Call it The Young Man and the Sea. After navigating 27,000 miles of perilous open ocean, braving howling winds, 40-foot seas, fog and icebergs and surviving a bout of the flu, a barefoot and bearded Christophe Auguin sailed into Charleston, S.C., last week with his arms raised in triumph. He had just won the BOC Challenge, the most arduous of all solo circumnavigational yacht races, for the second consecutive time.
Considering all that he had been through during 121 days, 17 hours and 11 minutes on the high seas, Auguin, a 35-year-old professional sailor who also runs a sports marketing business back home in France, looked remarkably refreshed. Clad in a T-shirt and sweatpants, he gleefully sprayed champagne, posed for pictures and signed autographs after docking Sceta Calberson, the 60-foot sloop named for his French corporate sponsors.
Throughout the voyage Auguin, who collected $100,000 for his victory, kept his eye on his boat rather than on the prize. "It's important to win," he said. "But what's also important is sailing with my boat in harmony."
There has been little harmony for many of his 19 competitors. As of Monday, five boats had finished, seven were still on the course and another eight had been knocked out of the race for a variety of reasons, including dismastings, ripped sails, broken rudders and snapped rigging. Two sailors required open-ocean rescues. Josh Hall of Great Britain was plucked off his yacht near Brazil in October after the boat hit an unidentified submerged object (SI, Oct. 31, 1994). The boat of Isabelle Autissier, the only woman in the race, was rocked twice by severe storms during the second leg of the race. After the second dismasting she had to abandon her boat off the coast of Australia. For Autissier the loss of her craft was especially bitter since she had held a commanding five-and-a-half-day lead before encountering trouble. The worst tragedy, however, befell Harry Mitchell, a 70-year-old British sailor who was lost in a storm off the west coast of South America. With no signal from his boat in almost two months, Mitchell is presumed dead.
The most difficult part of Auguin's journey was the second half of the four-stage race, from Sydney to Charleston. For 10 days, in fog so thick he couldn't see the front of his boat, Auguin had to sail through an iceberg-riddled stretch of the South Pacific without functioning radar. Later, while battling the flu and a fever, he sometimes worked 24 hours straight. The circumstances left Auguin with only one option. "I asked for help from Jesus," he said.
The yachtsman appears to have been at least twice blessed. When asked what his next project will be, Auguin, whose fianc�e, Veronique Martin, visited him during a stopover in Sydney in January, said he is looking no further than October. "I will be waiting for my new baby," he said.