on the breakwater, and some standing in the water on the sand, all to send us off to sea with their humanity in our hearts.
My words cannot adequately describe this outpouring of affection, of encouragement, of well-wishing. This was way beyond a normal sporting event where one wishes for victory for one side. These people wished for victory for all, for everyone to do their best, for everyone to return home safely in 3 months.
We got out into the open, in a lumpy sea, hoisted the mainsail to the 2nd reef and proceeded toward the start area.